Family, youth and community services is one of the easiest online master’s degrees to earn. However, if you’re considering this path, what might not be as easy is figuring out how it differs from a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and which program is a better choice for you. Two of the biggest differences between these similar-sounding programs are the career focus you can expect once you complete these degrees and the actual coursework required to graduate.
Differences in Career Focus
It’s true that there’s a lot of overlap in the populations you could serve and the problems you could help solve with these two distinct educational paths. The field of child and family social work may seem particularly closely related to graduate studies in family, youth and community service. However, there are critical differences in the job titles, responsibilities, and daily duties that come from pursuing these two distinct degrees.
If you have your heart set on being a social worker, then a degree in family, youth and community services probably isn’t the right choice for you. A social worker is a professional who works to help people in a variety of different populations solve or cope with problems and improve psychosocial functioning in their lives. In most states, social workers must be licensed, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This licensing process often involves earning a social work degree (a Bachelor of Social Work, or BSW, degree for entry-level roles or the MSW degree for master’s-level work).
Whether you’re a licensed social worker at the BSW level or you use your MSW to become a licensed clinical social worker and take on job responsibilities like diagnosing and treating mental health conditions, you will have distinct job responsibilities, including considerable case management duties. Often, though not always, you will work in a direct service role rather than an administrative one. As a social worker, your job will revolve around applying the practices of social work to helping clients address real-world problems that range from child welfare to the plight of aging populations and from homelessness to the care of children and adults with developmental disabilities.
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A master’s degree program in family, youth and community services won’t necessarily qualify you for a social work career or licensure. Instead, it prepares you for careers such as roles in human, social and community service management. Often, these managerial-level roles are more administrative in nature than a social worker’s role, involving more big-picture advocacy and programming planning. Although you may work with individuals while performing intakes and other forms of interviews, you likely won’t hold the same kind of direct service professional role as a social worker, but instead an important support and advocacy role. Ultimately, graduates of a family, youth and community services program collaborate with social workers to make a difference.
Jobs in family, youth and community services depend on your level of education. With no formal education in this field or with only an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, you’re more likely to find employment in a lower-paying role like youth worker.
Differences in Curriculum
Students in a master’s degree program in family, youth and community services take a breadth of coursework that prepares them for management and administration roles that make a difference. On one hand, they study topics like interpersonal relationships, parenting education and family dynamics and intervention. However, part of their education is also likely to focus on matters like program design and management. Often, students in these degree programs have the opportunity to take elective courses in areas that are of particular interest to them, including poverty and working with military families as well as tasks like developing and managing grant funding and applications. You may complete an internship or other capstone experience.
For MSW programs, the curriculum is usually more focused on the practice of social work, often with an emphasis on clinical social work. As a result, this program may include classes like theories of clinical social work practice, group theory and practice, social work research methods and field instruction in social work. A big part of studying social work at the master’s level is completing supervised field instruction hours. MSW programs should require a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction, according to the Council on Social Work Education, but programs may require more hours.
If you start your education as a student of family, youth and community services but later decide that your true calling is social work, you can go on to pursue an MSW degree even though your bachelor’s degree isn’t a BSW.