Become a Child and Family Social Worker

As a child and family social worker, you’ll have the opportunity to make a difference in your community by advocating for children and parents alike. These types of social workers are responsible for connecting families in need with essential services as well as monitoring the well-being of children and their families. 

For people who want to work with children and help those in challenging circumstances, this may be an attractive career path. This guide is designed to help you learn more about child and family social work—including how to become a child and family social worker, what the career outlook looks like in this field and more.

What Does a Child and Family Social Worker Do?

Child and family social workers focus on assisting children and families, especially those with living situations that put the children at risk of neglect or abuse. Some common tasks fulfilled by social workers in this field include: 

  • Identifying and monitoring the well-being of at-risk children
  • Providing counseling to improve the social and psychological function of children and their families 
  • Arranging adoptions and foster homes for children
  • Assisting families through fostering and adoption processes
  • Acting as a liaison between a school and its at-risk families

Steps to Becoming a Child and Family Social Worker

Becoming a social worker is a big decision that requires completing specific educational and training requirements. Most states require a master’s in social work (MSW) and the completion of a social work licensing exam to become a social worker, but this may vary depending on where you live and what type of career you are pursuing.

If you’re thinking about becoming a social worker but aren’t sure what the process entails, read about child and family social worker requirements below.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a child and family social worker is completing your undergraduate studies. In addition to listening to lectures, completing assigned readings and performing research, earning a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) may require field experience or work placement. Field experience is designed to provide students with an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-world situations while allowing them to develop new knowledge.

Research Advanced Degrees

Although there are some social work positions available to those with a BSW, many prospective child and family social workers choose to continue their education with advanced degrees. To become a clinical social worker, an MSW is required. 

Whether you choose to enroll in-person or online, it’s important to choose an MSW degree program that fits your lifestyle and helps you meet your career goals. Many MSW degree programs offer specializations in child and family social work that may help you prepare for your future workplace.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

University of Southern California

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. USC offers virtual and in-person field education, and students focus on adults, youth or social change.

  •  Minimum completion time: 16 months
  • Online classes taught by USC faculty 
  • Virtual field training to build skills and confidence

University of Denver

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Simmons University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 12 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 12 months

Syracuse University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available. 

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Baylor University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Complete the Master of Social Work online program at Baylor University in as few as 12 months. Serve populations in Texas and around the world while ethically integrating faith and social work practice. No GRE required.

  • Address injustice from a strengths-based perspective
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Serve as a trusted resource for clients, no matter their personal background
  • Complete the MSW online program in as few as 12 months

Howard University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

Case Western Reserve University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years

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Pass the ASWB Examination

To become a licensed social worker, you must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) examination. The ASWB administers several different levels of social work exams: bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist and clinical. The exam you take depends on your education level and what type of social work you want to practice. Each level of the ASWB exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions that must be completed within a four-hour window.

Before registering for the ASWB exam, be sure to check with your local social work licensing board for specific eligibility information.

Get Licensed

Once you’ve passed the ASWB exam, you’ll need to obtain social work licensure to begin your career as a child and family social worker. The process of obtaining licensure varies from state to state, but in general, it involves submitting an application and paying a licensing fee. After you complete the ASWB exam, your results will be forwarded to your local social work board for review.The type of social work licensure you obtain depends on which category of ASWB exam you took, as well as what licenses are available in your jurisdiction. For more information, find your local licensing board website.

Apply for NASW’s Certified Advanced Children, Youth and Family Social Worker Credential

Some social workers may also choose to apply for the Advanced Children, Youth and Family Social Worker Certification from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Obtaining this social work certification is an optional step that provides a clear way for MSW-level practitioners to signify that they are experienced with child and family social work. It also allows social workers to distinguish themselves from others in the field.

Child and Family Social Work Job Outlook 

The typical social worker salary differs based on where you live and what type of work you do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on social workers, the median child and family social worker salary in 2020 was $48,430 per year. BLS data also shows that the industry in which you work can have an effect on your potential earnings. For example, social workers who worked in local government had higher median salaries than social workers who worked in individual and family services. 

Regardless of your specialization, the BLS projects a positive job outlook for social workers. It is projected that social work jobs will grow by 12% from 2020 to 2030. This is faster than the average projected growth for all professions. 

Child and Family Social Worker FAQs

Before you enroll in a social work degree program, it’s important to research potential careers that might interest you. Below, we address some commonly asked questions about careers as a child and family social worker.

How long does it take to become a child and family social worker?
While the amount of time it takes to become a social worker varies depending on the individual, it generally takes about four to six years to complete child and family social work requirements. Earning your bachelor’s degree takes roughly four years, and earning your MSW usually takes another two years. In addition, child and family social workers who want to work in a clinical setting are required to complete at least two years of supervised work experience before earning a license.

Is child and family social work a good career? 
Social work may be a very rewarding career, but this perspective will vary based on the person. If you want to provide services to vulnerable youth and help families navigate complex situations such as finding foster care services or housing, then a social work career in child and family services may be a good fit for you.

Where do child and family social workers work? 
Child and family social workers usually have an office as their base, but they are often out in the community performing outreach, visiting clients and developing programs that connect people to resources like food stamps and childcare. Some social workers may also work remotely on occasion, meeting with clients over video conference.

What skills make a good child and family social worker? 
Crucial skills for social workers include active listening, critical thinking and effective communication. It is also important for child and family social workers to be empathetic and to have patience for their clients.

Last updated October 2021