Careers That Champion Children & Families

Nine Jobs that Make a Difference & Where to Start

When brainstorming careers that champion children and families, thoughts might fall on nonprofits or volunteer organizations. However, in recent issues like the detained immigrants at the US border, volunteers have been unable to provide direct assistance within immigrant detention centers. In many other instances, volunteers may not be able to provide help. Youth who have been involved in the criminal justice system need extra assistance from a trained professional to reform their ways. Kids who have trouble focusing in school could benefit from the specialized training of an occupational therapist. Children who have suffered abuse need a professional like a social worker to be their advocate in a variety of ways.

Below are potential jobs that can have a profound effect on kids and their families through fields as diverse as writing, law and community health work. It’s important to think of all factors that affect children and their families: finances, mental health, physical health, safety, education and legal needs, to name a few. Each of these topics covers an actionable area that serves the overall well-being of all populations, underserved or not.

9 Jobs Championing Children

Students who wish to make a difference in the lives of children and families have a broad range of career paths from which to choose. Judy Sorg, director of Learning Link within the Community Foundation of DeKalb County in Indiana, said, “I’d say the best thing they could do is volunteer for an organization impacting children and families.” She also recommends internships or job shadowing. This way, students will have a better idea of the job requirements or direction of their professional development before setting out on a certain path.

“Many … positions, particularly those in the nonprofit world, pay poorly, so I’d look for someone who truly has the passion, someone for whom money isn’t their primary objective,” she said. Although nonprofits are certainly essential in providing services to families in need, careers that champion in these same populations come with a variety of salaries. Many of these careers are also in demand with expected growth higher than average for the majority of the nine jobs listed below:

Technical writer

  • Average salary: $70,930

  • Typical degree: bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, communications or related field

  • Job outlook: 11 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is faster than average

Technical writers are responsible for writing how-to guides, articles and instruction manuals, to name a few tasks, that effectively communicate a usually very specific technical subject. Many technical writing jobs are related to sciences, engineering, and web design but cover a large variety of industries. A technical writer interested in a career that champions children and family may focus their efforts on becoming a grant writer. Grant writers help to match funders, who provide billions of dollars a year to specific subjects of interest, to organizations or individuals seeking to advance that subject. For example, a focus on children, youth and family could help schools, community centers or charitable organizations create and maintain children’s programs for troubled youths and disadvantaged kids, which could include foster children, youth behavioral programs or educational projects. Many grant writers are self-employed, and given this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has insufficient data on this specific type of technical writing; in addition, certain companies may have a related job position that also includes grant writing within job duties, such as program manager, which further muddies the waters concerning job statistics. While a bachelor’s degree is usually the required minimum for a grant writing position, much of the subsequent learning is on-the-job training.

Sorg said that grants are an essential provision of the foundation for which she works. “The Community Foundation champions children and families by providing grant support to the charitable organizations serving children and families throughout DeKalb County. Organizations submit grant requests to the CF for funding programs, materials and operations. A committee of community representatives then reviews the proposals we receive and makes funding decisions based on a number of factors.”

Lawyer

  • Average salary: $119,250

  • Typical degree: Juris Doctor (JD) or professional law degree

  • Job outlook: 8 percent growth expected over 10 years, which is as fast as average

In short, lawyers advise individuals, businesses and government agencies on legal issues and represent them in court as needed. There are many specialties within law practice that address all types of needs. Three kinds of lawyers whose services are beneficial specifically to children and families are family lawyers, child advocate lawyers and public-interest lawyers. Family law covers topics such as divorce, child custody agreements and adoptions. Child advocate lawyers protect children’s rights in cases such as adoption, abuse or neglect and juvenile court proceedings. Public-interest lawyers represent private, nonprofit entities that provide services to disadvantaged people or those who cannot afford their own lawyer. Usually public-interest lawyers’ cases involve civil matters, such as job discrimination, wage disputes, civil rights and disability rights. Public-interest law firms frequently use sliding-scale fees based on income, pro-bono work and contingent fee cases, which greatly benefit underserved populations or charities that lack funding for representation. Lawyers must pass a state’s bar exam to practice law in that location.

Correctional treatment specialist

  • Average salary: $33,968

  • Typical degree: Bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences or related field

  • Job outlook: 6 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is as fast as average

Correctional treatment specialists, commonly referred to as case managers, work directly with probationers and parolees to figure out the best rehabilitation plan for each person. In addition, they conduct drug screenings and provide substance abuse counseling and connect probationers and parolees with resources like job training. Correctional treatment specialists can make a difference in the lives of youth by focusing on the juvenile justice system. Case managers help prevent youth from future involvement in the justice system and report information that helps judges make determinations with the best interests of the child in mind.

Nonprofit director of development

  • Average salary: $62,894

  • Typical degree: bachelor’s for entry-level or master’s in training and development, human resources management, business administration, education or related field

  • Job outlook: 10 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is faster than average

Development directors at nonprofits are expected to coordinate the fundraising for the organizations. At small nonprofits, the directors could be responsible for direct contact with donors, organizational branding and public relations. At a larger nonprofit, the development director would more likely manage and coordinate a team for the fundraising plan, which includes factors such as investors, grants and community events. Nonprofit development directors are essential in organizations such as the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army and Special Olympics, all of which champion causes that affect children and families.

Health educator or community health worker

  • Average salary: $45,360

  • Typical degree: community health workers need a high school diploma or associate degree; health educators need at least a bachelor’s in health education or a master’s

  • Job outlook: 16 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is much faster than average

Community health workers collect data and talk to community members about health concerns. Health educators promote wellness through instruction and develop strategies to better the health of individuals and communities as a whole. CHWs help with disease prevention and promoting healthy behaviors by working one-on-one, and health care costs of low-income and immigrant populations are better managed with CHW assistance. Health education is important to children and families as healthier students tend to perform better in school and healthy parents set good examples for their children, need less sick time from work and perform better in their job.

Social worker

  • Average salary: $47,980

  • Typical degree/job requirements: bachelor’s for entry-level administration, master’s for clinical social work plus two years of clinical experience

  • Job outlook: 16 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is much faster than average

Although some social workers who work in direct-service positions like caseworker or mental health assistant need only a bachelor’s degree, most obtain their Master of Social Work (MSW) to become a clinical social worker. Individual requirements may vary by employer. Clinical social workers, who are required to be licensed or certified in their state, can diagnose, treat and help prevent mental illness and behavioral issues. Two specialties that are directly beneficial to children and families include school social work and child welfare. School social workers coordinate between school admins and families, and child welfare specialists assist families in providing safe, loving homes for children when families cannot achieve it alone, but clinical social workers can also intervene to protect children from harm.

“On the ground level, guidance counselors and social workers are critical in elementary schools,” said Sorg, who lamented the reduction in staff because of budgetary cuts in Indiana.

Occupational Health & Safety specialist/technician (child care licensing inspector)

  • Average salary: $67,720

  • Typical degree: bachelor’s degree in occupational health & safety or related field

  • Job outlook: 8 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is as fast as average

Occupational Health & Safety specialists and technicians collect data related to work environments and procedures while considering health, safety and environmental factors. The field encompasses work environments such as office spaces, industrial complexes, hospitals, construction sites and schools. These specialists and technicians are responsible for conducting tests, evaluating safety factors and training programs and providing written reports. A person who wishes to help children and families through this line of work should focus on getting the required certifications and licensing for a job such as child care licensing inspector. This type of inspector evaluates child care centers for safety, training, procedure and other factors to ensure child care providers meet guidelines established by local, state or federal agencies. Child care licensing inspectors may also investigate complaints against any child care providers. These inspectors, by ensuring providers follow procedure, provide peace of mind for parents entrusting care of their child to others and confirm children are being provided care in a safe environment. Professional licensing and certification requirements for the job vary by location and employer.

Sorg said, “My position is the Director of Learning Link, an education initiative of the Community Foundation. Learning Link works to create a community of lifelong learners throughout the county, thereby improving quality of life. We do this by aligning leaders of community organizations, businesses and the providers of learning opportunities and resources toward shared educational goals. The actual work I do is convening groups, facilitating discussions, connecting people and organizations, conducting research, correcting false assumptions, preventing duplications in program development and creating awareness/public education … Currently I have two work groups working with young children and families. One is focused on advancing children’s (ages 3-5) social-emotional development. As you might guess, their big push is creating awareness around the value of high quality preschool/educational child care.” The very minimum of high-quality preschool or child care begins with a safe environment with appropriately licensed providers.

Family therapist

  • Average salary: $48,790

  • Typical degree: master’s degree in psychology, family therapy or related mental health area

  • Job outlook: 23 percent growth expected over 10 years, which is much faster than average

Family therapists help their clients with family and relationship issues through discussion, helping to process reactions and adjust to changes, develop strategies to tackle their problems and connect clients with beneficial resources or community services, all while considering the family as a whole. Family therapists may work alongside social workers and psychologists on certain cases. Family therapists would also address behavioral issues children experience that may conflict with their education or healthy functioning within the home. All therapists must be licensed to practice.

Family therapists are able to address issues that affect a child’s behavior that, by extension, then affect other aspects of their lives, such as their success in the classroom. Sorg said, “The second work group, focused on elementary school-aged youth, is researching the resources for families and the children who lack the social-emotional skills to cope in the elementary school environment … This concern rose to the top as educators in our elementary schools were seeing more children than ever arriving to school in diapers or pull-ups, who are non-verbal, who are in foster care or being raised by grandparents (due to a) family breakdown --children who have bigger issues than whether the child knows how to stand in a line. Teachers tell of seeing more meltdowns in kids than they have in the past, which they recognize halts any learning for the child and takes them away from what they should be doing for all the other children in the classroom. … What came of our actions was a contract between a local mental health agency and the school districts to provide some free visits for school-referred children and their families.”

Occupational therapist

  • Average salary: $83,200

  • Typical degree: Master’s degree in occupational therapy

  • Job outlook: 24 percent expected growth over 10 years, which is much higher than average

Occupational therapists assist injured, sick or disabled patients through completion of everyday tasks. The purpose is to treat the person as a whole, not just their impairment, and prepare these people to recover or improve skills necessary for daily tasks, whether it be for home, work or schooling purposes. Occupational therapists work directly with patients in settings such as home health, hospitals, schools and nursing homes. They work with children with autism or sensory processing disorders, for example, so they can function and excel in a school setting. As the field is not limited to assisting children, they could also work with elderly patients to keep them mobile and independent for as long as possible and make safety recommendations within the home. These types of services allow not only the patient to benefit but also help the family to incorporate strategies into home life that will make the situations easier on everyone. OTs must be licensed to practice in their state, as licensing is a nationwide requirement.

Related Scholarships & Resources

Scholarships

Society for Technical Communications student scholarships

Students beyond their freshman year of college who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher in technical communications may apply for the STC student scholarships beginning with the 2019-2020 school year. Applicants must have one full year remaining in their degree program.

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Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship

American Addiction Centers offers a scholarship to college students enrolled in a related mental health field, including marriage and family therapy. In total, $10,000 are awarded to first-, second- and third-place applicants.

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American Bar Association scholarships

A number of law-related student scholarships and awards for practicing lawyers can be found on the ABA website, including the Young Lawyers Division Child Advocacy Award. This award goes to two nominees who have demonstrated their service to children.

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Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association Scholarship

The FPPOA scholarship is awarded to undergraduate, graduate or post-graduates who are pursuing degrees in the career and are active members of FPPOA.

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Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation

Among the many requirements for the popular award are at least junior-level undergraduate status and a desire to work in nonprofit management (or related sector) and be an agent for change.

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Public health scholarships

Public Health Online provides a list of applicable public health scholarships based on degree level and specialized subject.

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CWD Social Work Scholarship

The Child Welfare and Development Scholarship for Students Pursuing a Degree in Social Work is open to current social work students working toward their bachelor’s degree. This annual award of $1,000 goes to students who demonstrate need, academic distinction and a history of helping children.

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3M PSD Health and Safety Scholarship Program

Three $5,000 scholarships are awarded to students pursuing occupational health and safety/industrial hygiene. In addition, the winners will be flown to the American Industrial Hygiene Association Conference and Exposition and comped for up to four nights of accommodations.

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American Occupational Therapy Foundation scholarships

Aspiring OTs can apply for the more than 50 awards offered through AOTF and partnering associations. These awards range from $150 to $5,000. The AOTF accepts applications once a year from occupational therapy students enrolled in accredited programs.

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American Physical Therapy Association scholarships

Physical therapy students should search through the 15 scholarships listed on the APTA website to see if they fit the criteria for application. These scholarship awards’ requirements vary by academic status, minority student qualification and specialization.

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Resources

  • Society for Technical Communication: The STC is a membership-based society for technical writers that has a membership price scale for students, professionals and new professionals. Memberships include professional networking, a job bank, discounted webinars, online courses and certification exams.

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: The AAMFT is a professional membership association that provides job connections, find-a-therapist, ethical and legal consultation, professional publication access and online continuing education services. Membership types include student, affiliate, pre-clinical and clinical fellows.

  • American Bar Association: The ABA, whose membership includes 400,000 current members and 3,500 entities, provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education and initiatives to better the legal system for the general public. ABA memberships are also available to law students.

  • American Probation and Parole Association: APPA, a professional membership association made up of students, providers, corrections professionals, volunteers and public policy advocates, provides research reports, online and in-person training opportunities and training and leadership institutes.

  • NonprofitReady.org: Members join nonprofitready.org for free and can access more than 400 videos or educational materials related to nonprofit management careers. Topics include grant writing, fundraising, leadership, finance and marketing, to name a few.

  • Society for Public Health Education: The more than 4,000 SOPHE members who work in schools, volunteer organizations, health care settings and government agencies, along with students, form this professional organization. SOPHE offers public health advocation, professional publication access, job connections and more.

  • National Association of Social Workers: More than 120,000 members use the NASW as their professional social work organization, making it the largest such organization in the world. NASW provides typical professional membership benefits and three types of student memberships.

  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: NIOSH, which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides grants and funding resources, training and professional information on specific occupational safety topics.

  • American Occupational Therapy Association Inc.: The AOTA is a membership-based organization for occupational therapists. Membership price varies per level but are open to OT students for $75 per year. Benefits include subscriptions to field journals and newsletters, continuing education, professional resources, career connections and more.

  • American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists: The ABPTS is responsible for certification and recertification of clinical physical therapy specialists. The ABPTS offers nine clinical specialties from which experienced PTs can choose.