Canada’s child welfare system is made up of government and private services that are designed to protect children and encourage family stability.

Within child welfare, social workers help plan and deliver services for children and families. They are mandated to work within the perimeters of the Child and Family Service Act in their jurisdiction, as well as other relevant Acts, standards and regulations related to the services they provide.

Social workers act in the best interests of the child, and they believe that ideally, most children are better served in their own homes with resources to support and strengthen families. They investigate reports of children in need of protection, support families who need help caring for their children, arrange for children to live with family, foster families or licensed group homes when they aren’t safe at home, arrange permanent adoptive homes, and support youth leaving foster care.

Building family capacity to care for children

Social workers in child welfare are committed to providing services that are equitable and inclusive for children, youth, families and communities. They build a safe and caring environment, which values the dignity and intrinsic worth of every individual, while upholding the individual’s right to self-determination.

Social workers seek to understand the psychological, social, physical, spiritual and financial elements that influence the child, family and community, and balance the child’s safety and well-being with the rights and needs of a family that needs help.

In child welfare, social workers honour diversity and different ways of knowing. They understand the culture, history and current oppressions experienced by Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. When needed, they advocate for children and families and against racism, sexism and other harmful forms of discrimination.

Role and responsibilities

Depending on the position and organization, social workers in child welfare may:

  • Hold individual and family counselling sessions
  • Help children and families adapt to transitions
  • Conduct risk assessments
  • Develop plans for risk reduction interventions based on risk assessment
  • Conduct investigations in child protection cases
  • Provide a wide variety of intervention services and support to children and families
  • Meet with children and families on a regular basis to discuss progress and plan future services and support
  • Collaborate with an interdisciplinary team, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis representatives
  • Prepare legal documentation and attends Family Court and Criminal Court
  • Liaise with agencies, professionals, government officials and the community to offer additional support or augment what already exists
  • Advocate for children and families as needed
  • Develop and deliver education to families and communities
  • Prepare and maintain assessments and statistical reports
  • Participate in academic activities, like teaching and supervising students
  • Contribute to research initiatives and data collection, as needed


Most social workers in child welfare must have:

  • Registration in good standing with the relevant provincial or territorial regulatory body
  • Bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in social work from an accredited university
  • Three years of relevant experience working with children and families
  • Valid Driver’s Licence and reliable access to (or ownership of) a safe vehicle

It is helpful for social workers working in child welfare to have:

  • Excellent working knowledge of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act and other relevant legislation, Ministry standards and guidelines
  • Ability to demonstrate cultural competence and exhibit respect for diversity
  • Good working knowledge of community services in the region
  • Strong interpersonal and interviewing skills
  • Counselling experience with individuals, couples and families
  • Ability to respond well in crisis situations
  • Strong conflict resolution, mediation and problem-solving skills