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Salaries and Qualifications

Virtually all child welfare agencies require entry-level social workers to have completed four years of college. Starting salaries generally fall in the mid-20s. Almost 1/3 of the agencies offer some form of premium pay for workers who pursue post-graduate education.

The social workers who perform the extremely stressful work inherent in child welfare are highly educated, but unquestionably underpaid. The survey collected data on the minimum education and experience requirements and entry level salaries for social workers performing investigation and risk assessment of allegations of abuse and neglect as well as for workers carrying ongoing cases of children receiving in-home protective, family preservation and out-of-home services.

Education and Experience. Four years of college is required for entry level social workers by the overwhelming majority of child welfare agencies represented in the survey. Only Hawaii reported that all professional child welfare workers must have a masters in social work (MSW). In Hennepin County, Minnesota, most of the social worker positions require an MSW, while a few require a bachelor’s degree. In New York City, only Child Evaluation Specialists, whose job it is to select appropriate foster and adoptive homes for children, must possess an MSW. Almost Forty percent (40%) of AFSCME affiliates reported that between 6 months and 1 year prior experience also is required. In 3 cases, however, new hires can avoid the experience requirement if they possess a more advanced degree.

Salary Levels. For social workers with a BA or BSW, starting salaries at the time of the survey ranged from $17,597 to $31,000. Most starting salaries fell into the mid-20s, with higher salaries generally being offered in urban areas and by states with a large portion of their workforce in urban areas. Maximum salaries for social workers with a college degree ranged from $25,625 to a high of $45,571, again with urban areas generally reporting higher maximum salaries than rural. It must be noted, however, that in many agencies workers seldom, if ever, approach the upper end of the salary scale; most remain at the lower end of the range. The results of this survey were similar to those reported by AFSCME’s Research Department in a survey of child welfare salaries in 11 states and counties.

Eight agencies either require workers to possess an MSW for some or all of the professional child welfare positions or offer higher pay to those who have earned an advanced degree. Entry level salaries for these workers range from $27,620 to $33,500. Maximum salaries ranged from $31,115 to $55,620.

Tables 3-A and 3-B show a breakdown of the starting and maximum salaries for social workers with a BA or BSW and for social workers with an MSW, respectively.

Entry Level and Maximum Salaries for Workers with a BA or BSW

Entry Level and Maximum Salaries for Workers with a BA or BSW

Due to differences in how figures were reported in the surveys, the above table reflects some adjustment and estimation on the part of AFSCME Department of Public Policy. Some survey respondents did not provide salary information. Also, note that in many agencies child welfare workers seldom, if ever, reach the maximum salary level.

* Survey Respondent did not provide Maximum Salary Level.

# Not reported in survey. Salary information from these jurisdictions was taken from job specs and contracts on file at AFSCME.

Entry Level and Maximum Salaries for Workers with an MSW

Entry Level and Maximum Salaries for Workers with an MSW

Due to differences in how figures were reported in the surveys, the above table reflects some adjustment and estimation on the part of AFSCME Department of Public Policy. 

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