Whether you are just entering a college or university or you are reaching the point where you need to choose between potential career paths, one of the mounting questions you’ll face is What can I do to make the greatest positive impact possible?
Consider this: There are hundreds of thousands of children currently in the American foster care system and tens of thousands of young people transition out of the system each year without a permanent family unit to rely on. For social workers seeking to make an immediate impact in their communities and deliver long-term, systemic benefits, there are few more crucial roles to consider than working within the foster care system.
From supporting children and foster families during the adoption process to countless other roles and responsibilities, the expertise and training you and your fellow social workers have can be the essential tipping point to ensure children find the love, support and stability that is so often the difference between surviving through life and thriving through life.
Herzing University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program provides a first-rate education to individuals interested in careers within the social work field — careers specifically built to train you and then help you make a difference in communities with the skills to intervene and make change happen. Social workers can empower families through their service, dedication and skilled expertise.
Understanding the Role Social Workers Play in Uniting Families
You will find that social workers play an essential part in every aspect of the foster care system, from investigation, placement, and adoption to policy development to post-adoption support. Individuals trained in specific for children and families can offer a wealth of knowledge and assist this much-needed societal service in becoming the best it can be for the young people whose lives rely on it.
As a social worker, your role in the foster care system might include:
1. Crisis Intervention: The entrance of any child into foster care can be a traumatizing situation for them. It might involve removing them from moments of physical and/or emotional abuse or neglect. It can also be due to a short-term inability of the child’s parent or guardian to properly support the child or the death of a loved one. Social workers are uniquely trained and qualified to communicate and act during these moments and can be a crucial resource in ensuring an effective transition for the child.
2. Post-Placement Support: Whether it is an adoption or foster placement, social workers are the points of contact throughout the process. Post-placement, you might be a part of the team dedicated to monitoring the situation, facilitating communication, developing case plans, or helping children and other individuals cope with the common challenges that arise during these significant life milestones — such as feelings of separation, loss, and uncertainty.
3. Legal Efforts to Support and Place Children in Loving Homes: Within the adoption process, social workers can play a significant role by guiding participants through the legal aspects of adoption or fostering a child. There can be significant steps along the way, as well as paperwork needing to be completed and filed with the proper agencies. It can also be a blessing to have someone well versed in this area to assist as birth parents, adoptive parents, other individuals, and especially the children will have plenty of other things to work through and you can play a role in reducing that burden and stress.
4. Reunification: The goal of foster care is to reunify the children with their families whenever possible. The social worker serves as a facilitator to provide counseling, education and treatment planning with biological parents so that, if possible, children can be reunited with their families. Throughout this whole process, the social worker offers support and advocacy for children.
5. Adoption / Foster Care Assessment and Counseling: Social workers might assess the situation surrounding the birth parents, the children within the foster system, or prospective foster families or adoptive parents. Your skills and training can help ensure all parties make informed decisions and that the environments the children enter are safe and nurturing for their short- and long-term development.
6. Education and Issue Advocacy: Social workers can also be significant advocates at a community level for pursuing efforts to improve existing policies in and around the foster care system. You can support the development of broader changes that can positively impact the lives of children within foster care, the families who seek to love and protect them, and the community resources available to these foster care programs.
Most importantly, social workers play a critical role in facilitating the foster care process while prioritizing the best interests and well-being of the children involved. They can act as advocates, educators and supporters to ensure safety is the priority for all parties.
Getting from the Classroom to a Career
There are steps all future social workers will have to take to get from wanting to help to be effectively trained and mentally prepared for the difficult but important work they will do.
You can better prepare yourself for a career in social work and within the child and family care field through:
- Pursue educational pathways: Enrolling in valuable social work programs, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, is crucial for acquiring the foundational knowledge and skills needed for a career in the foster care system. Focus on coursework that delves into child welfare, family dynamics, abuse, neglect, and relevant legal and ethical considerations to build your expertise.
- Expand your professional development: Continual learning is key to success in the ever-changing field of social work. Attend workshops, seminars, and conferences specifically addressing adoption and foster care issues. Seek out specialized training programs to deepen your expertise, stay informed about the latest research, interventions and best practices.
- Network and locate mentors: Building a network provides valuable insights and mentorship opportunities. Engage with professionals who can offer guidance, share their experiences, and provide a realistic expectation of the challenges and rewards associated with this career path.
- Get involved locally: Actively participate in local initiatives and organizations related to adoption and foster care. You can volunteer with agencies, attend support groups, and collaborate with community stakeholders. Hands-on involvement will show your commitment to positively impacting the lives of children and families in your community.
As a social worker, you will have plenty of paths open to you where you can support and positively influence the lives of others. If you specialize in child welfare, working within the foster care system is one direction you should consider. Herzing University offers many educational degree programs that can help get you trained quickly and effectively before getting you back into the community so you can take what you’ve learned and use it to help countless children locate the love and support, they deserve.