How to Become a Youth Social Worker [2023 Degree Programs] (2023)

What is a Youth Social Worker?

Youth social work is a fast paced and rewarding career that provides an opportunity to improve the lives of children. A youth social worker is someone who helps adolescents with issues they may be facing while growing up. They work directly with teens and pre-teens to help them with various struggles of life and how to develop better coping skills to deal with life issues.

A youth social worker takes on an important role in society as they help shape the lives of youth who will be leading our communities into the future.

Youth social workers generally function as a member of an interdisciplinary team that provides support and guidance to improve the quality of life of the child. Social workers can be found at work in schools, courts, community centers, hospitals, and in private practice.

Many social workers enter the career field with a bachelor degree; although a Master degree is considered the terminal degree for practice. Usually, social work students who are interested in working with youth will seek specialty courses that focus on child and family services.

What is the Role of Social Workers in Youth Welfare?

The primary role of social workers in the youth welfare system is the protection of children from harm. Through prevention and intervention services, they protect children who are either at risk for or have been abused or neglected, children with mental health or medical needs and those children who are without parents or family. They also support at risk families in an effort to provide safe and stable homes for their children.

Social workers are responsible for the overall coordination of services that these children and families may need. They are the point person for the development of and monitoring compliance with the child or family’s case plan.

Depending on the agency, the social worker may act as the case manager and actively arrange for needed services. Once interventions and services are in place, the social worker will monitor progress and compliance with the plan.

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An additional aspect of protection and support for children and their families is that of advocacy. In the youth welfare system, social workers are the primary advocates for children and their families. Part of advocacy involves seeking out supports and resources for them.

Advocacy also includes teaching children and especially their families how to find, access and use community resources so that they can become self-sufficient and begin to advocate for themselves.

What Does a Youth Social Worker Do?

Youth social workers work with children and young people who are struggling socially, educationally or with health concerns. The aim of the role is to intervene early with issues before they escalate, which may lead to problems with social and educational development. Involvement with a youth social worker is usually voluntary, meaning that the child and their family must agree to participation before any assistance can begin.

The role of the youth social worker is to develop a supportive relationship with a child or young person who appears to be struggling with the aim of uncovering the underlying problems they face and helping them to overcome or deal with these problems.

It is hoped that by forming these relationships, the young person then has a secure basis for forming healthy relationships with others moving forward. The youth social worker also aims to increase the confidence of the young person to allow them to understand and address their issues.

The flexibility of the role means that a youth social worker can provide support for young people suffering from a range of difficulties – they can help those displaying difficult behavior, those affected by teen pregnancy and those affected by difficult home environments for example. They can provide a ‘safe’ adult for young people to confide in and they can assist with co-ordination of services across a diverse range to best serve the needs of each individual child. This may also involve getting support for whole families if needed.

The diversity of their role means that the role of the youth social worker is one providing services and support to a great number of children and young people, helping them establish healthy relationships and addressing their issues, allowing them the best possible start as they move towards adulthood and independence.

Youth social workers also become involved with a child and his/her family when that child displays some behavior at home, in school, or other social setting that would alarm responsible adults that something could be causing the child an issue.

Youth social workers are usually one part of an interdisciplinary team, which provide the child and his/her family with support. For a youth social worker this can mean providing individual and family therapy, case management, referral to other social services, and advocacy to ensure that the child and family receive the services necessary to ensure a higher quality of life for the child.

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At times it may become necessary to remove a child from his family of origin. In these situations a youth social worker may assist with placing the child in foster care. At this time the social worker may work with both the child and the family to create an environment in which the child is safe to return to his/her family.

Related: Becoming a Youth Counselor

Why Do We Need Youth Social Workers?

Youth social workers are extremely important. Children struggle with all types of problems and most are unable to deal with them. Withdrawal from society, suicide, and basic coping skills are reasons why youth social workers are needed.

Teens deal with depression, authority issues, and having a low self-esteem. If they are unable to learn how to cope with such issues, then they are unlikely to cope with them as adults and lead a very difficult life once out on their own.

There are plenty of social workers and psychologists available. However, a youth social worker is specifically trained to deal with problems facing adolescents. They are a specialist of sorts that focus directly on children and help them with coping mechanisms to get them through childhood.

So, while there are plenty of professionals out there, a youth social worker is the best route to take in order to help those dealing with life problems.

What are the Requirements to Become a Youth Social Worker?

Youth Social Work Education

For entry-level positions a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common. A BSW prepares the student for positions that provide case management and services as a mental health assistant.

Bachelor level programs focus the student on understanding diverse populations, theories involving complex human behavior, and social welfare policy. All bachelor programs require that the student complete a supervised internship prior to graduation.

To enter a Master’s degree program (MSW) there is generally an application process that includes completion of a personal essay. The essay provides an opportunity for the student to express his abilities and desires to the academic team that will review the writing. This is an opportunity for candidates to stand out in the process and tell their own story.

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Most programs are 2 years in length. Some Colleges and Universities may offer a part time study; these programs generally take 3 years to complete.

A Master’s in social work prepares the student for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment skills, and preparing the candidate to begin supervising others in the career field.

All social work degrees in the U.S. must be obtained from a school recognized by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Masters programs will take one of two approaches, an advanced generalist approach; or a clinical approach.

In the advanced generalist school students will take classes in Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Social Work policy, the practice of social work, and Social Work research. The clinical approach teaches these same skills, but also includes a focus on clinical care and may follow the theoretical approach of a specific school of thought.

All programs require students to complete a supervised internship and/or practicum.

Youth Social Work Training

As a licensed social worker you are required to complete several courses per year to maintain your licensure. For youth social workers this will include courses specialized in child and family services.

There may be courses designed by child and family services, private organizations, State, local and federal agencies. Each of the courses will be reviewed by the Council on Social Work Education to ensure they meet the standard set forth by the Council.

Youth Social Work Licensing Requirements

Once you have graduated from a CSWE approved program either at the bachelor or master level you will be eligible to become licensed as a social worker. In most cases your state will have the criteria for licensure listed on a state website or the criteria can also be found on the Association of Social Work Boards website.

Obtaining your license will require that you have completed your academic program. A certain number of hours working in your chosen field will be required. This time working in the field must be supervised and documented by a person holding a social work license with some experience.

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Once you have completed your academics and required number of practicum hours a test will be administered. If you receive a passing score on the exam you will be licensed to practice social work in your state.

Youth Social Work Necessary Personal Skills

  • Empathetic
  • Patient
  • Organized
  • Persistent
  • Respectful
  • Open Minded
  • Flexible
  • Ethical/Moral
  • Self-Aware
  • A true love of children

What Can You Do With a Degree in Youth Social Work?

A degree in youth social work prepares individuals to enter a wide variety of career fields. Many youth social workers are employed by state or federal agencies, such as the Department of Child and Family Services, Child Protective Services, or Health and Human Services to work with children that have been abused or neglected.

Working with children that live in poverty, are homeless, or have a parent in the prison system is typical for social workers in this field as well. Many youth social workers also work with families that have a propensity for violence.

Other youth social workers are employed as at-risk youth workers. In this capacity, youth social workers seek to help children that are in dangerous or unhealthy situations, such being homeless after running away from home or being addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Children that are being sexually exploited or engaging in criminal activities are also common clients of at-risk youth workers. In this capacity, youth social workers may act as interventionists and devise learning programs to help curb unhealthy behaviors. In other instances, they may act as more of a mentor to youth who need a positive adult role model in their life.

Another option for individuals with a degree in youth social work is to work in youth development. In this area, social workers focus on preparing children and adolescents for adulthood through educational programming. The focus might be on vocational preparation, so students have tangible skills that will help them find employment after high school.

Career counseling and academic preparations for college are other common duties for youth social workers.

Many youth social workers also work in the community setting, such as for an after-school program or a recreational program.

In these settings, youth social workers typically devise programs that teach students academic or vocational skills, address life issues, and offer a safe, fun place to stay when they aren’t in school. Tutoring services are usually offered in these settings, and access to community service programs is usually offered as well.

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Where Does a Youth Social Worker Work?

Youth social workers provide services in a variety of settings. They are found in offices, community clinics, client homes, hospitals, community centers, schools, and in the streets.

In some cases, hours of work are determined by the needs of the families, other social work positions may work from 9-5 Monday-Friday. Flexibility is the key to meeting the needs of your clientele. Social workers can be found in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the United States.

What is the Salary and Job Outlook for Youth Social Workers?

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the median income for a child, family, and school social worker is $50,390. The prediction for job growth for Social Workers between 2021 and 2031 is 9%, this is higher than average for this period.

Related Reading

  • How to Become a Child Life Specialist
  • What Can You Do With a Child Psychology Degree?
  • What Can You Do With a Counseling Psychology Degree?
  • What is the Difference Between Social Work and Human Services Degrees?

Further Reading


How to Become a Youth Social Worker [2023 Degree Programs]? ›

Most social work positions require at least a bachelor's in social work degree (BSW) from an accredited school. However, some states accept social workers with an associate degree. A BSW allows you to pursue entry-level social work jobs in most states but not clinical roles.

What is the minimum degree for a social worker? ›

Most social work positions require at least a bachelor's in social work degree (BSW) from an accredited school. However, some states accept social workers with an associate degree. A BSW allows you to pursue entry-level social work jobs in most states but not clinical roles.

Is 30 too old to become a social worker? ›

It is not unusual for MSW students to pursue this degree in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s. Being a student later in life can be rewarding and meaningful. And as with many industries, a graduate degree is becoming the professional standard.

What degree do you need to be a social worker in NY? ›

Complete a master of social work (MSW) degree.

Both licenses for social workers in New York require a minimum completed MSW degree that offers at least 900 internship hours in the curriculum.

How do I become a school social worker in Maryland? ›

School Social Workers are trained mental health professionals with a master's degree in Social Work, licensed by the Maryland Board of Social Work Examiners and possess a MSDE Certification as School Social Worker.

What major is best for social worker? ›


Many social workers begin their study with a bachelor's degree in sociology, and it offers a great transition tan a MSW program.

Are social work degrees hard? ›

IS MSW PROGRAM HARD? If you are considering becoming a Master of Social Work, it is natural to wonder, “Is an MSW program hard?” Simply put, yes, MSW programs are hard. You learn a lot of content, participate in field experiences, and deal with clients from different backgrounds experiencing different needs.


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