Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

Field of Social Work in Child Practice

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The Encyclopedia Britannica defines child welfare as services and institutions concerned with the physical, social and psychological well-being of children, particularly children suffering from the effects of poverty or lacking normal parental care and supervision (Child Welfare, 2010). Working with children and families is the second largest area of practice for social workers, and it is most popular with those who have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Degree (Berg-Weger, 2010).

National Organizations Addressing Child Welfare Practice A brief description of The Child Welfare System helps to better understand the role of social workers in this field. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), The Child Welfare system emerged. Primarily state and local regulated, this system encompasses the primary responsibility of implementing, overseeing and enforcing laws and policies aligned to protect the welfare of children.

Services provided under the child welfare system include the following:

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  • Support or coordinate service to prevent child abuse and neglect
  • Provide services to families that need help protecting and caring for their children
  • Oversee the investigation of reports of possible child abuse and neglect
  • Oversee temporary and foster care of children when safety cannot be assured at home
  • Support the well-being of children living with relatives or foster families, including ensuring their educational needs are addressed

Oversee family reunification, adoption or other permanent family connections for children and youth leaving foster care Although each state has a public child welfare agency, the child welfare system is not a single entity. Public child welfare agencies often collaborate with private child welfare agencies, community-based organizations and other public agencies to ensure that abused or neglected children receive the services they need. The Children’s Bureau (CB), another national organization, is the first federal agency within the United States (U. S. ) government to focus exclusively on the improving the lives of children and families. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is a professional organization created specifically for the social work profession and serves to provide information and education to the profession and advocate on behalf of social work professionals (Berg-Weger, 2010). The Social Work Policy Institution (SWPI) is a unit within the NASW whose primary responsibility is to examine issues that relate to social workers and perform research to gather empirical data and statistics that directly and indirectly impact how public agencies and other structures deliver health and human services.

The mission of SWPI is to strengthen the voice of social workers in public policy deliberations, inform policymakers through collection and dissemination of information on social work effectiveness, and to create a forum to examine current and future issues in health care and social service delivery (Social Work Policy Institute,2012 ). The Role of Child Welfare Social Workers The role of the social worker in the field of child welfare involves a wide variety of settings within the child welfare system which includes direct involvement with an array of external professions and agencies (e. g. courts, law enforcement, psychiatrists, psychologists and other health care delivery team professionals). This collaboration is necessary to better ensure a holistic and efficient resolution approach for clients such that the safety and best interest of the child is always first and foremost; while working toward the goal of family reunification when feasible.

The role of the child welfare social worker entails:

  • On-going follow-ups and investigation of reports of possible child abuse and/or neglect
  • Meticulous assessments / detailed reports, and recommendations to courts and other services within the child welfare system
  • Coordination of supportive child care, parenting classes, and in-home family preservation services
  • On-going follow-ups, monitoring child and family progress and evaluations of planned outcomes
  • When applicable, coordination and follow-up of mental health services, counseling and substance abuse treatment

A liaison between client(s)and other multi-collaborative team members In addition, one of the most significant roles of the child welfare social worker is the mandated reporting of child abuse. Social workers have a legal responsibility to report suspicion of any form of child abuse and/or exploitation regardless to whether the information is based on direct or indirect knowledge of incidents.

The social worker works closely with local law enforcement agencies and family court systems that rely heavily on the high quality assessments as well as other recommendations from the social worker in order to implement immediate safeguards and/or take immediate action when necessary to remove a child from a harmful or potentially harmful environment. Family preservation and implementing measures that safeguard the child, and acting in the best interest of the child is always the overall goal collectively within the child welfare system and individually for the social worker when making decisions, recommendations and referrals on behalf of a child. Social Problems in the Field Although the field of child welfare encompasses a variety of issues within the practice settings of family services, adoption programs and elementary and secondary school settings, child abuse is one of the most serious issues facing social workers in this field (Berg-Weger, 2010).

This issue alone, reported by the SWPI, has created an emotional toll on social workers in the field of child welfare along with a steady increase in caseloads ranging from ten to one hundred and ten cases per social worker (The Social Work Career Center, 2012). This makes recruitment and retention in this field an on-going challenge. As front-line workers in the protection of children, social workers in this field are at high risk of becoming victims of violence as they are not usually accompanied by law enforcement during the initial follow-up on reports of abuse. Another area within the child welfare system that creates a social dilemma is the costs associated with child abuse and neglect mainly including hospital care and foster care.

The social and economic consequences and costs of child abuse and neglect impact our society both directly and indirectly. The greatest cost being the displacement and offense against children. Professions that Compete with the Field of Child Welfare Political conservations and government cut backs on social reform, media and societal oppositions continue to be a constant challenge to the field of social work in general. Particularly in the field of child welfare, and despite the fortitude of those who remain committed to the client goal of finding families more quickly through safe reunification, adoption, and legal guardianship, the difficult and challenging daily tasks of child welfare social workers are seldom publicly acknowledged unless under scrutiny.

Moreover, due to the complexities of the child welfare system, one hundred percent safety for all children is a goal to be achieved, but is rarely attained. Child welfare is a field of practice that is identified by the public as being primarily a social work domain. However, less than thirty percent of child welfare workers have a professional social work degree (BSW or Master of Social Work (MSW)). In some states the number of professional social workers in public child welfare is as low as three percent, with fewer than fifteen percent of states requiring a BSW or MSW degree for any child welfare position (Social Work Policy Institute,2012).

In addition, there is a high turnover with the highest turnover rates from those who are hired with the least educational background and training (Social Work Policy Institute,2012). This dilemma creates a higher caseload and workload on those who hold the longest record of remaining in the field. That is, the degreed professionals (Social Work Policy Institute,2012). Job Opportunities According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of children under the age of 18 in the U. S. has grown from forty-seven million since 1950 to seventy-three point five million. By the year 2030, this number is expected to grow to eighty-five point seven million.

The BLS also estimates the need for 595,000 social workers, with an expected growth of twenty percent employment of child welfare social workers. The average growth rate for all occupations is fourteen percent. The demand for child and family social workers should continue to grow because they will be needed to investigate child abuse cases and to place children in foster care and with adoptive families. However, growth in this occupation is subject to limited budget constraints at all levels of government which will have impact on closing the gap on the shortage of social workers in this field and overall job opportunities. Salaries vary depending on location, experience and benefits offered.

However, the median annual wage as reported by BLS is $40,210 annually (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2012). Important Trends The CB reported that in any given year an estimation of one million children come to the attention of the child welfare system. In 2010 an estimated 701,158 children were determined to be victims of abuse and neglect and an estimated 1,537 children died related to child abuse or neglect. As the NASW Center for Workforce Studies states, child abuse and neglect occur in all segments of society, within families from all walks of life, at all income levels, all religious denominations and all racial and cultural backgrounds.

These facts indicate that child welfare requires knowledge and skills in assessment, active engagement, intervention, the use of authority, and an expert ability to negotiate and manage appropriate community resources for an immeasurable client base. This further indicates a need for more comprehensive strategies that target both the recruitment and education of the next generation of professional social workers, and the training of current practitioners. The NASW reports that currently, hiring requirements for social workers in child welfare vary. Targets for action as reported by the SWPI include influencing social work education as a requirement to practice in the field, expanding use of data and research, influencing service delivery, and strengthening policy and practice linkages.

The NASW continues to advocate for measures to decrease the shortage of social workers in the field of child welfare social work and to ensure consumers have access to qualified professionals. One such measure to recruit more degreed child welfare social workers is promoting student loan forgiveness for social work college graduates. For example, while The Higher Education Act has been authorized by Congress to offer loan forgiveness, they have yet to allocate the funds toward this program to pay-off student loans (The Social Work Career Center, 2012). However, the NASW remains vocal on behalf of social workers to get funds appropriated for this program. These are just a few examples of the on-going work to improve working conditions, salaries and other benefits for members of the profession.

Other sources include the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007 that also offers a loan forgiveness program that will discharge any remaining educational debt after ten years of full-time employment in public service. These shifts mark significant trends toward improved support of social workers particularly in the field of child welfare, and even more promising employment opportunities for social work graduates who are interested in child welfare. Summary A unique aspect in the area of child welfare is working closely and diligently to combat one of the most sensitive issues of our society, that is, the abuse and/or neglect of children. This aspect alone makes the decision to pursue a career in child welfare a most rewarding one but challenging at the same time.

The field of child welfare is professionally, emotionally, and personally taxing, and often misunderstood and under-supported. With the reported rates of child population growth and the alarming rates of reported child abuse, the need for well trained and educated social workers is critical to this field of social work in particular. In order to provide adequate and improved support for social workers and the children and families who encompass this field, supportive efforts on the part of state and federal levels, and other organizations like NASW and SWPI helps to offer a more promising outlook and outcomes for all who remain committed to achieve a most difficult task of one hundred percent safety of all children.

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