For career changers and students looking for an opportunity to work in an area that promotes child well-being and safety, a career as a child psychologist or child advocate might be a good fit. While the required qualifications for the positions do overlap, there are some important differences to note when comparing the education and practical training needed to secure top jobs in these two important fields.
The field of child psychology involves a wide range of developmental, socioeconomic, biological, and circumstantial factors that contribute to a child’s behavior and development. Commonly, a child psychologist may work in any of these settings: private or group practice, public and private schools, residential or outpatient treatment centers or college or university research departments.
A psychologist helps a patient examine behaviors, life choices, and biological factors that contribute toward overall wellness. Most states do not allow psychologists to prescribe medicine, so often a practice will include a psychiatrist who can work alongside other counselors to provide medical treatment.
Psychologists at the highest levels hold a doctorate degree (Psy.D. or Ph.D.) which represents the culmination of 9 to 10 years of higher education. State licensure is also required and involves passing a standardized exam and showing proof of extensive supervised work in the field.
With a four year Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a professional can engage in related work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or assist in research. Some employers offer tuition assistance for career advancement. Very often the traditional two-year master's degree is completed in conjunction with the doctorate degree.
Significant clinical hours are also required to become a fully credentialed clinical psychologist. Many practitioners complete the educational progression while sequentially working through a master’s/Ph.D. program in a clinical setting where they can also get the practical experience needed for licensure.
For students looking to work in the field but are not ready to commit to the long term obligations necessary to become a psychologist, many supportive roles are available. One popular career route is that of a child advocate.
Many child advocates enter the field in a variety of ways. A background in psychology is important as is pertinent experience. The National Child Advocacy Center has a link on its webpage for finding local child advocacy centers that will have information about volunteering, which is a great way to gain experience and explore this career.
Some advocates assist in parenting skills, support clinical work through group programs, engage in community education, or work with children in the court system. Advocates for children involved in court cases are certified through the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children network. See the Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children network for additional information and volunteer opportunities.
Child advocates may work in clinical or governmental settings where tuition assistance for continuing education is part of a benefits package. Professionals with a two year associate of arts degree or a four year bachelor’s degree can obtain entry-level positions in child advocacy, but significant volunteer or other related experience is highly desired by employers, even for entry-level jobs.
A master’ degree is not uncommon among career seekers desiring to advance their professional opportunities in this field. Most directors of advocacy centers or similar programs hold a master’s or doctorate degree which combines psychology with IT and business management to achieve success as a child psychology manager. In a research setting such as a university, a Ph.D. is generally required.
Other Necessary Traits
Child psychologists and child advocates need to have strong analytical skills, a genuine regard for the well-being of children, and a patient personality. In addition to these traits, impeccable communication skills are a must not only for writing reports, but also for relating effectively to community constituents such as parents, teachers, and law enforcement agents.
Ongoing professional development is a requirement in these fields and professional service such as conference participation is expected. In addition, a strong commitment to the highest standards of ethics and integrity are needed to excel as a child psychologist or child advocate. Displaying empathy and being able to organize highly complex details are also important qualities to have.
Work schedules are usually untraditional in these fields. When an emergency involving child well-being or endangerment occurs, often child advocates and child psychologists are among the first to speak to the child about the traumatic event. Some clinical psychologists in private practice can secure a more consistent schedule, but will also typically be on-call one to two weekends a month, depending on the size of the practice.
For students and career changers dedicated to child well-being and safety, a career as a child psychologist or child advocate can provide a lifelong rewarding professional path in many different settings. For professionals transitioning from another child-centered career like teaching, child advocacy can be a worthwhile bridge to take on the path toward becoming a child psychologist. In addition, child advocacy offers many unique career paths for those wishing to stay in advocacy and develop a niche within the field. Local advocacy centers exist in every state to help professionals gain experience and network with others in the field.
Comparing programs, career paths, and educational courses for a child psychologist or a child advocate is an important step in the right direction toward enrolling in additional professional development courses to help meet career goals and requirements. A number of reputable online degree programs exist through regionally accredited colleges and universities which provide the flexibility professionals need to continue working while seeking additional education.
Children and families of all walks of life depend on the knowledge and guidance of child advocates and child psychologists to help them deal with some life’s most challenging situations. Professionals passionate about helping children and their families cope with and respond to life’s unexpected challenges become strong champions for the children they serve and the profession they promote through active engagement in ongoing career development and educational advancement.
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