If you have a passion for helping families and children develop healthy living situations, you may be a good candidate for a career as a foster care social worker. In general, foster care is temporary housing to keep children safe while their parents or guardians work out larger issues that are preventing a happy, functioning home. Social workers specializing in foster care often work under the umbrella of child welfare. The job is far from easy, but it can be rewarding. Locating and maintaining safe foster care homes for children is just one possible task you’ll have; child welfare workers are responsible for doing whatever it takes to ensure that children under their care are safe.
Tasks and Duties
There are many types of social workers, but those specializing in foster care generally fall under the classification of child and family social workers. The exact details of what you'll do in foster care depend on your particular position. Foster care social workers usually help to locate and train foster families and evaluate the effectiveness of a fostering situation. Most foster care social workers can expect to serve as liaisons between families, children, schools, and social service agencies. You may be responsible for counseling families about issues related to child care and you’ll likely find yourself responding to difficult cases of child abuse.
Where You’ll Work
Even if you specialize in foster care work, that doesn’t mean that you can only work at a foster care agency. Adoption agencies, day care centers, child welfare organizations and family preservation centers all deal with the foster care system in one way or another. Your job will likely involve travel to conduct home visits and meet with families. As a case manager, you may need to attend court hearings and provide testimony about your clients.
Education and Licensing Requirements
To be employed as a professional social worker in any sub-field, you must have a master’s degree in social work, or MSW. All states require their social workers to be either licensed or certified, but requirements will vary. You’ll usually need to pass an exam and complete some amount of supervised hours of work to be clinically licensed. Licensing is generally available at a variety of levels, depending on what type of work you would like to pursue and your highest degree earned.
Outside of training and education requirements, the number one skill you’ll need is compassion. You’ll encounter frustrating and upsetting situations when working with clients, but to effectively help them, you’ll need to understand their point of view and their needs. Relatedly, you should be willing and able to work with a wide cross-section of personality types. In general, you also need to analyze pressing issues and come up with solutions, as well as manage your time effectively to balance the demands of multiple clients and cases.
2016 Salary Information for Social Workers
Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.