Children, Youth and Families

Children, Youth and Families

The Department of Children, Youth and Families is focused on addressing the needs of vulnerable children, youth and families, while building strong social environments to support them.

In today's complex society, families are more vulnerable than ever to issues, such as poverty, homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction. In these situations, the entire family unit can be left in need of services and support. Social workers, trained to work in direct practice with families, can act as the support families need to rise above adversity and get their lives back on track after crisis.

As a student in the Department of Children, Youth and Families at USC's online MSW, you will study subject areas such as:

  • Child welfare
  • Adolescent and transition age youth
  • Child development and early childhood education
  • Juvenile justice
  • Mental health
  • School social work

Children, Youth and Families graduates are prepared to work in a range of settings:

  • Foster family agencies and group homes
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Juvenile courts and probation offices
  • Public child welfare agencies
  • School and early education programs


The Children, Youth and Families curriculum prepares practitioners who can advocate for and intervene on behalf of children and youth in the social environments in which they live. These social workers also create service programs that support families of diverse backgrounds. Your coursework will consider findings in neuroscience and evidence-based research.

You will complete seven core courses, three electives and fieldwork. Explore the Children, Youth and Families Curriculum Snapshot.


Research and Critical Analysis for Social Work with Children and Families
This course deepens students' foundational knowledge of research methods to improve analytical skills and increase their ability to effectively utilize various forms of data to inform their practice. Assignments related to problem identification, intervention and evaluation of client outcomes will be tied to the field placement. The course recognizes the broad range of issues involving children, youth and families, while at the same time allowing students flexibility in choosing specific areas of interest and service systems to focus their learning.

Introduction to Social Work Practice with Children, Youth and Families
This course helps students understand the development of the child within the family and the role the larger social environment has on that development, highlighted by current research that informs these theories. It highlights risk and protective factors and common problems that can occur during each stage. The course also presents ways to engage with children and families in a developmentally appropriate way; what research has shown to be effective interventions at the micro, macro and mezzo levels; and interventions that have support for their effectiveness.

Social Work Practice with Children and Families Across Settings
Students explore various settings where children and families commonly receive social work services in order to understand the objectives and organization of key settings, such as early education, schools, mental health clinics, child welfare and juvenile justice agencies. This course also examines the roles of social workers and common methods of working with children and families in various settings. Upon completion, students will have knowledge about working in multiple children and family service settings, as well as how to assist families in navigating multiple service sectors.

Social Work Practice with Children and Families in Early and Middle Childhood
This advanced practice course teaches students about the causal factors that contribute to the development of problems among children and families in early childhood, and offers guidance on how to conduct a thorough assessment, develop a treatment plan, choose an appropriate intervention, deliver that intervention and evaluate its effectiveness within an ecological perspective. It also highlights the skills for making cultural adaptations.

Social Work Practice with Adolescents, Transition Age Youth and Their Families
This advanced practice course addresses the developmental assets and specific challenges adolescents and their families may encounter as they navigate the years between childhood and adulthood. Students learn the role of the individual, the family, the school, community and cultural contexts in the development of problems and solutions for adolescents and young adults. Students advance their skills in engaging, assessing, intervening and evaluating clients using several evidence-based interventions, as well as develop skills in monitoring treatment progress and evaluating the need for adjustments and modification of treatment to ensure successful results.

Policy and Macro Practice in Children, Youth and Family Services
This course offers preparation for macro practice in organizations, systems and initiatives designed to support and serve children, youth, families and communities. Students learn about data-driven decision-making, collective impact and disruptive innovation. They examine policy trends including integrated, collaborative and networked approaches to service delivery; investments in community capacity building; and experiments with collective efficacy and social enterprise funding. Students examine models of community change, place-based partnerships to enhance resident engagement in community building and organizational models that integrate services for vulnerable families and their children.

Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice 

Sample Electives

  • Social Work in Public Child Welfare Settings
  • Social Work Practice with Transitional Youth
  • Social Work in Juvenile Justice Settings
  • Child Abuse & Neglect: Intervention & Treatment
  • School Violence

Field Placement

As a student in the Department of Children, Youth and Families, you will complete one of your field placement requirements at a site in or near your community that supports your career goals. You can learn more about field placement here.

Program Tracks

You may choose to supplement your program with the following tracks:

You will be required to complete two additional courses in your chosen option.