A Look at Child, Family and School Social Workers

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Female school social worker, working with a young male child at a table with an action figure, paper, and crayons.

Social workers who specialize in the needs of children, families, and school institutions fill a particular need in the social work industry. A social work position that caters to these individuals comes with its challenges, but can also be a rewarding way for professionals to help support the adolescents and families in their communities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is increasing need for social workers, and some of the leading employers of these professionals include individual and family services.

As students enter a Master of Social Work program, there are likely a few areas of this profession they’d like to learn more about. This includes the role of child, family, and school social workers, the type of employment and compensation opportunities they can expect upon graduation, and why school social workers are necessary in the current education environment.

Social workers can be a supportive and helpful resource in numerous situations and with many different types of clients. Overall, the goal of social work is to help individuals cope with challenges or crisis situations, as well as to raise awareness and advocate for those who cannot easily do so for themselves.

To provide a clearer picture of this important role, we’re taking a closer look at the working environment, responsibilities, and requirements of child, family, and school social workers, and how MSW students can pursue this career.

Why do school districts and staff need social work support?

Child, family, and school social workers engage in a number of key activities, including working with individual students and their families in school settings.

According to the School Social Work Association of America, school social workers bring a unique and incredibly important perspective to educational programs, and can help students and their families cope with issues that might impact or prevent students’ successful learning.

“The best teachers with the biggest teaching ‘bag of tricks’ recognize that numerous factors interfere with their ability to reach many of their students,” The School Social Work Association of American explained on its website. “Social Workers are trained mental health professionals who can assist with mental health concerns, behavioral concerns, positive behavior support, academic and classroom support, consultation with teachers, parents, and administrators, as well as provide individual and group counseling/therapy.”

The role of school social workers

In this way, school social workers work with students to address problems or issues that might hamper learning and competence, and help create a more proactive and supportive environment for learning. School social workers offer key knowledge and strategies to students and their families, as well as to school staff members, and engage in efforts like:

  • Meeting with students for crisis intervention
  • Developing and teaching intervention strategies to help students achieve academic goals
  • Helping students learn strong social skills, as well as strategies for conflict resolution and anger management, when needed
  • Working with family members and other individuals in a child’s living situation to help support their adjustment, learning, and development
  • Helping parents access special educational programs and resources for students with special education needs or disabilities
  • Offering support and education for school staff to help them improve their understanding of the cultural, societal, economical, or other factors that can impact students’ educational work and behavioral tendencies
  • Helping school administrators develop and implement training and education programs for school staff
  • Acting as a liaison between school districts and community organizations and resources, including the advocate for the district
  • Assisting districts in developing and implementing educational programs for exceptional or advanced students, as well as alternative programs for students who have dropped out, are delinquent, truant, or experience other issues impeding their learning
  • Identifying, reporting, and helping school districts to intervene when child abuse or neglect is suspected or confirmed
  • Consulting with district administrators pertaining to school laws and policies, according to local, state, or federal standards
  • Supporting case management for students and their families

A main part of child, family, and school social workers’ jobs is to help protect students, other children, and their families in vulnerable situations, and provide support and assistance to those who need it. This might include helping a student and their family apply for childcare or state/federal benefits like food stamps.

Child, family, and school social workers will also work with students and parents, including to intervene in instances of substance abuse, physical or mental abuse, and other situations that put students at risk.

A common issue that school social workers deal with today is bullying. As the BLS pointed out, students and their families are often referred to school social workers to help students cope with and resolve problems like aggressive behavior, conflicts, or truancy.

Employment outlook for child, family, and school social workers

According to BLS research, most social workers employed in 2018 worked in the child, family, and school social work sector ― of the more than 700,000 individuals who held social work positions in 2018, more than 300,000 worked with students and families.

Individual and family services are also the largest employers of social workers, with 18% of all professionals working in this capacity.

Overall, though, the general working environment for child, family, and school social workers can vary. While many spend much of their working day in an office, school social workers may also be required to travel to different institutions in the district to help students and their families, or assist administrative school staff, when needed. Technology is having an impact on school social work working environments, in that some social workers are leveraging video conferencing and other mobile technology to support more remote- or distance-based counseling.

The demand for this profession is on the rise. The BLS forecasted 11% growth in the job outlook through 2028, much faster than the average growth seen with other industry professions. This means that through 2028, there will be more than 81,000 social work positions in need of educated and trained professionals to fill them.

The compensation for social work can greatly vary, as evidenced by BLS data. While the top earners in the general social work field can make as much as $81,400 annually, the lowest 10% of earners made a fraction of this amount, $30,750 annually. Within the child, family, and school social work sector specifically, the median annual wage for professionals was $49,760 as of May 2018.

Requirements to become a child, family, and school social worker

Some entry-level positions may only require professionals to have earned a bachelor’s-level degree in social work or a related field, such as psychology or sociology. However, professionals who engage in continuing education through an MSW program can expand their skills and be better prepared for the challenges that professional school social workers face. In addition, an MSW can also help prepare students for other, higher-level positions and supervisory roles in the social work industry.

Many states also require that child, family, and school social workers be licensed after passing the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam.

A note on school social workers and counselors

Many MSW students wonder about the school counselor opportunities that might be available to them after graduation. While some institutions will hire professionals who have a master’s degree in social work for school counselor positions, there are also certain state certification requirements that school counselors must achieve. In addition, as Social Work Degree Guide pointed out, many school counselor employers prefer candidates who embark in continuing education to earn their doctoral degree in education, social work, or a similar area.

Taking the next step

College students and professionals who are ready to take their next step toward a rewarding role as a child, family, and school social worker should prepare by earning their MSW. The online masters of social work provides all the skills and knowledge professionals need for this challenging, yet fulfilling career. Fill out a form on our page to speak to an enrollment advisor to learn more.



Recommended Readings:

What is an MSW degree and What Can I Do with It?

How the MSW prepares you for Clinical Social Work  



Regis College Online Master of Social Work

School Social Work Association of America

Association of School Work Boards

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Social Workers

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment Statistics

Bureau of Labor Statistics – School and Career Counselors

Social Work Degree Guide