A Look at Child, Family and School Social Workers

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A social worker speaks with a family

Social workers operating in the child, family, and school segments of the industry can end up taking on a variety of roles during their professional lives. The job can lead to employment in a wide range of settings, such as work centered on helping families deal with a diverse array of challenges or even community leadership roles focused on advocating for at-risk groups in family or school settings. With so much opportunity, it can be difficult to pin down the right opportunity for you.

With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the sector to help you identify if it’s a fit for you as you pursue higher-level positions in the social work industry.

What child, family, and school social workers do

Child, family, and school social workers advocate for the well-being of children by helping create and support healthy and caring environments. This can involve working in a school to meet the needs of a student with a disability, helping individuals suffering as a result of bullying, or educating teachers on how to support students who don’t fit in socially. In a family-focused practice, work can incorporate connecting children with foster care, protecting individuals from abusive situations, and helping families identify community resources that can assist them in a variety of circumstances.

Protecting individuals from intimate-partner violence and domestic abuse is a central component of social work in the child, family, and school segment. A study from the National Association of Social Workers explained that unpacking the complex conditions related to domestic violence can be difficult, but failing to do so can lead to compounding challenges, as physical abuse is often accompanied by emotional and sexual abuse.

According to the report, ecological models for preventing abuse are more prevalent, as the concept seeks to account for a wide range of conditions that contribute to abuse, including individual, relationship, community, and societal factors.

By analyzing each of these components of a community’s ecosystem, social workers can better understand the cause of abuse and take action to prevent it.

Abuse prevention is a prime example of the kind of tasks that family, child, and school social workers engage in. The job requires a blend of in-depth research, community analysis, and interpersonal relationships to support families and provide care. As such, social work in this sector can include a variety of tasks. A few common work responsibilities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, include:

  • Assisting parents facing a wide range of challenges
  • Arranging adoptions
  • Helping families deal with teenage pregnancy
  • Working with students who frequently misbehave or display truancy

Where child, family, and school social workers work

Because they have such varied responsibilities, child, family, and school social workers can end up serving in a diverse range of settings. From family planning clinics and foster care agencies to school counseling centers and social services organizations, many possibilities exist. With this in mind, here’s a look at some key employment destination figures from the BLS:

  • Approximately 76,480 social workers practice in individual and family services settings, making it the largest single destination for child, family, and school social workers.
  • Another 63,100 child, family, and school social workers operate in state government settings, not including schools and hospitals.
  • Local government is the next largest market for these professionals, as local public sector organizations excluding schools and hospitals employ 54,450 social workers.
  • Almost 40,000 child, family, and school social workers practice in elementary and secondary schools.
  • Care centers classified as “other residential care facilities” round out the most prominent places to work, providing employment for 9,670 child, family, and school social workers.

A closer look at school social work

School can be like a second home for children. They spend significant amounts of time there, and schools often become community centers in areas where other public services aren’t widely available or families need child care beyond normal school hours. As a result, social workers practicing in academic settings can have a major positive influence on children and their families. In fact, a study from the National Association of Social Workers identified school social workers as an essential connecting point between schools, communities, and families. As the demands of school life have shifted in recent decades, the NASW has developed standards to promote best practices in school social work. A few highlights include:

  • Encouraging social workers to stick to the NASW Code of Ethics as a guiding force in their decision-making, but doing so in light of the unique challenges that come with working in school settings.
  • Ensuring social workers blend knowledge of general social work best practices with a specific awareness of how the local school system functions. The NASW mandates professionals have at least a master’s degree in social work from an accredited institution, with the MSW as the recommended entry-level degree.
  • Expecting school social workers to perform systemic assessment, data gathering, and subsequent analysis of individuals, families, and organizational systems to create better social environments.

This list doesn’t encompass all of the expectations of school social workers, but these few key points highlight the complexity of the role and importance of advanced skills.

Job outlook for child, family, and school social workers

This segment incorporates a wide array of social work goals. As such, salary and job growth projections should vary. According to the BLS, social workers in general can expect new jobs to be created at a 16 percent growth rate from 2016 to 2026, which is more than double the national average. The median salary for social workers was $47,980 in 2017. The job growth projection for child, family, and school social workers is a 14 percent jump by 2026, and the BLS estimated that median wages in this segment are slightly higher than the social worker sector as a whole, with average pay coming in at $48,430.

Taking the next step in your social work career

Pursuing an online MSW can help you advance to the next stage of your social work career. If child, family, and school social work sounds like a fit for you, contact Regis College, and we can connect you with an enrollment counselor to discuss our program and how it may help you achieve your goals.


Recommended Readings:

How the MSW Prepares you for Clinical Social Work

What is an MSW degree?



Child Welfare by the National Association of Social Workers

Social Work’s Role in Responding to Intimate Partner Violence by the National Association of Social Workers

Social Workers: Summary by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Employment Statistics: Child, Family, and School Social Workers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

NASW Standards for School Social Work Services by the National Association of Social Workers