How to Become a Child Protective Services Worker

Jan 29, 2020

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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Should I Become 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.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2018 that the median salary for all child, family, and school social workers was $46,270.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's minimum; some workers go on to earn master's
Degree Field(s) Social work or related field
Licensure/Certification Varies by state and level of position held
Experience Completion of internship or field work
Key Skills Listening, organizational, problem-solving, time-management and people skills, compassion, ability to operate database user interface and query software
Median Salary (2018)* $46,270 (for all child, family, and school social workers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In most cases, you will need a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field. Some agencies or positions might require a master's degree. Licensing requirements vary by state and level of position held. You'll usually need to complete an internship or field work when beginning your career. You'll also need to have skills in listening, organization, problem solving, and time management. You need to be good with people, including being compassionate and have the ability to operate database, user interface, and query software.

Steps to Becoming a Child Protective Services Worker

Follow these steps to become a child protective services worker.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is a common requirement to become a CPS worker. Though a social work major isn't required, it's recommended by the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators and the Child Welfare League of America. However, behavioral health, health services or a related major can also be acceptable. Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree programs typically offer courses that cover 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.

Most BSW degree programs require that the student complete an internship that involves supervised casework in the field of child protective services. Internships offer you 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. As a new child protective services worker, you'll visit homes to assess potential problems and provide either counseling or intervention as necessary. Expect to spend about 40% of your time documenting facts in casework.

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) can be a requirement if you are looking to become a child protective service supervisor or child services clinical practitioner, 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.

Step 4: Complete Continuing Education and Leadership Training

If you want to earn top advancement in the child social work field, 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.

Expert Contributor: Christiane Warren Christiane has M.Phil & PhD degrees in American Intellectual History. She's been an academic/career advisor, assistant dean and higher ed consultant.

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