Learn about North Carolina Licensure

Child Welfare

Written by Jack Levinson

working with child and family

If your heart goes out to children living in unstable or dangerous situations, you can devote your career to the cause by becoming a child welfare social worker.

Sadly, children all over the country face heartbreaking circumstances that endanger their well-being in the short-term as well as the long-term. From dramatic issues like abuse to harder-to-spot issues like neglect, food insecurity, and unsafe living conditions, children in need can be affected by a variety of significant challenges that require professional intervention and oversight.

Child welfare social workers provide the critical resources needed to protect children in crisis, ensuring their long-term safety and wellbeing.

They can also provide invaluable support to families in crisis who may have their children’s best interests at heart but are nevertheless unable to provide the quality of life needed to keep their children safe and healthy.

This work is not for the faint of heart, as you are likely to witness circumstances that are nothing short of tragic. However, for those with compassionate hearts and a desire to make a difference, becoming a child welfare social worker is an incredibly meaningful contribution you can make in the life of a child, one that is likely to impact the rest of their life for the better.

So what do child welfare social workers do, and how does a social worker come to specialize in this field? Read on to learn everything you need to know to become a child welfare social worker in North Carolina.

What Does a Child Welfare Social Worker Do?

Child welfare social workers have a variety of duties, all of which require a great deal of training, diligence, and most of all, empathy. In taking responsibility for at-risk youths, they must be fastidious, highly observant, and deeply caring in order to do their jobs to the fullest.

But what is child welfare social work? Some of the top responsibilities of child welfare social workers include the following:

Assessments of At-Risk Children and Families

One of the most important and well-known responsibilities of social workers is evaluating families in crisis. This occurs when children are showing signs of neglect, abuse, or other forms of mistreatment. Child welfare social workers step in to evaluate families, looking carefully at living conditions, parental capabilities, and any other possible risks to their children’s wellbeing. These assessments are the basis from which intervention plans and other long-term care decisions are made.

Needless to say, this work requires extensive preparation, a deep knowledge of family dynamics and human development, and thorough procedural training, as it is highly sensitive work.

Social workers who act as eyewitnesses to at-risk children’s lives are taking responsibility for those children’s futures.

Determining whether or not a child is safe will dictate all future decisions. The consequences of making the wrong determinations under such circumstances are grave. This is why it’s so important for child welfare social workers to develop deep expertise, so that they can become reliable authorities in hugely consequential decisions.

Designing Interventions and Long-Term Care Plans

When social workers determine that children are indeed living in unsafe situations, their next responsibility is to act decisively to bring these children to safety. In the most extreme forms, this can involve collaborating with adoption and foster care agencies. This, again, is not to be taken lightly, as it is a painful decision that will change the lives of parents and children alike.

When designing an intervention plan for a child deemed at-risk, child welfare social workers do not work alone. Rather, they work in collaboration with law enforcement, schools, community organizations, and other supportive services to develop a comprehensive plan intended to minimize harm and disruption to the child or children in question. It is critical that these plans be solutions oriented – beyond simply extricating a child from a negative situation, they must also work to ensure that they are moved into a positive one that will encourage healthy development.


In cases where interventions are deemed necessary for a child’s wellbeing, child welfare social workers act as advocates in the legal and judicial systems. They are responsible for gathering and presenting evidence to courtrooms to explain their assessments and why they have recommended the intervention they’ve chosen.

Taking this responsibility means that child welfare social workers must also be deeply well-informed about the legal process, taking pains to ensure that the court’s decision is aligned with the needs and rights of the child.


In cases where intervention is not necessary, child welfare social workers take responsibility for educating and supporting families to prevent crises in the future. This can involve providing resources including educational programs, counseling, and other supportive services that build parenting skills, stop cycles of abuse, and help parents address the root of their problems so that they can keep their children safe in the long term.

upset family at home with social worker

The Internet and the Future of Child Welfare

Just like so many fields, in recent years, the field of child welfare has been transformed by the rise of technology. Most of these changes are positive, expanding access to information for at-risk families and children as well as providing new ways for social workers to build evidence to assess children’s safety.

The Internet can be a fantastic tool for educating parents, providing information that can help them evaluate their own households and create safer environments for their children. Parents also have better access to supportive resources, which they can now track down from home.

Digital media can also be an important source of insight for social workers who are determining if a child is safe. Though a social worker would never build a case using insight gained from a child’s social media alone, the content a child (or parent) shares can sometimes be a tipoff to authority figures such as teachers that a child is at-risk.

The Internet also expands opportunities for collaboration and information-sharing between child welfare professionals. By improving connectivity, digital technology makes social workers more efficient and more available to one another, making it easier to act quickly and store all relevant information in a shared, easily accessible place.

For all of the excellent benefits of the rise of the Internet, it is also crucial that social workers working today are aware of its limitations. Because it is so much easier to spread misinformation or misrepresentations online, child welfare social workers must learn how to verify information. They also must recognize that some families do not have easy access to the Internet, meaning it cannot be the primary means by which child welfare workers make contact with them.

Because of its many advantages, child welfare social workers have been quick to embrace the use of digital technology in their field. However, they are also sure to take into account the restraints and potential for misinformation inherent to these formats. If you are entering the field of child welfare social work, you are sure to learn a great deal about how to make the most of these technological innovations to further the work of supporting at-risk children.

How to Become a Child Welfare Social Worker

The requirements and expectations to become a child welfare social worker are in line with those of any other branch of the social work field. One must receive a comprehensive social work education, complete the mandatory supervised field work hours, and obtain a relevant social work license in order to take on the immense responsibilities of the child welfare social work profession.

Child Welfare Social Worker Education Requirements

In the state of North Carolina (as well as the rest of the country), social workers are required to complete a graduate program.

To hold the full responsibilities of a child welfare social worker, you must hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from a CSWE-accredited institution.

You cannot become a child welfare social worker without a graduate degree. Though some social work organizations have low-ranking roles for those without master’s degrees, you will not be able to move beyond these positions until you get one.

You do not need to hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) in order to apply for a graduate program; a bachelor’s degree in any subject will be sufficient. However, those who hold a BSW can eliminate the first year from their master’s program, expediting their academic journey.

Your master’s program will include a substantial amount of supervised field work, which will provide your entree into your focus area of choice. (Some programs allow you to try different field work opportunities, if you haven’t made up your mind about how you would like to specialize.) Field work is an excellent opportunity to see your desired profession “on the ground,” giving you a firsthand understanding of what your responsibilities will include.

For students unsure if they can take on the rigorous schedule of an on-campus program, great news: thanks to the rise of online education models, most MSW programs offer remote options, which will make it significantly easier to attend school while carrying out other responsibilities such as continued employment or family care. There are also many part-time programs available, which typically extend the duration of an MSW program from two years to three.

Choosing Your Social Work License

Beyond obtaining your MSW, when pursuing a career in child welfare social work you must also obtain a license. In North Carolina, licenses are conferred by the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensing Board (NCSWCLB), which administers the licensing exams for social workers.

Preparing for licensing exams is critical, as these comprehensive tests determine if you are eligible to enter the social work field.

There are two primary types of social work license for those with graduate degrees:

If you are preparing for the educational journey of becoming a social worker, make sure to factor in your desired license level and the work required to obtain it. This will affect the duration of your educational journey and the path to realizing your professional goals.

talking with young child


Child Welfare Social Worker Salary

Social work jobs are rewarding in the deepest ways: by taking responsibility for disadvantaged people, especially children, your work will make a tremendous difference in turning lives around for the better. But social workers often lament that the job is not more remunerative. However, there is reason to be optimistic.

Social workers who are focused on building out a sustainable long-term career can work to earn top-level salaries in the field, supporting a high quality of life.

North Carolina is renowned as a state where one’s income can go further than many other places in the country, making it an attractive place to build up a social work career. This is great news for those who are looking to begin their educational journey in the state.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina-based child, family, and school social workers earn a mean annual salary of $50,420. This is not far from the national average of $56,680 per year. While the BLS does not provide information for the top-earning social workers in North Carolina, national averages can serve as a guideline: the 90th percentile of child, family, and school social workers earn a mean annual wage of $81,920.

These 90th-percentile figures can give North Carolina-based child welfare social workers reason for optimism. By amassing experience and leadership skills, you can work toward a top-ranking position in the social work field that will earn you an income to support a fulfilling and comfortable life overall.


What are the top child welfare social worker skills?

Child welfare social work is a multifaceted field that requires a variety of skills. Some of the most important skills a child welfare worker must possess are the following:

Some of these are “soft skills” that might come innately to future social workers. Others necessarily require training and education. You don’t need to enter your MSW program with all of these skills developed – that, after all, is what your education is for. But it can be helpful to understand these expectations at the outset of your educational journey to be sure that this career path speaks to your natural abilities.

Where do child welfare social workers work?

Child welfare social workers are employed by a variety of organizations, from government agencies to nonprofits and more. There are child welfare social worker jobs in North Carolina in settings including Child Protective Services (CPS) organizations, family support agencies, hospitals and other healthcare settings, schools, adoption and foster care agencies, juvenile courts, and more.

What degree do you need in order to become a child welfare worker?

In order to become a child welfare social worker, one must hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited institution. You will also need to obtain a relevant license (LMSW or LCSW) from the North Carolina Social Work Certification and License Board.

How do I specialize in child welfare social work?

Most MSW students do not determine their social work specialty until the second year of their master’s program, when they begin their supervised field work hours. This allows students to spend their first year exploring the many different types of social work they can get involved in to figure out which causes speak to them the most and make the best use of their skills and insights. Upon choosing your field work opportunity, you can pick the area of specialty that you would most like to develop. As soon as you begin your internship you will be building the expertise needed to launch a thriving, lasting career.