Be a Youth Worker
Youth workers typically work with older children (preteens and teenagers), but their jobs may also require them to address the needs of at-risk children in all age groups. As a type of social work, this field will require you to pursue a high level of academic degree, certification, and practical experience.
Part One: Education
- Obtain a bachelor's degree. At minimum, you will need to obtain a bachelor's degree in the field of social work. This level of education is required for all entry-level positions.
- Under some circumstances, however, you might be able to find work within the field if you have a related degree, like one in child psychology.
- Some social work programs at the bachelor's degree level allow you to select a specific concentration. Consider one in child welfare, youth work, or a similar area where available.
- You can typically find work in direct-service positions with a bachelor's degree. If you want to be a case worker, for instance, some employers might hire you with only a bachelor's degree, especially if you can prove that you intend to continue your education.
- Consider getting your master's degree. If you want a higher level clinical position in youth work, you will probably need a master's degree in social work.
- The school and program you go through must be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in order to be considered valid.
- In addition to having a master's degree, you may also need two years of post-master experience before landing a position in a clinic.
- You do not necessarily need to have a bachelor's degree in social work to get into the right master's degree program, but it can help. Degrees in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science can be equally helpful.
- The first year of graduate school will likely cover foundational social work material. Expect to cover area-specific information during your second year. That second year will be the time when you go through courses dealing specifically with child welfare and other youth work topics.
- Become licensed in your state. Every state in the United States will require those involved in youth work or other fields of social work to obtain some type of license or certification before working within state lines.
- The exact requirements vary by state, so you'll need to check with the state you plan to work in to determine what you need to do. Usually, though, licensing requires a master's degree in social work. You should also expect to take and pass an exam.
- You can find out what the requirement are for your state by checking with the Association of Social Work Boards: https://www.aswb.org/
Part Two: Experience
- Volunteer. You should begin doing volunteer work as early as possible. Starting while you're working on your bachelor's degree should be fine, but if you're still in high school, it's an even better idea to start now.
- Community service in any social work field should demonstrate your commitment and ability, but to make the biggest impact, look for opportunities specifically dealing with children and teenagers.
- Consider volunteering through the Boys & Girls Club of America, local churches and community centers, the United Way, Americorps, or similar organizations. You may also ask social work instructors at your institution for volunteer opportunities they know about.
- Intern in the field. When you embark on a master's degree in social work, you will automatically need to complete some type of supervised practicum or internship. This work experience program typically lasts for two years or 3,000 hours.
- This work can be completed before or after you obtain your master's degree.
- Your work experience should be directly related to the type of work you want to pursue in your career, so look for an opportunity in youth services. Note that your work will be supervised during this period, too.
- Most programs at the undergraduate level will also require some supervised field work, but you'll usually only need about 400 hours.
- Make connections. Leave a good impression with everyone you come into contact with through each educational and work experience you engage in. Stay in touch with these people even after you move on.
- Professional and educational contacts that you have known for 6 to 12 months can often serve as references when you're trying to get into a good master's program.
- After you finish your schooling, you can use these same professional contacts as references on your resume.
Part Three: Working in the Field
- Know what to expect. Child welfare and youth-oriented social work are rapidly growing fields with steady pay.
- As of May 2012, the median annual wage for social workers who deal with minors was $41,530.
- Within the youth worker field, employment is also expected to grow 15 percent between 2012 and 2022. This rate is faster than the overall average employment rate.
- Look for work in the right places. State and local governments are the largest employers of child and family social workers, but there are a few private organizations that may also employ workers in this field.
- Schools and child welfare agencies are among the most common public institutions in need of youth workers.
- Aside from these common institutions, look for work with social assistance organizations, educational services (both public and private), religious organizations, and civic organizations.
- Recognize signs of need. You'll need to be able to identify children with special needs or behavioral problems. Oftentimes, you also need to watch for signs of poor living conditions (abuse or neglect).
- Signs of abuse and neglect can be the most difficult to spot. Among other things, look for children who are regularly dressed inappropriately for volatile weather, those who are frequently unbathed, those with an uncommon number of injuries (bruises, cuts, and broken bones), those who exhibit abnormal amounts of fear, those who are intelligent yet under the belief that they are stupid, and those who have sexual knowledge that is inappropriate for that age.
- Monitor progress. After identifying children in need, you will need to monitor the situation and intervene in the most appropriate way.
- You'll usually need to assess the child's home life through interviews and home visits.
- Children at a high risk of being hurt may need to be removed. Those who are at a low risk are usually kept where they are, but you will need to work with the family and the child to fix the problems they face.
- Prepare to follow up with later evaluations even after the problem has been addressed.
- Plan on covering a variety of daily tasks. Depending on the exact nature of your position, your daily tasks may include activities that go beyond home evaluations.
- You might be involved in programs that provide forms of recreation, mentoring, education, and counseling to youth in need.
- Other times, you will need to manage finances, write reports, respond to general or specific concerns by phone or e-mail, recruit volunteers or other workers, and work with police and other professionals to help address ongoing problems in the community.
- Maintain your skills. To benefit the youth you work with as much as possible, you will need to continually manage old skills and learn new skills related to the field. You may do this on your own or through formal classes.
- In particular, you need to be able to empathize with kids from all backgrounds and encourage them to trust you. This requires you to be an excellent active listener and overall communicator.
- You must also be able to deal with unexpected, serious problems in a calm, sensitive way. Fairness, respect, and compassion are all necessary attributes.
- There are also several administrative skills you need to master, including organizational abilities and self-discipline. Be prepared to work as a team with other professionals and guardians, and remain knowledgeable about matters of confidentiality, child protection, and related laws.
- Stay involved with your professional community. Even though most of the work you will do in this field deals is relatively hands-on and deals directly with the youth you're responsible for helping, your experiences and knowledge can be enhanced by further involvement within your professional community. Moreover, your current experiences can help others within that community, too.
- Look for opportunities to meet other youth workers and family social workers. Such opportunities may arise in the form of conferences, professional interviews, and academic forums.
- Discuss your experiences on the field with others who may have dealt with similar issues. Draw attention to major problems you have worked out and those you have yet to solve. You may answer someone else's question or find an answer to yours by doing so.
- When appropriate, consider publishing an academic or professional essay containing information about various case studies that address a major theme or issue you've dealt with throughout your career.