Child abuse referrals, reported victims and child deaths are increasing, according to the 2015 Child Maltreatment Report, released in 2017, by The Children’s Bureau. According to the report, an estimated 7.2 million children were involved in 4 million referrals alleging maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment and sexual abuse.
When seeking justice for child victims, several organizations need to be involved in the investigation to charge, arrest and prosecute an alleged offender. Crime victims often have to explain one of their worst experiences over and over again to police officers, attorneys, judges and more. For a child, it can be traumatic and cause them to re-live the abuse.
In an effort to reduce trauma, judges often appoint a child advocate to serve as a liaison between the child and various organizations involved in the investigation and ensure the safety and well-being of the child.
Child advocates are dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of children and providing resources and support for children and families in crises. Professionals and volunteers work in many different settings, helping children in different ways.
Judge-appointed advocates speak on behalf of and for the best interest of abused and neglected children in court and other settings. Duties include testifying, reporting to the child welfare system, reviewing documents, interviewing children and family members, and more.
Child advocates may also specialize in other areas, including foster care placement and arranging adoptions. They may work with children and teens struggling with drugs, facing homelessness and committing crimes. Becoming a child advocate involves understanding different aspects of social work and the law.
Child advocates perform a range of duties including providing counseling services, consulting with other agencies and professionals, creating formal reports and arranging additional services, such as treatment for substance abuse, parenting classes and adequate child care.
How to Become a Child Advocate
Child advocates can be salaried or serve as volunteers through advocacy agencies. Most states require salaried advocates, who are trained social workers, to have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, sociology or psychology. A BA in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Child Advocacy can provide you with the education required to pursue a professional career in this field.
Organizations, including The National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) can provide several resources on how to get started.
The National Children’s Advocacy Center (NCAC) operates more than 950 centers around the U.S. and offers several specific training services, including more than 40 free online courses that specifically address such issues as drug endangered children, interviewing preschool children, patterns and trends in the online victimization of children, and more.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) provide training for eligible adults to become a volunteer child advocate. There are nearly 1,000 local programs across the country that train and provide professional support for volunteers. Volunteers receive training for courtroom procedures, social services, the juvenile justice system and needs of neglected and abused children.
Pay and Job Growth
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, child, family and school social workers earned an average annual wage of $47,510 in May 2016. Overall employment of social workers is growing faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.
Because salary potential and employment opportunities may vary depending on factors such as a candidate’s education and experience, as well as regional market conditions, prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research.
Career Paths in Child Advocacy
Pursuing a career in child advocacy can lead you down many paths, including working for welfare organizations, foster care services, community centers, mental health facilities and children’s advocacy centers.
A child advocacy center is a child-friendly, non-threatening environment where children can receive services from a team of professionals in one central location. Centers work directly with child protection services to provide services including forensic interviews, medical evaluations, mental health services and other family and victim advocate services.
Career opportunities and job titles include becoming a youth case worker, child protective services worker, child welfare specialist, foster care social worker, youth counselor or specializing in specific functions, including forensic interviewing.
These career paths may require a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Some states also require social workers to be licensed, so those interested should contact their state board to determine the requirements.
Is Child Advocacy the Right Field For You?
Professionals working in child advocacy must be patient and empathetic, and possess superior interpersonal, organizational, problem-solving, communication and time management skills. For those who want to make an impact on a child’s life and provide a voice that may otherwise not be heard, this could be a rewarding career path for you.