In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Though counselors are outnumbered by social workers, who traditionally staff child protection agencies, counselors often are hired to work with children and families. In many cases, the counselor provides counseling to parents and children for the purposes of reunification. Counselors may also counsel children who have been placed in foster care or those who are in residential treatment facilities. Counselors may even serve in traditional social work capacities and provide some counseling but spend much of their time serving as case managers. Some counselors in child welfare may also assist with investigations of allegations of child abuse or neglect and participate in finding the child a foster care placement.
Issues to Understand
Working with child protection services is often a very difficult job. There will be people in the community who view child protection staff as “people who break up families.” Child protection staff deal almost exclusively with children who have been abused by their families, and many counselors will have difficulty maintaining a therapeutic mindset without suffering from compassion fatigue or burnout. Due to budgetary restrictions, child protection services tend to be understaffed and overworked. Thus, a counselor working in this field may have several children and families to counsel, may have to make site visits to homes and agencies, and may complete numerous reports and paperwork for tracking purposes. Counselors working in child protection will need to be highly organized to stay up with the multiple demands of the job and emotionally resilient in order to manage the trauma they will witness with abused and neglected children and adolescents. A strong core of supportive family, friends, and colleagues is also desirable as child protection workers will receive a lot of criticism.
Best Aspects of the Job
Many counselors enjoy the challenge of working with children who have suffered abuse. Counselors who can thrive in these settings will likely have a mixture of compassion, patience, and some degree of resilience as everyone they counsel is in pain. Perhaps the “best” part of the job comes with the feeling that one has made a difference in a child’s life, no matter how slight or how significant.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
There are many challenges inherent with the child welfare field. As previously mentioned, child abuse is difficult for most professionals to deal with. Children who have been abused may also act out their anger on a convenient target, namely the counselor or caseworker. In every community I have lived in, there has been some political backlash against child protection services for “breaking up families.” Conversely, if child protection workers do not intervene and remove a child, they may be blamed for not acting quickly enough. Clearly, it is easier to blame child protection professionals for doing their jobs than to focus on the root problems of child abuse and neglect (poverty, devaluation of children’s rights, and communities that value keeping children in the home at all costs).
Occupational Outlook and Salary
The occupational outlook for counselors working in child protection is likely to mirror caseworkers and social workers and will be high (say 23%–24% growth rate). Child-welfare agencies are usually part of state government, and salaries will vary depending on the experience of the counselor and whether the counselor is line staff or manager. The BOLS states that median salary for mental health counselors in government settings is slightly higher than that for general mental health counselors, and it is $45,510.