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Top 10 Social Work and Psychology Careers for Working With Kids and Teens

Working with children and teens can offer a great sense of purpose. You may have the chance to make a lifelong difference in a young person’s life. Working with kids can be fun, but it can be incredibly challenging in other circumstances— especially if you’re working with vulnerable, at-risk youth. You may encounter abusive situations, and it can be emotionally taxing to watch children struggle.

Despite these struggles, it can be beyond rewarding to watch kids learn and grow with your guidance and support. Below you’ll learn more about the kind of skills and education you’ll likely need if you’re interested in working with children and teens in the social work and psychology fields.

What Personality Traits Should People Who Work With Kids and Teens Have?

Working with kids and teens requires certain personality traits to be successful.

For instance, you will need to have a great deal of patience when working with children. Not only are they dealing with academic challenges and successes, but they’re also still learning how to handle social situations and undergoing many developmental changes. Any of these can be doubly challenging for kids coming from rough situations.

You should be an excellent communicator who can illustrate new ideas and complex information in ways kids can understand.

Having an enthusiastic attitude, positive demeanor, and calm approach to any situation is also crucial if you want to work with kids. You have to stay cool and collected during times of stress and learn to hide any frustration or annoyance.

Kids notice and respond to how adults react. If you appear panicked during an emergency, then a child may become anxious and afraid as well. If you can’t control your anger or aggravation, then a child may shut down or act out. So, the ability to be cool under pressure is key.

And finally, you’ll need to be extremely resilient. As previously mentioned, working with children can be emotionally draining. Abusive homes, neglect, and other serious issues may arise, and you’ll have to provide compassionate care without becoming traumatized yourself.

Do I Have to Work With Both Children and Teens With These Degrees?

After your social work or psychology training, you don’t necessarily have to work with both children and teenagers. However, you’ll most likely be taught to work with both age groups.

Which ages you work with depends on the type of career you choose and the location in which you work. For example, if you opt for private practice as a child psychologist, you’ll likely be able to decide for yourself. If you work in K-12 schools, you may have less say, either because of how the grade levels are divided or because you’ll probably be hired by a district, not a school, meaning they can move you to wherever you’re needed with little input from you.

While you might go into your training with a certain age preference, consider volunteering or interning with both children and young adults. You may be surprised by which age range you work best with—you may have wanted to work with young children but may find you enjoy helping teens more.

Social Work and Psychology Careers Working With Young People

There are many child-focused careers those with psychology or social work degrees can pursue. Below, we’ve created a list of 10 careers that are in-demand and vital to helping young people deal with life’s challenges—both the mundane and the extreme.

Art, Music, or Drama Therapist

Art, music, and drama therapists use the arts to help people heal or develop skills. All of these therapists adapt their skills to the unique individuals’ or groups’ needs, but in broad terms, tasks and potential outcomes include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

Art Therapist
Using visual art to help with motor skills, sensory issues, uncovering difficult thoughts and emotions, and getting around verbal and writing challenges—allowing kids to express ideas they may have previously been unable to

Music Therapist
Utilizing vocal and instrumental music to assist kids with breath control (which helps with things like asthma), improve communication skills, and gain better motor function

Drama Therapist
Combining play, engaging in and watching stories, and improvisation to help kids develop or improve interpersonal and motor skills and deal with trauma

All of the above therapists need strong backgrounds in their chosen arts and psychology. They should be compassionate, empathetic, and have great communication skills. It’s especially important to be cool under pressure, as the arts can bring up hard emotions, which may cause kids to melt down, act out, or retreat inward.

Fast Facts about Art, Music, and Drama Therapists

Degree Needed
Art therapists need master’s degrees and relevant credentials or licenses.
Music therapists must have bachelor’s degrees and 1,200 hours of clinical training (credentials preferred).
Registered drama therapists need master’s degrees and certifications.

2019 Median Salary
Art and music therapists—$52,650.
Data unavailable for drama therapists.

2018-2028 Anticipated Growth
Art and music therapists—7%-10%.
Data unavailable for drama therapists.

Where They Work
Art, music, and drama therapists work in a variety of environments such as hospitals, schools, juvenile detention centers, refugee centers, and residential facilities, among many others.

You can find more information about these careers via the American Art Therapy Association, American Music Therapy Association, and North American Drama Therapy Association.

Child Protective Services Specialist

This type of social worker, sometimes considered an investigator, protects vulnerable children and intervenes in abuse or neglect cases. They’re on the “front lines,” often dealing with the early stages of child abuse and neglect investigations and potentially removing children from dangerous situations.

These social workers should be great problem solvers, work well with different groups of people, and understand the difficult positions these children and their families are in. The ability to work without judgment is essential, if difficult at times. They must also advocate for their clients at the local, state, and national levels.

Fast Facts about Child Protective Services Specialists

Degree Needed
Requirements vary by state, with some requiring bachelor’s degrees and others mandating master’s degrees in social work or closely related fields. Licensed clinical social work (LCSW) credentials are recommended.

2019 Median Salary
$47,390 (includes child, family, and school social workers)

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth
8% or higher (includes child, family, and school social workers)

Where They Work
Most people in this career work for state or county departments of children and family services (the exact department name varies by location).

For additional information on becoming a child protective services specialist, check out the Child Welfare Specialty Practice Section page on the National Association of Social Workers website.

Child Psychologist

Child psychologists diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders in children or study children’s and adolescents’ psychological development. They typically work as either developmental or clinical psychologists. They may observe and interview children, test for behavioral patterns, and administer psychotherapy. Psychologists should be incredibly observant and have great interpersonal and analytical skills.

Fast Facts about Child Psychologists

Degree Needed
In general, psychologists need doctoral degrees, typically in the field of psychology. Most states require psychologists to be licensed to practice.

2019 Median Salary
$78,200 (clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth
3%—4% (clinical, counseling, and school psychologists)

Where They Work
Many psychologists work independently, often running their own practices. Others work in hospitals, group homes, juvenile justice facilities, or anywhere else you may find kids who are at risk.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a child psychologist, then consult the American Psychological Association ‘s Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Child Welfare Social Worker

Unlike child protective services specialists, child welfare social workers—also called case managers—handle CPS situations after the initial investigations are completed or work in different areas, like immigrant and refugee services. For those working with kids and families who have been investigated, the children may be under state care, or their families may require intensive supervision and assistance to prevent crisis situations from happening again.

Child welfare social workers should be skilled communicators and problem solvers. Since they work with children or families experiencing stress or trauma, they need to be patient, compassionate, and empathetic. While many of the situations may be awful, it’s important to separate personal feelings about clients from the care given.

Fast Facts about Child Welfare Social Workers

Degree Needed
A child welfare social worker should have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field.

2019 Median Salary
$47,390 (child, family, and school social workers)

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth
8% or higher (child, family, and school social workers)

Where They Work
Child welfare social workers may work in settlement houses, child welfare and human service agencies, or community development organizations. They may split their time between the office and meeting with clients.

For more information on a career in child welfare social work, look to the Child Welfare Specialty Practice Section page on the National Association of Social Workers website.

Family Therapist

Family therapists, often called marriage and family therapists, help people process emotions and manage their family problems. These professionals work with clients to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to change harmful behavior and thoughts or deal with specific challenges like deaths in the family.

Family therapists should be great listeners who can give their clients their full attention. They’ll often deal with people undergoing stressful situations, so they need to be compassionate and understanding.

Fast Facts about Family Therapists

Degree Needed
Family therapists need a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, psychology, or a related field. All states require family therapists to be licensed, with additional requirements varying.

2019 Median Salary

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth

Where They Work
Family therapists often work in private practice. Others may work in mental health programs, substance abuse treatment centers, or hospitals.

You can learn more about a career in family therapy at the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. You can find a list of accredited programs on the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education website.

Healthcare Social Worker

This kind of social worker helps families and individuals cope with chronic or terminal illnesses. They offer counseling and referrals to other services like support groups and home healthcare. These social workers help healthcare professionals understand how illnesses impact a patient’s emotional health.

Healthcare social workers need strong interpersonal skills to establish productive relationships with both clients and physicians. They need to be compassionate, patient, and understanding.

Fast Facts about Healthcare Social Workers

Degree Needed
This occupation requires a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field at a minimum.

2019 Median Salary

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth
8% or higher

Where They Work
Healthcare social workers may work in hospitals or outpatient facilities. They typically divide their time between the office and meeting with clients.

For more information on healthcare social work, look to the Health Specialty Practice Section on the National Association of Social Workers website and the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care.

Juvenile Justice Specialist

Juvenile justice specialists often work as probation officers, parole officers, pretrial services officers, or correctional treatment specialists . Their work’s main component is to assist in the rehabilitation of youth in custody or on probation or parole.

Juvenile justice specialists should be good decision-makers in order to determine the best rehabilitation pathways for offenders. It’s so easy for the world at large to forget these are kids, so be prepared to fight for them.

Fast Facts about Juvenile Justice Specialists

Degree Needed
A bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, or a similar field is typically required for this profession. Juvenile justice specialists receive training specific to working with youth. They may need to pass a certification test.

2019 Median Salary
$54,290 (for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, inclusive of those who work with adults)

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth

Where They Work
They usually work in correctional facilities or high-crime areas.

If you’re interested in becoming a juvenile justice specialist, check out the American Probation and Parole Association and the American Correctional Association for more information.

School Counselor

School counselors help students improve or develop academic and social skills. They identify issues impacting school performance and help students reach their educational goals. These professionals need to have strong analytical skills to evaluate students’ interests and abilities and be ready to handle interpersonal or mental health crises at a moment’s notice.

Fast Facts about School Counselors

Degree Needed
School counselors need a master’s degree in school counseling or a similar field and a state-issued license to practice.

2019 Median Salary
$57,040 (includes both school and career counselors)

2019-2029 Anticipated Growth
8% (includes both school and career counselors)

Where They Work
School counselors work in public and private schools, advising elementary, middle, and high school students.

For additional resources on becoming a school counselor, check out the American School Counselor Association.

School Psychologist

School psychologists help students with educational challenges, mental health issues, developmental disorders, and more. They work with students, families, and the children’s in-school teams in identifying behavioral and learning difficulties and evaluate academic performance. School psychologists should be patient, observant, and have excellent communication and analytical skills.

Fast Facts about School Psychologists

Degree Needed
School psychologists need education specialist or doctoral degrees. They also need to be certified or licensed to work.

2019 Median Salary

2019-2022 Anticipated Growth

Where They Work
They work in elementary and secondary schools, including alternative schools.

More information on becoming a school psychologist can be found at the National Association of School Psychologists website.

School Social Worker

School social workers work with teachers, administrators, school counselors and psychologists, and families to improve students’ academic performance and social development. They may also interact with juvenile justice or family services departments if the children or their families are in need. These social workers also address issues such as misbehavior, frequent absences, bullying, and teenage pregnancy.

School social workers may have large caseloads, so they should be incredibly organized and able to work under stressful conditions. These professionals need to be resourceful, innovative, and have strong communication skills.

It’s also important for them to remember many families hear “social worker” and assume this is someone who wants to take their children away. Be patient with them—they’re scared.

Fast Facts about School Social Workers

Degree Needed
School social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related subject. Most states require school social workers to be licensed or certified.

2019 Median Salary
$47,390 (includes child, family, and school social workers)

2018-2028 Anticipated Growth
8% or higher (includes child, family, and school social workers)

Where They Work
School social workers may be assigned to multiple schools within a district and frequently travel, or they could work exclusively with one school.

To learn more about becoming a school social worker, check out the School Social Work Association of America.