What Does a Child Protective Services (CPS) Caseworker Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

child's hands with the word help in them
John Rensten/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Child protective services (CPS) caseworkers investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect for their county or state CPS agency. They typically work with law enforcement officers during the course of their investigations.

According to "Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers," a caseworker's main focus is to determine whether a child is safe and whether there is a risk of future maltreatment. Caseworkers also offer services to aid children who have been abused or neglected as well as to their families. Abuse may be physical, sexual, or emotional. Neglect is the failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision. 

Caseworkers may get burned out on their work because they encounter many people with difficult problems and they may feel they aren't able to make a difference. Some caseworkers are able to continue in the job for a long period of time by taking heart in the small victories they achieve and by focusing on the help they provide.

Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following tasks:

  • Review reports of an alleged case of abuse or neglect.
  • Investigate the case through interviews with key people, including children, parents, other relatives, and medical providers.
  • Collect documentary evidence such as medical reports, arrest records, and court filings.
  • Plan and coordinate services to help children and their families.
  • Fill out paperwork outlining the investigation and the resulting actions that were taken.

Caseworkers keep families together if possible. If they determine children need to be removed from a home for their own safety, caseworkers look to place them with an extended family member or someone else in the same community.

Caseworkers aim to reduce the trauma neglected or abused children experience. They also act to provide the person or people who have harmed the children with the services and support they need to end the abuse or neglect.

Caseworkers may find themselves in dangerous situations while confronting people they believe to have harmed children. They also are called on to testify in court proceedings and may help prepare the case against the abusive person or people.

Child Protective Services Caseworker Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not compile statistics specifically for child protective services caseworkers, but it does for the similar job of social worker.

  • Median Annual Salary: $49,470 ($23.78/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $81,400 ($39.13/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $30,750 ($14.78/hour)

The median annual salary for child, family, and school social workers was a bit lower, at $46,270, than for social workers as a whole.

Education, Training & Certification

CPS caseworkers have at least a bachelor's degree, often in social work or psychology, and sometimes a master's degree in social work. Requirements vary from state to state.

  • Licensing: Some CPS agencies hire licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) as caseworkers. To become an LCSW, most states require a candidate to obtain a master's degree in social work and to pass an exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards. Check with your state to determine its licensing procedures and requirements.
  • Foreign language fluency: Being proficient in a language other than English is often helpful, especially in municipalities with significant populations of immigrants.

    Child Protective Services Caseworker Skills & Competencies

    Working with abused and neglected children is a difficult job. It's psychologically draining and calls for emotionally tough yet empathetic people. You'll also need these qualities to be successful as a CPS caseworker:

    • Compassion: The children and adults that caseworkers deal with are in extremely stressful situations. Kindness and patience are vital.
    • Problem-solving skills: Caseworkers must be able to zero in on the most workable solutions with the children's best interests in mind.
    • Communication: Talking with people is a big part of this job. Caseworkers need to gear their conversations to children's maturity and consider the cultural background and sensitivities of everyone they speak with.
    • Interpersonal skills: Caseworkers often find they have to switch gears quickly from dealing with families and children to interacting with coworkers, superiors, and other professionals.

      Job Outlook

      The BLS does not make projections about job growth specifically for CPS caseworkers. The BLS projects employment of social workers as a whole will grow 16% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the 7% average for all occupations. The BLS expects jobs for child, family, and school social workers to grow 14% from 2016 to 2026, though it notes that employment growth may be limited by federal, state, and county budget constraints.

      Work Environment

      CPS caseworkers split their time between the office and visiting families and collecting evidence in the field. Their office may be in a county or state government building.

      Work Schedule

      Although caseworkers may be expected to work only 40 hours a week, they often deal with emergencies at odd hours and work evenings and weekends because that is when families are available to meet with them.

      How to Get the Job

      APPLY

      Look for job postings on government websites and search broader job websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster.

      WRITE A TARGETED RESUME AND COVER LETTER

      Create a resume and cover letter that speak directly to the requirements in the job description. Check out example resumes and cover letters for related social worker jobs to use as a guide in writing yours.

      REHEARSE COMMONLY ASKED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

      Human resources recruiters and hiring managers often ask the same types of questions when interviewing job candidates. Review questions that typically come up for social workers and prepare responses to them.

      Comparing Similar Jobs

      People interested in becoming CPS caseworkers may also consider the following careers. The figures given are median annual salaries: