Is a Career as a Pediatric Social Worker Right For You?

Is a Career as a Pediatric Social Worker Right For You?
If you're passionate about providing crisis interventions, patient care, and emotional support to children, becoming a licensed clinical social worker in pediatrics could be your calling. Image from
Alfred Heekin profile
Alfred Heekin March 6, 2023

Pediatric social worker means much more than the job title might convey. The job description blurs the line separating healthcare worker, case manager, and provider of emotional support. If you're passionate about the well-being of children in need, this may be the career path for you.

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Nearly 18 percent of children in the U.S. currently live in poverty. That’s about 13 million children, a truly dispiriting number.

Pediatric social workers advocate for the well-being of this especially vulnerable population. These professionals assist children struggling with everything from substance abuse disorder to physical and mental abuse, guiding them toward resources that support their social, emotional, and psychological needs.

Pediatric social workers provide emotional support, coordinate care, and connect children and their families to crucial resources during crises. They practice in various settings, including inpatient and outpatient medical centers, where they assist children and their families with chronic or severe medical issues. They also help alleviate families’ stress by communicating with medical staff and treatment providers.

The demand for talented pediatric social workers is growing: the job market for child, family, and school social workers is projected to grow by 8 to 10 percent between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Considering the staggering needs of U.S. youth, it’s reasonable to expect high demand for pediatric social workers in the coming decade.

If you’re passionate about providing crisis interventions, patient care, and emotional support to children, becoming a licensed clinical social worker in pediatrics could be your calling. This article answers the question: Is a career as a pediatric social worker right for you? It also covers the following topics:

  • How to become a pediatric social worker
  • Pediatric social worker salaries and earnings

How to become a pediatric social worker

While the steps toward licensure vary at the outset of any social worker’s education and training, pediatric social workers refine their path as they specialize. It’s important to note that even if you start your career in pediatric social work, you don’t have to stay in the same area of specialization forever. Social workers can alter their careers with leadership training to obtain other licenses.

If you’ve decided on pediatric social work as your career path, you can follow these detailed steps for education, credentials, and licensing:

1. Obtain your bachelor’s degree.

Without professional social work experience, you’ll likely start your career in an entry-level position while earning your bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is optimal, though undergraduate students majoring in psychology or sociology may also qualify for entry-level social work positions.

If you obtain your bachelor’s in a subject other than social work and want to make a career switch, you can earn your MSW without a BSW—though it may take longer. Those who hold a BSW are eligible to enroll in advanced standing programs that omit basic-level courses.

Future pediatric social workers may consider electives that align with this specialization while pursuing their bachelor’s degree. They’ll also likely benefit from entry-level jobs or volunteer opportunities working with children.

2. Earn experience in the field.

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you’ll want to obtain experience working in entry-level social service positions. Fieldwork and internships give prospective pediatric social workers insight into their potential career paths.

3. Obtain your master’s degree.

Your entry-level social work roles will likely direct you toward a preferred specialization. Upon deciding, you can begin to pursue your focus area with a Master of Social Work (MSW). For example, if you want to become a pediatric oncology social worker or help those dealing with substance abuse disorders, you can begin to focus your courses with these goals in mind. Social workers enjoy abundant opportunities to specialize while pursuing their MSWs.

Once you obtain your MSW, you can continue accelerating your career by pursuing leadership training through social services agencies or clinical mental health professional services.

4. Apply for your license.

Social workers must meet earn licensure from their state boards. Most states require at least two years of work experience or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience before social workers can take their Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) licensure exams.

Be sure to remain current on licensure requirements. For example, most states require social workers to complete credits to renew their licenses every two years.

While social work licensure is different in each state, the general requirements are similar. Social work boards require a relevant degree from an accredited institution.

Each state also offers multiple levels of licensure. Licensure levels increase with experience, with the highest level varying by state. Contact the Board of Social Work for your state to determine which licensing certificates your state offers.


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Pediatric social worker salaries and earnings

Social worker salaries vary by state and county. On average, a pediatric social worker with a bachelor’s degree earns an annual salary of about $61,000 in the United States.

Here’s a quick breakdown of select U.S. cities and the average annual salary earned by social workers with an MSW, according to Glassdoor:

  • San Francisco, CA: $75,000
  • Austin, TX: $59,000
  • Chicago, IL: $65,000
  • New Orleans, LA: $70,000
  • Miami, FL: $58,000
  • New York City, NY: $67,000
  • Boston, MA: $63,000

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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