Florida woman Tiffany Smith overdosed on heroin along Interstate 4 in November of 2019… with her 12, 7, and 1-year-old in the minivan with her at the time. The heartbreaking dispatcher tape of the 12-year-old calling 911 made the news nationwide.
Smith was revived with a shot of NARCAN, but the plight of the kids was more complex. While their grandparents were able to pick them up that night, in the long term, the state will probably have to step in, in the form of a child welfare caseworker (CWC).
Although it’s a challenging and often emotional position to fill, new techniques rising from the field of applied behavior analysis are helping CWCs get a handle on some of their hardest cases. Competency training and positive behavior support are beginning to make their way into systems such as foster care.
In Florida, for instance, a 2001 initiative called the Behavior Analysis Services Program (BASP) has been used to train foster parents, conduct functional behavior assessments, and analyze special circumstances such as runaways.
What Is A Child Welfare Case Worker?
A CWC is a crucial representative of both state and non-profit social services agencies to observe, manage, and make recommendations for the care of children in need. They work with parents, guardians, foster parents, and other relatives of those kids, as well as coordinating with other caregivers and social service agencies to arrange consistent and needed resources for children.
Many CWCs work for Child Protective Service (CPS) branches of state social service departments, but you can also find positions with foster care agencies, adoption agencies, and other youth services organizations.
Child Welfare Case Worker Job Description
There are a number of different types of CWC, each of which has a slightly different focus:
- CPS Intake Caseworker – Gathers information and makes decisions about the well-being of children who have been referred to child welfare agencies.
- CPS Assessment Caseworker – Assesses risk and safety threats, plans and manages child protection services for at-risk kids.
- Family Preservation Caseworker – Works with families to ensure the safety and well-being of children, suggesting resources and monitoring home conditions.
- Foster Care Caseworker – Collaborate with foster parents to assist kids in foster care.
All of these positions involve interaction with parents, teachers, caregivers, law enforcement officials, and, most importantly, kids. Caseworkers represent the interests of the child in a variety of venues and have to work hard to earn the trust of their charges through one-on-one interaction.
CWCs are likely to end up in court at times, testifying as to their observations and the circumstances of children under their care. Communication and speaking skills are important. You’ll also need a strong knowledge of laws, ethics, and regulations pertaining to child welfare and education.
Some caseworkers work in schools, monitoring at-risk groups of kids for signs of trauma or abuse.
Paperwork and travel are common daily tasks for caseworkers, who may have many cases to manage simultaneously and many different locations to visit.
How To Become a Child Welfare Caseworker
Child welfare work isn’t the place for learning on the job… you need to make the right call the first time in this all-important practice area. That means getting the right education for the position, as well as accumulating supervised experience in the field. Most jobs have a graduated experience requirement, where higher level degrees can substitute for time in the position.
What Kind of Education Does it Take to Become a Child Welfare Caseworker?
You’ll almost certainly need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, human services, or behavioral sciences to become a child welfare case worker. These degrees will give you the communication, ethical, and cultural knowledge you need to evaluate and understand the complex considerations in determining the best course of action for kids under your supervision.
A master’s degree, naturally, offers even more expertise, along with additional supervised experience in the field that helps you develop your skills with direct input from current professionals.
Regardless of the degree you choose to pursue, accreditation is an important element of selecting the right program. For social work degrees, for example, you’ll want to make sure you pick a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This ensure you get the most up-to-date techniques and theories available in the field, as well as maintaining your eligibility for licensure and certification.
The Types of Licenses and Certifications Required for Child Welfare Caseworkers
Some child welfare caseworkers must also be licensed social workers at the bachelor’s or master’s level, depending on the state. A degree from a CSWE-accredited school is necessary for this status in every state, combined with passing a national examination from the Association of Social Work Boards, as well as other state-specific requirements, such as ethics exams or specialized training. You’ll need to consult your state licensing board for specific details.
You might also consider earning a specialty certification that demonstrates additional skills in the field, such as the Certified Social Work Case Manager (C-SWCM) credential from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The C-SWCM requires only a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program, documentation of three years and 4,500 hours of paid, supervised post-licensure case management experience, a current license, and adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics and Standards for Continuing Professional Education.
In some states, even when the position does not require licensing as a social worker, you may have to undergo other specialized training for the job, such as undergoing Child Welfare Basic Training in South Carolina, or becoming a certified Child Welfare Caseworker in Colorado by completing courses through the Colorado Training Academy.
Earning a BCBA as a Child Welfare Caseworker
The BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certification through the Behavior Analysis Certification Board currently requires you to hold a master’s degree, either in ABA specifically, or in psychology or education with a concentration in ABA. If you to hold a master’s in one of these areas that didn’t include a qualifying ABA concentration, you still have no shortage of options for completing the courses you need thanks to the fact that they are widely available as post-master’s certificate programs – typically referred to as the BCBA VCS (Verified Course Sequence). Unfortunately, if you have a master’s in anything other than one of these three areas, you wouldn’t qualify under current policy, but that’s about to change
As of 2022, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board will open up the BCBA process to allow master’s degree holders from fields outside of education, applied behavior analysis, or psychology to apply. That means If you hold a social work degree, you will also soon be eligible to sit for the examination required to earn the BCBA credential.
You will still need the requisite experience in supervised fieldwork, and at least 315 hours of coursework in behavior analysis through a program offering an ABAI-approved Verified Course Sequence (VCS). The VCS ensures that you education in behavior analysis will align directly with the most up-to-date practices and theories in the field, giving you skills in discreet trial training, functional behavior assessment, and other valuable behavioral interventions.
Salary for Child Welfare Caseworkers
As jobs predominantly found with government agencies, CWC positions usually enjoy solid salaries and benefits, with well-defined pay progressions. These are usually reflected in job titles, where a CWC I can expect to make less than a CWC III. Positions with non-profits or other private agencies may have other titles and salary expectations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also tracks child welfare caseworker salaries under the general category of Child, Family, and School Social Workers (together with other social work jobs). In 2021, the annual median wage for those jobs was $49,150.
Pay can vary considerably with location, however. California and New Jersey were the top paying states for the category, with annual mean wages of over $75,000 per year.
Most caseworkers find that their greatest compensation, however, is in making sure that kids who otherwise don’t have much of a chance in life get a shot at a safe and normal childhood through their efforts.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Child, Family, and School Social Workers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.