Are you passionate about working with vulnerable populations, transforming individual lives and helping children and families to thrive? A master’s degree in social work with a specialization in Child Welfare will prepare you for a career working with children, youth and families across the continuum of care within the child welfare system, from entry to exit in both public and private child welfare agencies.

With a multisystemic approach, this specialization focuses on the use of culturally responsive, evidence-based interventions with children and families. You will be trained to ask critical questions and consider the implications of social work’s role in systemic oppression within human service systems. You'll develop an understanding of the impact of trauma, poverty and substance use on children and families involved in child welfare and the underlying systemic issues related to disproportionality and disparities for children and families of color.

The Child Welfare Pathway includes focus areas such as:

  • Human Services Focus: Prepare to work as a child welfare caseworker, supervisor or case manager, foster care social worker, adoption specialist or as a family or child protection specialist, for example.
  • Policy and Administration Focus: Prepare to work in the office of the Guardian Ad Litem, legislature, grants administrator or child welfare researcher, for example.
MSW student in class writing in notebook

Your Career Options

With an MSW specialization in Child Welfare, your social work job could entail:

  • Investigating child abuse and neglect referrals
  • Conducting foster and adoptive home studies
  • Working to reunify families impacted by child maltreatment
  • Preparing adolescents for emancipation and independent living
  • Advocating for child welfare policy reform
  • Supervising teams of entry-level case workers
  • Improving child welfare services by conducting evaluation and research

Featured Courses

  • Assessment of Mental Health Across the Lifespan | SOWK 4338

    This course focuses on the assessment of psychological, social and biological contributors to mental health disorders in children, youth, adults and older adults. You’ll examine the strengths and weaknesses of the DSM-5 classification system in the context of social work values and ethics and learn about symptoms, theories of etiology, treatment interventions and prognosis within each diagnostic category. You will also learn about assessment tools in the context of gender identity and expression, ethnicity, cultural diversity, sexual orientation and historically oppressed and/or disadvantaged populations.

  • Multisystemic Social Work Practice and Advocacy with Families | SOWK 4420

    This course facilitates the development of family systems by practicing skills with clients, individuals, couples, families, organizations, constituencies and communities. You’ll develop multisystemic strategies and techniques using family systems theory as part of the ongoing process of engagement, assessment and intervention. Students learn strategies and techniques through role-playing demonstrations; by practicing intakes, assessments, goal setting and professional documentation; and by developing preliminary interventions. You will reflect on your personal bias, cultural bias, assumptions, values and affective reactions that may influence your relationships with clients. 

  • Child & Adolescent Trauma | SOWK 4454

    This course introduces students to the general theory and foundational knowledge, intervention and treatment elements, and skills underlying evidence-based treatment for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. It highlights the role of development, culture and empirical evidence in trauma-specific interventions with children, adolescents and their families while also addressing the level of functioning of caregiving environments and assesses the community's capacity to facilitate restorative processes. You will focus on assessment and intervention as a foundation for subsequent learning about treatment. 

  • Child Welfare Policies & Services | SOWK 4600

    This course examines contemporary U.S. child welfare policies in historical perspective, focusing on prevention, reporting and investigation of child abuse and neglect, as well as family preservation, out-of-home care, adoption and services for troubled adolescents. You will evaluate the impact of policies and proposals for policy changes, considering empirical evidence, values and ethics as you prepare to advocate for needed policy changes. 

  • Disproportionality & Disparities | SOWK 4235

    This course explores the interrelatedness of institutional racism and discrimination across major social systems within the United States, focusing on the historical context of current racial disproportionalities and disparities in youth service systems such as child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, education and health. Using a critical lens, the course is designed to help you analyze the long-range impact of policy decisions, specifically for children and youth of color. You’ll have the opportunity to apply this critical lens to your current field placement and the youth populations it serves.


Learn more about the Child Welfare Pathway.

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Explore some of our field education locations with a focus on Child Welfare

  • Jefferson County Department of Human Services, Adoption Services and Child Protection

    Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties have joined forces to recruit, train, certify and support foster families throughout the metro Denver area. These families provide care for children who cannot remain safely in their homes. Interns work in the adoption and ongoing child protection units.

  • Adams County: The Link

    The Link ensures assessment-driven prevention and intervention services for at-risk youth and their families. They provide behavioral assessments, family mediation, referrals for community-based interventions, detention screening, case management services and in-house groups. Social work interns focus on family interventions, case management, probation, marketing, grant writing, group facilitation, presentations at local police department briefings and more.

  • A New World Child Placement Agency

    A New World is a nonprofit that promotes and supports children who need foster care placement. It provides therapeutic foster care and group homes for children with special needs or behavioral problems. The organization’s goal is to help children be better prepared for family reunification and transition into society. Interns learn all aspects of child welfare services related to children in the foster care system and perform case-management duties, such as assisting with weekly and monthly home visits, school visits, foster care family observation and home-safety compliance.

  • Denver Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Division

    Denver’s Child Welfare Division works to protect Denver’s children and youth from harm by providing services and advocacy while promoting family stability, respecting diversity and working to strengthen family connections to community resources. The agency’s internship program provides an established educational environment to prepare students to become effective, knowledgeable social workers. Interns develop and enhance their assessment and documentation skills as they become familiar with the child welfare system and its impact on families and children.

  • Savio House

    Savio House offers comprehensive services that strengthen families and prevent child abuse, neglect and youth delinquency. Its programs range from in-home counseling and crisis intervention services to therapeutic foster care, temporary residential treatment and an on-site school. Interns participate in individual, family and school meetings, as well as court review hearings with clients and their families.

Featured Faculty

Michele Hanna

Michele D. Hanna

Professor; Assoc Dean for DEI; Coordinator of Accreditation

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Amy He

Amy Sui Jun He

Associate Professor

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Robin Leake

Robin L. Leake

Research Professor; Executive Director, Butler Institute for Families

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Jennifer Bellamy

Jenn Lee Bellamy

Professor; Vice Provost, Faculty Affairs

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Child Welfare Stipend

Through GSSW’s Butler Institute for Families, students studying Child Welfare can apply for a Child Welfare Stipend.

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Child Welfare at GSSW

A mural with multi colored hands
Supporting Child Welfare Workers

The Graduate School of Social Work Butler Institute for Families has responded to COVID-19 with a free webinar series supporting the nation’s child welfare workforce.

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Changes in Child Welfare

The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism are changing social work’s approach to child welfare practice. GSSW faculty and community partners discuss new changes, challenges and opportunities in child welfare.

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Smiling adult and child
Innovations in Child Welfare

Professor Jenn Bellamy is leading a multi-state project using the Breakthrough Series Collaborative continuous learning methodology to develop new ways to engage fathers in child welfare.

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Denver Campus Info Sessions

We offer 1-hour, virtual and 3-hour, in-person information sessions for our Denver Campus MSW programs. During these sessions, we will discuss the MSW program, admissions process and financial aid options. There will also be a Q&A where you can chat with current students about their experience at GSSW.

The in-person information sessions include a tour of GSSW and the surrounding University of Denver campus. After the tour, prospective students and guests will receive tickets for a complimentary lunch at DU's Community Commons.


Application Information

Upcoming Final Application Deadline: Fall 2024 Denver Campus Advanced-Standing & Denver Campus MSW Programs