Are you passionate about prevention, curious about child and youth development, and interested in developing new ways to promote positive outcomes for young people? A master’s degree in social work with a specialization in Children & Youth will prepare you to work across developmental stages from birth to early adulthood in settings that include mental health clinics, family services, community and government agencies, schools, youth programs, treatment centers and the juvenile legal system.

Using a strengths-based resilience framework, you’ll learn to apply theories and methods for youth development, assessment, prevention, early intervention and clinical treatment with children and adolescents. Coursework emphasizes equitable and culturally responsive practices that focus on individuals and communities in their environment.

The Children & Youth Pathway includes focus areas such as:

  • Clinical Treatment Focus: Prepare for a career as a school social worker, mental health clinician or intake/assessment specialist, for example.
  • Program Development Focus: Prepare for a career as a before- and after-school program director, college promotion program manager or wilderness program leader, for example. 
young black child on computer

Your Career Options

Employment of child, family and school social workers is projected to grow 14 percent by 2026—faster than the average for all occupations. With an MSW specialization in Children & Youth: Risks and Healthy Development, your social work career could entail:

  • Conducting individual and group therapy with children and adolescents using trauma-informed approaches
  • Partnering with young people to address pressing community issues
  • Developing and implementing restorative justice programs
  • Delivering interventions to prevent bullying, school dropout, delinquency and substance use
  • Advocating for policy reform across systems, including juvenile justice, education and mental health
  • Promoting positive youth development by building youths’ skills and competencies through after-school programs
  • Adapting policies and practices across systems to be developmentally and culturally responsive 

Featured Courses

  • Critical Theories of Child & Adolescent Development | SOWK 4315

    This course will provide you with knowledge about critical theories of child and adolescent development. The course focuses on understanding development in context, considering the concepts of trauma, damage, resilience, potential, difference, resources and healing. Ecological factors, including systemic conditions, that are deleterious to development and those that promote healthy development will be considered. The role of oppression in enabling or constraining children and adolescents’ progressive developmental trajectories is highlighted. 

  • 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.

  • Positive and Community Youth Development | SOWK 4425

    This course provides an overview of the "community and positive youth development" approach to providing social services to children and adolescents. Many services for young people focus on negative outcomes such as behavior problems, pregnancy, violence, drug abuse and truancy. These services are supposed to "fix" the small minority of kids who are "broken" in some way. The community and positive youth development perspective stresses that all youth need a variety of supports and opportunities to develop into healthy, contributing adults. This course considers how such an approach to social service delivery can be applied across different organizational settings (e.g., schools, government agencies and nonprofit organizations) to promote the well-being of American youth from diverse cultural backgrounds.

  • Foundations of Play Therapy with Young Children | SOWK 4500

    This course offers an integrative framework of theory and research to understand and intervene in the major mental health problems experienced by children. This course is also designed as an introductory experience to play therapy. Interventions include direct work with children and collaborative/conjoint work with parents. Play therapy techniques include both directive and non-directive approaches, such as child-centered play therapy and cognitive-behavioral interventions, among others. Children’s development is considered from a multidimensional perspective including cultural context, risk and protective factors, and the development of psychopathology with an emphasis on early and middle childhood.

  • 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.

  • Planning and Program Development | SOWK 4535

    This course will prepare you to engage in strategic planning and program development roles and practice within a social work community, organizational or policy practice setting. You will gain knowledge in the principles of planning, social enterprise, the engagement of stakeholders in planning processes, community collaboration and the elements of designing and implementing programs. You’ll put this knowledge into practice by developing a comprehensive program proposal, applying strategic thinking, planning and critically evaluating research-informed practice and practice-informed research.


Learn more about the Children & Youth: Risks and Healthy Development Pathway.

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Featured Faculty

Julianne Rollins Mitchell

Julianne Rollins Mitchell

Clinical Associate Professor

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Kimberly Bender

Kimberly Ann Bender

Professor; Philip D. and Eleanor G. Winn Professor for Children and Youth at Risk

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Heather Taussig

Heather N. Taussig


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Miriam Valdovinos

Miriam Georgina Valdovinos

Assistant Professor

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Explore some of our field education locations with a focus on Children & Youth: Risks and Healthy Development

  • Art from Ashes

    Art from Ashes provides creative empowerment workshops for struggling youth in the Denver area. Interns facilitate youth workshops, track grant data, and manage and train other facilitators.

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  • Littleton Public Schools, Options Alternative High School

    The Options Alternative High School serves students who require accommodations around educational, behavioral and/or medical needs. Interns meet with students individually, in group settings and through restorative justice practices.

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  • YouthRoots

    Using philanthropy as a vehicle, YouthRoots engages high school students in personal development, community partnerships and innovative ventures to foster leadership, integrity and social action to cultivate a network of thriving adults who envision a better future and realize their full human potential. Because YouthRoots is a new nonprofit, the intern has various roles, including administrative work, marketing and advertising, budgets and generating program ideas.

  • Heart & Hand Center for Youth and Families

    The Heart & Hand Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk youth and their families in Denver’s Five Points community. It supports families by providing case management, resources, referrals and emergency assistance to guardians. Interns work with elementary or middle school students in an after-school setting. They assist program staff with student behavioral challenges—supporting students who need one-on-one attention in activities, pulling students out for interventions and creating program-wide spaces for student reflection and refocus.

Craig Hall building

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