The Different Uses of BSW & MSW Social Workers in Providing Child Welfare Services

BSW & MSW graduates have important but different roles to play in CPS, where a wide array of responsibilities, demands many skills and functional competencies to perform essential activities (Rittner & Wodarski p. 234) . BSW and MSW graduates each possess a distinctive set of skills and knowledge that provide them with the ability to provide selective interventions and services within the realm of Child Welfare.

BSW Social Workers

  • Generalist practice prepares students for work as hot-line screeners, foster-care case managers, and case workers with low-to-moderate risk families, and to recruit, screen, and train potential foster and adoptive parents (Rittner & Wodarski p. 217)
  • Generally identified with entry level child welfare positions (Rittner & Wodarski p. 218)
  • Curriculum- They are informed about federal, state, and local policies regarding mandated services for children and their families (Rittner & Wodarski p. 218)
  • They are taught to perform basic practice skills of engagement, interviewing, assessment, and problem-oriented interventions (Rittner & Wodarski p. 219)



MSW Social Workers

  • Advanced generalist practice prepares students to conduct initial investigations, working with high-risk families, terminating parental rights, placing children with adoptive families, and serving administrative and supervisory roles (Rittner & Wodarski p. 217)
  • More closely identified with clinical and managerial positions (Rittner & Wodarski p. 218)
  • Differs from the BSW due to the depth & breadth & specificity of knowledge that they are expected to synthesize and apply in practice (Rittner & Wodarski p. 219)
  • Many MSW programs offer focused course content on services and practice orientations that are directly related to assessing and intervening with maltreating families at both micro-macro level (Rittner & Wodarski p. 219)


Rittner, B., & Wodarski, J. (1999). Differential uses for BSW and MSW educated social     workers in child welfare services. Children and Youth Services Review, 21(3),                         217-235.


by Marisa Bordowitz

  1. Child welfare entails services imparted to at risk children and their families (who have been referred to child protective services due to neglect or abuse).  Experiencing such maltreatment is wholly emotionally taxing. Children essentially, (in many ways) are voiceless. They need to be advocated for. SOCIAL WORKERS are a voice for the voiceless!  (Rittner & Wodarski, 1999. p. 217) child-in-crib-bw.jpgurl.jpg
  2. Intensive family services have been implemented recently which means child welfare has undergone some changes. For instance, foster care has been the central means of protection but in attempts to amend families (and in part to avoid the transience of foster care) , intensified family services/family preservation programs are being developed. These services call for highly trained social workers well informed on family-based interventions, crisis stabilization, family dynamics, advocacy (of course!), and brokering services. (Rittner & Wodarski, 1999. p. 228) 200_s.gif
  3. Social workers also must:  Prepare parents or families for their children’s homecoming (as children are liable to change in foster care or other out-of-home placements prompting feelings of confusion and unforeseen behavior). They must reacquaint families and provide some direction in coping with (and responding to) aforementioned unforeseen behavior. Often children also feel loss (having acclimated/attaching themselves to their foster homes) and social workers can provide assistance there as well. (Rittner & Wodarski, 1999. p. 228) 4a0ea23f13c2842cb68b36cc72cfce51
  4. Neglect is the failure of caretakers to meet a child’s physical, emotional, mental, educational, and/or social needs. 52 % of about 1 million child abuse cases are caused by neglect. 12 % of these cases encompass sexual abuse, 25 % physical abuse and the remainder emotional or psychological abuse (Dinitto & Mcneece, 2008. p.239) tumblr_myvo19d0sW1qaf3uxo1_500.gif
  5. Social workers are instrumental to children as they recover from violence, poverty, neglect and truly anything impeding a child’s physical and emotional well-being (DiNitto& McNeece, 2008, p.239)






Rittner, B., & Wodarski, J. (1999). Differential uses for BSW and MSW educated social workers in child welfare services. Children and Youth Services Review, 21(3), 217-235.

DiNitto, D., & McNeece, C. (2008). Social work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Four Reasons Why Children Need Social Workers To Be Their Super Heroes

By: Mindy Barnes

Social workers have a long history of working with children and families, and it is very important work, indeed. According to Rittner and Wodarski, “'[c]hild welfare’ generally refers to a broad range of services provided by agencies charged with maintaining legally mandated or socially sanctioned standards of safety and well-being for children” (1999, p. 217). But what is it that threatens the safety and well-being of children that renders child welfare as performed by social workers necessary? Below are four examples of life circumstances and events that social workers help shield children from:





#1. Child Abuse and Neglect


According to DiNitto and McNeece, “[n]eglect (the failure of adults to meet children’s physical, emotional, mental, educational, or social needs) accounts for 52 percent of the approximately one million cases of child maltreatment verified each year in the United States” (2008, p. 239). Of those cases involving abuse, 25% involve physical abuse, 12% sexual abuse, and the rest emotional or psychological abuse (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008). Social workers must be able to determine the type of maltreatment, its causes and effects, and how to help.


#2. Poverty


Children living in poverty are at greater risk for maltreatment. DiNitto and McNeece point out that, “[i]n the United States, 13 million or nearly 18 percent of children live in poverty, and children of color are at elevated risk of poverty (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, & Lee, 2006)” (2008, p. 240). Poverty can negatively affect the health and well-being of children in many ways. It is important that social workers understand these effects, as they are likely to work with many children and families from lower socioeconomic statuses.


#3. Trauma


Some children have gone through traumatic events which has left them with, sometimes permanent, scars. Such scars can include, “cognitive dysfunction (such as impaired memory), hypervigilance (a heightened state of fear), recurrent memories of the trauma, emotional numbing, aggressive responses, or limited future orientation (Steele, 2004)” (DiNitto & McNeece, 2008, p. 240). Trauma can also be caused by abuse and neglect, which can have serious negative effects on a child’s mental health. Social workers can help families and children cope with and overcome these effects in a variety of ways.


#4. Substance Abuse

According to DiNitto and McNeece, “[a]n estimated 67 percent of parents involved with the child welfare system abuse drugs and/or alcohol (Child Welfare League of America, 2001)” (2008, p. 241). And substance abuse can lead to child maltreatment. What often happens is that children with parents who have drug or alcohol problems will end up having to function as parents themselves. It is up to social workers to offer an array of services in order to get the children and parents the help they need.





The work that child welfare social workers do to keep children safe and healthy is invaluable not only to the children that they help, but to the whole of society. As DiNitto and McNeece put it, “[w]orking with and for children is an investment in the future of humanity” (2008, p. 259). Children of all races, genders, ethnicities, religions, and socioeconomic statuses can be victims of maltreatment. It is important for social workers to consider the biopsychosocial conditions that affect these children, and to also use empowerment-based practices in order to give children a voice while also maintaining their safety.




DiNitto, D., & McNeece, C. (2008). Social work: Issues and opportunities in a challenging profession (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books.

Rittner, B., & Wodarski, J. (1999). Differential uses for BSW and MSW educated social workers in child welfare services. Children and Youth Services Review, 21(3), 217-235.