How to start a career in child welfare

28th July 2020

Community and welfare support are growing industries in Australia with strong job prospects. As such, working within child welfare, youth and family intervention may provide job-security as well as an illuminating and rewarding career option. It is a career which enables you to make a sure difference to the lives of some of the most at-risk people within our communities, and to have an effect on the future of our society through direct contact with future adults today.

Working within child welfare allows you to help young people that are suffering from trauma and attachment-related issues. It will provide you with the skills necessary to respond to domestic violence situations, and help at-risk children, with the aim of providing them and their families with emotional support, and improving their overall quality of life.

Why study child welfare?

A career within child welfare means the ability to make a real difference to the living situations of young people and families. By studying it, you will learn how to support young people who are navigating mental health and relationship issues, as well as counsel them in regards to work, study and housing. In addition to this, you will learn how to mediate using effective communication techniques and enact intervention strategies where appropriate.

Studying and working in this field is likely to broaden your world-view, as you will learn to work successfully with diverse people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Indigenous people are disproportionately represented as clients within this industry due to intergenerational trauma, so it is vital to a successful career in child welfare that you are adept at working respectfully and empathetically with them. You may even have the opportunity to work in remote communities, or with marginalised groups such as refugees, people with mental health issues and disabilities, and children who are in the foster care system.

For those who are already working (in either a paid or volunteer capacity) within a related field, studying child welfare may provide you with a formal qualification that will not only teach you specialised skills about this area of community services, but will also open up pathways to different kinds of work within this industry. You will learn new skills that will make you a more competent, dynamic, and desirable employee.

Study pathways

The most direct route to starting a career in child welfare is through studying a certificate or diploma of child, youth and family intervention. These are nationally recognised courses that are undertaken over a 12 to 18 month period. Many of them can be completed online or on campus, allowing study to fit in with your life.

All of these courses involve a mandatory practical component, with students gaining hands-on experience by attending practicums within workplaces. However, exceptions may apply to those who have previous experience or are currently working within this field; this experience may be considered by the course provider in lieu of a work placement.

It is also possible to find employment within child welfare through other study pathways in related areas – although these are likely to be less-direct routes than more specialised studies related to youth, family and aged care. Opting to study a more general course within community and other support services (particularly those related to youth work, such as courses centred around becoming a youth case worker and youth support worker) may still lead to a career in child welfare.

Career pathways

Working within child welfare can take on a number of different forms, as there are an array of potential jobs within the government, private, and not-for-profit sectors. These may include positions as varied as a residential care worker, family counsellor or child safety officer.

There are positions in both residential and non-residential settings, and there is a lot of variety in terms of these work environments and their differing requirements and challenges. The work of someone employed in a residential facility might include dealing with day-to-day household tasks, as well as having necessary discussions with residents about mental and sexual health, substance abuse, and any other issues that young people may face. In non-residential settings, employees are more likely to work in a consultation capacity in areas like child protection or family support.

The diversity of jobs within this industry also means there is a lot of flexibility in terms of working casually, part time or full time, and often work hours as well. Every career in child welfare looks different, but all of them provide an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Written by Elisa Thompson
Elisa Thompson
Elisa is a freelance writer and editor. She has a strong background in education, social and cultural studies, and has experience in research and academic writing.

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