5 Things Every Social Worker Should Know About Child Welfare

Child welfare is a demanding field that not everyone is equipped to handle. Working with children and families involves many sensitive situations that can pose big challenges. Getting a degree prepares you academically, but before you start your career, you should familiarize yourself with some key characteristics of child welfare.

Not All Social Workers Handle Child Welfare

Child welfare represents just a small part of the broad scope of social work. Only about 16 percent of social workers in the U.S. are involved in child services. To become a social worker, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in the field. Getting a master’s degree opens up more opportunities. Most states also require you to become licensed. Although there are some child welfare workers whose backgrounds don’t include social work training, the complexity of the cases you’re likely to encounter makes higher education a good choice.

Child Welfare is Multifaceted

When working in child welfare, you may:

• Coordinate counseling
• Help with adoptions
• Work in the foster care system
• Handle cases involving domestic violence
• Work with neglected or abused children
• Help families with disabled or ill children
• Aid families in getting the most out of welfare when they need it

Work environments include schools, family services and state or government agencies. Your caseload may stretch across several different areas of the child welfare system and involve contacting a variety of authorities, mental health professionals and other family service providers.

No Two Cases are the Same

Every family that you work with will exhibit different difficulties, attitudes and relationships. Some may be dealing with financial problems. Others could be entangled in serious situations such as violence or drug abuse. It’s important to exercise discernment from case to case, even between those that seem nearly identical in nature. You can and should apply knowledge from previous work to help with your current cases, but always take the time to learn the differences so that you can approach each situation with the correct mindset.

Listening is an Essential Skill

To discover the unique dynamics of each case, you have to spend a lot of time listening. The children and families that you work with will all have experiences to share, and how they communicate is just as important as what they say. When you sit down to talk with an individual of any age, give him or her your full attention. Watch for signs that suggest there’s more to the situation than meets the eye or that someone is lying to you out of fear or as a mechanism of personal defense.

Challenges are Common

Social workers in this field deal with dysfunction and high levels of emotion on a daily basis. Many cases have the potential to be draining, and all of them involve a great deal of time and personal effort. Creating plants to help children and families cope with or get out of difficult circumstances puts you on the metaphorical front lines, and you need the emotional stability to approach every case with an objective viewpoint. You must also be mindful of your own safety, especially in situations that involve hostility or domestic violence.

The field of child welfare is growing and can provide you with a stable job, a good paycheck and opportunities for growth. However, the main focus of your work should be to help children and their families deal with tough situations. If you have a heart for kids and the emotional strength to handle the challenging family dynamics that you’ll encounter, a career in child welfare could be for you.