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How to Become a Child Protective Services Worker

Learn how to become a child protective services worker. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information and experience you will need to start a career as a child protective services worker.

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Do I Want to Be a Child Protective Services Worker?

Child protective services workers are social workers who ensure the safety and well-being of children living in households where abuse or neglect may be taking place. These social workers may provide counseling to families where poor parenting practices are endangering children. They may identify resources for the troubled families. In some cases, child protective services workers may remove endangered children and arrange adoptions or find foster care for them.

Child protective services workers are typically employed by state and local Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies. These workers often must travel to see each of their clients. They may also have to work weekends, evening and holidays. The job is emotionally demanding and often stressful.

Job Requirements

A 4-year degree in social work is required to work in government Child Protective Services agencies, and some states may require licensure as well. Licensure usually includes passing an exam and earning several thousand hours of supervised clinical experience. Some workers go on to earn their master's degree in social work. The following table describes the core requirements for a career as a child protective services worker.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's*
Degree Field(s) Social work or a related field*
Licensure and/or Certification Varies by state and level of position held*
Experience Must complete an internship or field work**
Key Skills Compassion, listening skills, organizational skills, people skills, problem-solving skills, time-management skills*
Computer Skills Database user interface and query software***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **University of Texas at Austin, ***O Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Most child protective services workers begin their careers by earning a bachelor's degree in social work. Such degree programs typically offer courses that teach prospective social workers how to interview clients, assess their needs and formulate potential solutions for the problems they face. Other skills learned may include crisis intervention, case management, community outreach, community organizing, research and advocacy. These degree programs generally combine theoretical knowledge with practical application.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Most bachelor's degree programs require that the student complete an internship that involves supervised casework in the field of child protective services. Internships offer students the opportunity to observe social workers as they counsel families and interact with law enforcement agents and judicial officials to assure the well-being of their clients.

Step 2: Gain Employment in a Child Protective Services Agency

Some entry-level social workers are able to attain positions in child protective services immediately after college if they have completed an internship or other fieldwork program. Many child protective service agencies provide extensive on-the-job training to new social workers and a support base from co-workers in the field. New child protective services workers visit homes to assess potential problems and provide either counseling or intervention as necessary. Child protective services workers spend about 40% of their time documenting facts in casework.

Success Tip:

  • Pass state licensure exams. Being a licensed social worker is often essential for career advancement, but each state and district in the U.S. has its own set of requirements. Basic licenses may be a prerequisite for employment in a CPS agency in some states. Some states only offer advanced licensing, which require a master's or higher degree plus professional experience, while others offer basic Licensed Social Worker (LSW) exams that only require a bachelor's degree.

Step 3: Consider an Advanced Degree

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a requirement for child social workers looking to become child protective service supervisors or child services clinical practitioners or to enter social work mid-career. Master's programs can take 2-4 years to complete, either full or part time, and they do not require a specialized bachelor's degree in social work.

Success Tip:

  • Complete continuing education and leadership training. Those wishing to earn top advancement in the child social work field should consider leadership training and continuing education with an organization like the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI). It offers courses that teach up-to-date information on the U.S. Children's Bureau and extensive leadership skills for CPS managers and supervisors.
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