How to Pursue a Career in Child Advocacy

Sally Painter
Child advocate with adoptive family

If you're interested in a career in child advocacy, you may not know how to pursue one. There are numerous occupations available if your passion is to help children suffering from abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment. Discover the rewarding careers available in child advocacy and the job requirements for each job.

What Is Child Advocacy?

Child advocacy is a field that is dedicated to promoting optimal care for children. People who want to learn how to pursue a career in child advocacy have different paths they can take.

Deciding on Area of Interest

The first step is to think about what aspect of this profession interests you the most. Each facet of child advocacy offers ways for a caring individual to help those who are not able to help themselves. You may want to answer a few questions to help you decide.

  • Do you want to deal with educational issues and child development?
  • Are social issues appealing to you?
  • Are you interested in the field of law?
  • Are government agencies interesting to you?

Job Responsibilities

A child advocate may work in a number of different capacities for many types of organizations. Consider the available options and find areas that appeal to your interests. Some functions include:

  • Arranging adoptions
  • Dealing with neglect and abuse
  • Helping single parents
  • Foster care placement
  • Early intervention
  • Counseling for pregnant teenagers
  • Dealing with truancy problems
  • Behavior modification
  • Addressing health issues

Child Advocacy Policies

Child advocacy does not always involve direct contact with families and children. If an advocate sees problems in the infrastructure, he or she may work toward changing policies that interfere with a child's rights, health or wellbeing. Some advocates work behind the scenes on a larger scale, address policies and situations that affect children. This type of work may involve:

  • Researching policies
  • Filing lawsuits
  • Lobbying

How to Pursue a Career in Child Advocacy: Education Options

While there is not a specific educational requirement to enter the child advocacy profession, employers in this field prefer to hire college graduates with an appropriate academic background. If child advocacy is a career goal, consider the following education options.

Health and Human Services

Earning a degree in health and human services is a great path for people interested in child advocacy. People holding this degree have knowledge of:

  • Public safety
  • Managing nonprofits
  • Social work
  • Public policy
  • Health services

Education

Those interested in the field of education can consider earning an undergraduate or graduate degree in education. This degree can help you take a leading role in advocating for students while working with the school district and outside agencies.

Kinesiology

Kinesiology is the study of human movement, and a degree in this innovative field can lead to a career in advocacy. Individuals with a degree in kinesiology can advocate for children in many areas:

  • Promoting health and fitness
  • Managing physical disabilities
  • Safety
  • Ergonomics (modifications and assistive devices)
  • Physical rehabilitation

Psychology

A degree in psychology can be helpful for individuals who want to find opportunities to work with children who are at risk for developmental, behavioral, and social problems.

Sociology

Earning a degree in sociology can be a great way to prepare for a career in child advocacy. A degree in this field can lead to a career with a child advocacy center or another agency that provides outreach services to youngsters in need of support and assistance.

Law School

An undergraduate degree in any of the above fields combined with a law degree can be an excellent background for entering the legal aspect of the child advocacy profession.

List of Jobs in Child Advocacy

You can find several types of employment, such as working for your state, or various advocacy associations and organizations. There are different types of positions that work toward protecting these children and being their voice. You may decide to work for your state department often referred to as social services. Some agencies operate under a different name, such as Florida's Department of Children and Families or you may choose to work for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Child Advocate

A CASA (Court Assigned Special Advocate) is responsible for children placed in the child welfare system. You will be the child's voice by representing his/her best interests. You'll ensure the child's needs are met, both medical and social as well as any special needs. You'll facilitate court ordered family visitations, attend court hearings to inform judge of progress and make recommendations, and assess potential foster or adoptive parents for the child. You will be required to have a bachelor's degree in a behavioral science, such as psychology, social work or sociology. Some states require you hold a master's degree in social work. The meridian annual salary is $44,000.

Child Advocate Coordinator

A child advocate coordinator is responsible for training, evaluating, supervising, coaching volunteers, and ensuring the state laws are followed for child advocacy. A bachelor's degree in social sciences, criminal justice, behavioral science, counseling, or related field is required. Median annual salary is $35,000.

Communications Coordinator for Child Advocate Agency/Organization

A communications coordinator for child advocacy group is responsible for the development and implementation of all communications. This includes all press, social media, print and direct mail, emails, and other forms of communication. A bachelor's degree in social sciences, psychology, or related field. The meridian annual salary is $45,000.

Guardian Ad Litem, Child Advocate

Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a court appointed child advocate. Depending on the state, this can be a volunteer, mental health professional, CASA, or a lawyer. This person administers the visitations rights or custody on behalf of the court. A CASA answers to a program director or senior child advocate manager, but it depends on the state. A lawyer most likely will answer directly to the court.

A CASA or volunteer will be required to hold a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology, child development, sociology, education, communications, juvenile justice, or related field, along with two years' experience in a related field, such as child welfare, counseling, etc. A mental health professional will need a master's degree in one of these areas and an attorney will need a law degree - Juris Doctor (JD), licensed to practice law with a concentration in family law.

In this position, the pay rates vary according to the individual child advocate's education, title, experience, and whether it is an hourly or salaried position. A CASA or court clerk might earn $15.36 an hour while a lawyer will receive $33.84 as an hourly rate. A full time Guardian Ad Litem earning range is from $17,000 (clerk) to $45,000 (lawyer).

Child Advocate Manager

A child advocate manager supervises volunteers, attends court hearings and depositions, and plans events/conferences. The manager interfaces with various community agencies and individuals, such as law enforcement, schools, attorneys, social workers, etc. A bachelor's degree in sociology, social work, psychology, child development, criminal justice, or related field is required. Two years of experience is usually required. The meridian annual salary is around $45,000, but some positions pay around $36,000.

Program Director

This position is responsible for hands-on leadership of the advocacy program. This includes all related documentation, planning events, fundraising, growing organization, and inspirng work teams and volunteers. A master's degree is typically preferred in social sciences, education, psychology, or related field. Depending on the organization, a minimum of seven years of experience is required with three years in a leadership role. The pay rate depends on the agency, company or non-profit with a meridian annual salary of $120,000, but many earning as much as $170,00.

Education Program Attorney or Special Education/Early Intervention

Some positions with non-profit organizations and others require a child advocate lawyer to oversee the special education or early intervention for foster children. You will represent children in various settings, such as regional centers, school districts, informal disputes, mediations, etc.

You'll need a Juris Doctor (JD) law degree and experience working with foster care children, child welfare system or dependency court. You may be required to train pro bono attorneys and law clerks. You may also need to be certified by the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC). Coursework in family law, domestic violence, etc may be required. The meridian annual salary is $140,000.

Director of Forensic Services and Victim Advocacy

You will provide forensic interviews of children at the request of children's services and law enforcement. You'll manage various forensic interviewers, coordinate child abuse team(s) and coordinate any triage and therapy the child victim of abuse requires.

You'll need a master's degree in either social work, psychology, counseling, or other related field as well as licensure and/or certification required by your state. You'll need experience in forensic interviews of children and adolescents. The meridian annual salary is $80,000.

The National Children's Advocacy Center

You can learn more about pursing a career in child advocacy from the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC). This organization is dedicated to helping children, and it is a one-stop resource for people who are interested in pursuing a career in this important field.

Training for Volunteers and Employees

NCAC offers training, activities and model programs. You can find opportunities to serve as a volunteer which can lead to employment. The site also lists job openings as they become available.

National Children's Alliance

The National Children's Alliance is the national accrediting group for Children's Advocacy Centers (CACs). The Children's Advocacy Center brings together law enforcement, child protection, medical, victim advocates, and others involved in protecting children. These groups of professional work through investigations with the ultimate goal of helping the abused child to heal and offenders prosecuted.

National CASA Association

The National CASA Association supports court-appointed advocates for children who have been neglected or abused. CASA works to ensure the children have a permanent safe and healthy home. There are thousands of trained volunteers working through CASA in the US courts.

Child Advocacy Options

A career as a child advocate is a rewarding experience. Whether you choose to work in the legal arena or prefer to be on the front lines of a social worker, you have many options. No matter which direction you take, when you decide to pursue a career in this field, you will be providing a voice for a delicate population that otherwise would have none.

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How to Pursue a Career in Child Advocacy