Child Protective Services Social Worker: Job Description & Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a Child Protective Services social worker. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Social workers who work with Child Protective Services must have a bachelor's degree and their license or certification. In some cases a master's degree in social work may be required. Being bilingual and demonstrating strong communication skills may also be assets for those pursuing a career in this field.

Essential Information

Child Protective Services (CPS), which may also be known as the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), is a state-run agency that provides counseling, rehabilitation or placement services for neglected or abused children. Education, certification and licensure requirements for CPS social workers vary by state. However a minimum of a bachelor's degree and a license or certification is typically required for entry-level work. A master's degree is also sometimes required for licensure.

Required Education Bachelor's degree typically required for entry-level; master's may be required
Other Requirements License or certification typically required; internship or experience often preferred; communication skills and bilingual candidates may be preferred
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (for child, family and school social workers)
Mean Salary (2015)* $46,610 annually (for child, family and school social workers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Child Protective Services Social Worker

CPS social workers are responsible for accessing, identifying and documenting abuse and neglect cases and finding the appropriate services to enhance child welfare. CPS social workers must be able to identify immediate threats made to a child and provide arrangements that comply with state and federal laws and agency procedures. These duties may include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing counseling and support services to children and parents
  • Referring children and families to other services if necessary
  • Placing children in foster care
  • Finding adoptive homes for children with no adult caretakers

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Requirements of a Child Protective Services Social Worker

CPS social workers are expected to have an extensive educational background and clinical experience before they can begin working with families in crisis. Requirements vary by state, but typically include a postsecondary degree, state licensing and professional certification.


While academic requirements may vary by state, most employers prefer applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree in social work from an accredited school. An academic background in psychology, counseling or a related field may also be suitable.


Some agencies may offer on-the-job training to those in entry-level positions, however many prefer applicants with previous experience in social work or those who have completed an internship program in social work through an accredited school. Employers may also prefer those with strong communication skills and fluency in another language.

Licensure and Certification

Licensing requirements vary by state; although most states require at least two years of supervised clinical training. Other requirements for licensure may include a bachelor's or master's degree in social work and skills assessment examinations.

Professional organizations, such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), offer various levels of certification for social workers. The NASW has two designations for social workers who work primarily with children and families, Certified Children, Youth and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW) and Certified Advanced Children, Youth and Family Social Worker (C-ACYFSW).

Certification requirements include a postsecondary degree from a Council on Social Work Education accredited education program, clinical experience and a supervisor recommendation. Continuing education credits are required to keep certification and some state licenses valid.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Child, family and school social workers (including those working for child protective services) should have average job growth of 6% over the 2014-2024 decade, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of these social workers earned between $27,690 and $73,400 in May 2015, and the mean wage was $46,610.

Social workers focus on improving the quality of life of individuals through counseling and by helping people access necessary resources. Social workers with child protective services primarily work with children who are abused or neglected, and may be involved in counseling these children or finding them a placement in a safe environment.

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