There can be few careers more rewarding than working with children. Whether you want to work with early years, school age, teenagers or families, jobs with children are available in the public, private or not-for-profit sectors
While jobs of this nature come with their share of challenges, each day you'll get to inspire minds, shape young lives and support a child's physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Jobs with children are strictly regulated, so as well as the right combination of qualifications, skills and experience, you'll also need to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check to secure a role.
Read on to find out more about the roles on offer and the qualifications and training you'll need for a successful career working with children.
Jobs with children
The main sectors that employ people to work with children include the charity and voluntary work, healthcare, social care and teacher training and education sectors. However, jobs working with children are available in other, less obvious industries such as law, leisure, sport and tourism and public services and administration, where you could become a family lawyer, sports coach or children's librarian respectively. When looking for jobs or work experience it pays to think outside the box. Within the creative arts sector you could become an art therapist or volunteer your dancing skills to teach a local group of children.
Within social care you could work as a:
Unsurprisingly, the teacher training and education sector offers a variety of opportunities to work with children. You could become a:
- careers adviser
- early years teacher
- educational psychologist
- English as a foreign language teacher
- learning mentor
- museum education officer
- primary school teacher
- secondary school teacher
- special educational needs teacher
- teaching assistant
The majority of jobs with children require candidates to undergo a DBS check, which helps employers to protect vulnerable groups and make safer recruitment decisions. As part of the DBS check your criminal record history is accessed and you're checked against a list of named individuals who have harmed, or pose a risk of harm, to vulnerable people and are barred from working with them. Once cleared you will receive a DBS certificate.
If your heart is set on a career in nursing, child psychotherapy, social work, educational psychology or teaching, be aware that these are all graduate jobs, and you'll need a specific degree, either at undergraduate or Masters level to enter these professions. Learn more about social work courses and routes into teaching.
If you know that you'd like to work with children but would prefer to keep your options open, a more general degree in childcare or working with children may suit you. At the University of Hull you can study for a BA in Working with Children, Young People and Families, enabling you to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for careers in healthcare, education and social care roles. Likewise, Birmingham City University also offers a Bachelors course in Working with Children, Young People and Families.
At postgraduate level, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and Manchester Metropolitan University both run Masters programmes in Professional Practice with Children and Young People and Childhood Development and Wellbeing in Practice respectively.
Vocational courses, such as CACHE (Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education) qualifications, are available from Entry Level to Level 5 (for experienced professionals). CACHE qualifications are well known and widely respected throughout the childcare industry. Their Children and Young People programmes cover a range of topics, including Supporting Individuals with Learning Disabilities, Paediatric First Aid and Residential Childcare.
Experience working with children
Jobs come with a high level of responsibility - a child's physical and emotional wellbeing is often in your hands - therefore relevant experience working with children is vital. Gaining specific experience of certain roles, such as those in social work, children's nursing and counselling can be difficult due to the sensitive nature of the work. However, any experience working with children will give you a distinct advantage when applying for a place on a postgraduate course or for a job.
There are a huge number of volunteering opportunities. You could give your time to local sports, activity or youth clubs, work at after-school, summer or holiday clubs or get involved in community play schemes. You could spend your summers working as an au pair or helping out at youth theatre groups. Another option is to volunteer in schools and shadow teachers, assistants and admin staff or become a private tutor or reading mentor.
Volunteering at children's centres, children's hospices and on hospital children's wards, or donating your time to charities such as Barnardo's, ChildLine and the NSPCC are some other worthwhile options. If you're still struggling for ideas discover 10 opportunities to volunteer with children, some of which enable you to work abroad, further expanding your work and cultural experience.
Search for volunteering opportunities at:
When looking for work experience utilise your university, personal and professional contacts and apply speculatively to local organisations and groups.
Not everyone is suited to a career working with children. Jobs can be physically, emotionally and intellectually challenging and you'll need a specific set of skills to deal with the demands of each role.
However, in general, to work with children you'll need:
- A patient nature - working with children you'll often have to explain yourself, repeat instructions and deal with distractions. At times their behaviour can also be testing. It's important for you to hide your frustration and understand that children think, feel and process things differently to adults.
- Excellent communication skills - the ability to earn a child's trust and respect is vital to any job with children. Communication skills are essential when trying to achieve this. You need to be a confident and authoritative communicator with the ability to talk to children on their level. Excellent listening skills are also crucial.
- Enthusiasm - you need to really like children and enjoy spending time with them and to have real enthusiasm for your job - kids can spot insincerity a mile off.
- The capacity to think on your feet and stay calm in stressful situations - the young have a knack for being unpredictable and curious and this can sometimes lead to accidents. Children look to adults to know how to act in emergency or stressful situations, so being able to think on your feet and keep a cool head is important.
- Imagination and creativity - creativity is essential to a child's growth. You need to be adept at coming up with new ways for a child to express themselves.
- Good organisational and time management skills - working with children things rarely go according to plan. You'll need strong organisational and time management skills to ensure that sessions, lessons, meetings and one-to-ones stay on track.
- A non-judgmental approach and a respect for diversity - no matter your role it's likely you'll work with children and young people with varying abilities from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities.
- Leadership skills - as the adult, children and young people will look to you for guidance and leadership. It's important that you're able to confidently take charge of a situation.
A sense of humour, problem-solving ability and resilience will also go a long way.
Continuing professional development is a feature of all jobs when working with children. No matter your role it's crucial that you stay up to date with the developments in research, processes and practices. It's vital that you work hard to keep your skills and knowledge up to date in order to progress throughout your career.
A number of organisations provide further training opportunities. For example, if you work within Children's Services local councils offer a range of courses for all staff. Training can cover first aid, health and safety, information management, leadership and management and special educational needs (SEN).
Teachers also receive in-service training, either in-house on teacher training days or at regional training centres run by local authorities. Training topics cover curriculum issues, target setting and assessment, special needs or pastoral care.
City and Guilds offers a suite of training courses for those working with children, including qualifications in youth work, youth justice, parenting services and childcare. For more information, see City and Guilds - Children.
Children's charities, such as Barnardo's and the NSPCC, provide training in child protection, safer recruitment, working with children and young people and safeguarding.
All organisations that work or come in to contact with children will have safeguarding policies and procedures in place to ensure that children are protected from harm. Because of this, safeguarding is an important aspect of any job that concerns working with children - if your qualifications haven't touched on this, completing additional training will be useful.
Find out more
- See what else the social care sector has to offer.