Graduate Certificate in Child Welfare

The purpose of the Graduate Certificate in Child Welfare is to equip students with knowledge and skills in implementing trauma-informed best practices in child welfare. Students will learn how to integrate theoretical foundations and practical skills to address the complex needs of children and their families in the child welfare system. Students will also learn strategies to increase their competence in strength-based practices to minimize secondary trauma. Students will learn about evidenced-based approaches to intervening with families that may have been impacted by abuse, neglect or other traumatic childhood experiences.

Graduates of the certificate program will be able to facilitate restorative practices, assess and serve the needs of children and families, while being aware of and managing their  biases, and implement strategies for minimizing placement instability and increasing prevention and permanency outcomes. Graduates will be able to facilitate attachment workshops that promote stable relationships for children and their families. Graduates will also be able to use screening and assessment tools to develop case plans for children. 

Student learning outcomes

Students who complete this certificate will be able to:

  • Assess and intervene with children and families that may have experienced abuse, neglect or other traumatic events
  • Assess and serve the needs of children and families while managing systemic and personal biases
  • Provide trauma-informed care to children who have experienced abuse, neglect or other traumatic events, with an emphasis on promoting healing and resilience.
  • Assess the capacity of communities to facilitate restorative processes and support the well-being of children and families

Target audiences

The primary target audience for the certificate is human services professionals such as: family services specialists working in child protective services, family preservation and/or foster care within social services or other community child welfare agencies. The second target audience is graduate students enrolled in social science graduate degrees (e.g., Master of Science in Sociology, Health Psychology, Social Psychology) at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Time to complete

The certificate program will only be offered on a part-time basis. Students may begin the proposed certificate program in either the fall or spring semester. 

Degree-seeking students may complete the proposed graduate certificate program concurrently with their degree coursework. The length of time to complete will be based on scheduling within their degree program. Students attending part-time can complete the certificate in one (1) academic year (two semesters). All certificate course requirements must be completed within the time it takes to complete the degree program in which the student is enrolled. 

Non-degree seeking students can complete the certificate program in one (1) academic year (three semesters) if maintaining a course load of 3 credit hours for the first and second semesters and 6 credit hours the third semester. Non-degree seeking students can complete the certificate in two (2) academic years (four semesters) if maintaining a course load of 3 credits per semester. 


The admission requirements outlined will apply to all students. All applicants to the graduate certificate program are required to meet the admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School. Applicants will be required to submit the following materials to the Graduate School Admissions Office: 

  • Application form and application fee
  • Three letters of recommendation, professional and/or academic 
  • Official undergraduate transcripts from all schools attended 
  • A personal statement of purpose outlining career goals 
  • A resume stating relevant work experience. 

No transfer credit hours are accepted for this certificate program. Credits from a degree already awarded cannot be applied toward the certificate. 

Curriculum requirements

The curriculum is designed to equip students with a comprehensive understanding of child welfare services, encompassing social, demographic and economic factors, along with the necessary theoretical foundations and practical skills for effective service delivery. The curriculum focuses on evidence-based strategies for assessing and intervening with children and adolescents impacted by trauma. Coursework emphasizes strength-based practices, protective factors and the considerations of development, culture and empirical evidence in trauma interventions.

Students will learn to identify major social, demographic and economic changes in child welfare services impacting vulnerable children and their families. The curriculum will train students how to assess the safety, risk, strengths and needs of families who are involved in the child welfare system; and to partner with families to implement strategies for child protection, family preservation and permanency planning efforts. 

Program requirements 

Number of credit hours: 12 graduate credit hours 

Required courses: 

  • SLWK 601: Human Behavior in the Social Environment I (3 credits) 
  • SLWK 610: Human Behavior in the Social Environment II (3 credits) 
  • SLWK 718: Social Work Practice in Child Welfare (3 credits) 
  • SLWK 742: Core Concepts of Child and Adolescent Trauma (3 credits) 

Course delivery format

The certificate program will be offered in the traditional, face-to-face format and fully online. Thus, both physical space and software to facilitate the online courses (synchronous and asynchronous) are required and will be available.

Related opportunities: Child Welfare Stipend Program

This specialized training program, funded through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, prepares social work students for a career in public child welfare. The goal of the CWSP at VCU is to recruit and prepare a caring, competent and innovative child welfare workforce in Virginia. 

B.S.W. seniors and M.S.W. students accepted into this program receive a $10,000 stipend per academic year, with a payback requirement to work at a local department of social services within the commonwealth of Virginia.

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