Definition of the Field
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines child welfare as services and institutions concerned with the physical, social and psychological well-being of children, particularly children suffering from the effects of poverty or lacking normal parental care and supervision (Child Welfare, 2010). Working with children and families is the second largest area of practice for social workers, and it is most popular with those who have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Degree (Berg-Weger, 2010).
National Organizations Addressing Child Welfare Practice
A brief description of The Child Welfare System helps to better understand the role of social workers in this field. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), The Child Welfare system emerged. Primarily state and local regulated, this system encompasses the primary responsibility of implementing, overseeing and enforcing laws and policies aligned to protect the welfare of children. Services provided under the child welfare system include the following: • Support or coordinate service to prevent child abuse and neglect • Provide services to families that need help protecting and caring for their children • Oversee the investigation of reports of possible child abuse and neglect • Oversee temporary and foster care of children when safety cannot be assured at home • Support the well-being of children living with relatives or foster families, including ensuring their educational needs are addressed • Oversee family reunification, adoption or other permanent family connections for children and youth leaving foster care Although each state has a public child welfare agency, the child welfare system is not a single entity. Public child welfare agencies often collaborate with private child welfare agencies, community-based organizations and other public agencies to ensure that abused or neglected children receive the services they need. The Children’s Bureau (CB), another national organization, is the first federal agency within the United States (U.S.) government to focus exclusively on the improving the lives of children and families. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is a professional organization created specifically for the social work profession and serves to provide information and education to the profession and advocate on behalf of social work professionals (Berg-Weger, 2010). The Social Work Policy Institution (SWPI) is a unit within the NASW whose primary responsibility is to examine issues that relate to social workers and perform research to gather empirical data and statistics that directly and indirectly impact how public agencies and other structures deliver health and human services. The mission of SWPI is to strengthen the voice of social workers in public policy deliberations, inform policymakers through collection and dissemination of information on social work effectiveness, and to create a forum to examine current and future issues in health care and social service delivery (Social Work Policy Institute,2012 ).
The Role of Child Welfare Social Workers
The role of the social worker in the field of child welfare involves a wide variety of settings within the child welfare system which includes direct involvement with an array of external professions and agencies (e.g. courts, law enforcement, psychiatrists, psychologists and other health care delivery team professionals). This collaboration is necessary to better ensure a holistic and efficient resolution approach for clients such that the safety and best interest of the child is always first and foremost; while working toward the goal of family reunification when feasible. The role of the child welfare social worker entails: • On-going follow-ups and investigation of reports of possible child abuse and/or neglect • Meticulous assessments / detailed reports, and...