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Be an At-Risk Youth or Child Care Worker: Career Information

Learn how to become an at-risk youth worker. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information and experience you will need to start a career as an at-risk youth worker. View article »

  • 0:00 Should I Be an At-Risk…
  • 0:30 Career Requirements
  • 1:23 Steps to Getting Into…

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Video Transcript

Should I Be an At-Risk Youth Worker?

Children and teens are considered to be at-risk if they are likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs, engage in sexual activities that threaten their health, run away from home, commit criminal acts or attempt suicide. Social workers and counselors help youth who struggle with these issues. This work can be stressful due to case overloads and understaffing. Working with this segment of youth can be very challenging and often requires a great deal of empathy and patience.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field(s) Social work, psychology, or a similar field
Licensure and/or Certification State licensure; licensure for non-clinical social workers optional in some states
. Experience Varies by employer; typically two years
. Key Sskills Knowledge of psychology, therapy and counseling; active listening, social perceptiveness, speaking, service orientation, reading comprehension, judgment, and decision making; complex problem solving, critical thinking, and writing; use of databases and common office software
Median Salary (2015)* $42,350 (for all child, family, and school social workers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*, Survey of job postings in December 2012, O*Net Online

Getting into this career requires a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology or a similar field. Clinical social workers must be licensed by the state, while licensure for non-clinical social workers may be optional in some states. Experience requirements vary by employer, but two years is common. Key skills for this career include knowledge of psychology, therapy and counseling; active listening; social perceptiveness; speaking; service orientation; reading comprehension; judgment and decision making; complex problem solving; critical thinking; writing; databases; and common office software.

The median annual salary for child, family and school social workers was $42,350 in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now let's take a look at the steps to becoming an at-risk youth worker.

Steps to Getting into This Career

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Education

At-risk youth or child care workers provide services to improve the social and psychological well-being of children. The minimum educational requirement for at-risk youth workers is typically a bachelor's degree, often in psychology, sociology or social work. As an undergraduate, an aspiring at-risk youth worker might major in social work with a concentration in child welfare. Typical child welfare coursework includes child abuse and neglect, cultural diversity and family work.

To get the most out of your education:

  • Participate in a practicum or work study. Bachelor's degree programs in social work frequently include courses that require students to gain experience in the field by working in social service agencies. This work may take place as part of an internship, practicum or work-study program.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

For employment in school or clinical settings, the minimum educational requirement is often a master's degree. Many clinical social workers have a doctoral degree. A graduate student who wants to work with at-risk youth might concentrate in child development, child welfare or children and family. A master's program in one of these concentrations typically includes courses in legal aspects of social work, substance abuse, treatment and pharmacology for counselors, as well as advanced courses in social work perspectives on human behavior.

Step 3: Get Experience

Many social work job options allow at-risk youth workers to gain experience, including positions in child welfare, school or clinical social work and substance abuse counseling. Child welfare social workers work closely with local and state government agencies; they may work as case managers or assessors for Child Protective Services or Family Preservation and Support. School social workers perform social development assessments and educate at-risk youth about crisis intervention. Clinical social workers provide psychological health care as therapists and counselors. Finally, substance abuse counselors for at-risk youth perform assessment and counseling.

Step 4: Become Licensed and Certified

Certification, registration or licensure for at-risk youth workers and social workers varies by state and job role. All 50 states and the District of Columbia require some form of licensing for social workers. Licensing typically requires two years of supervised experience.

Step 5: Continue Education

Renewing a social work license usually requires continuing education. Conferences, seminars, formal courses and other continuing education opportunities may be available in the workplace, as well as through numerous other venues, such as the National Association of Social Workers. At-risk youth workers should check with their state licensing boards to find out which providers of continuing education credits are approved.

To recap, with a bachelor's degree in social work or psychology, experience and licensure, an at-risk youth worker can earn about $42,000 a year to help youth who struggle with alcohol, drugs and criminal activities.


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