Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

The Child Immigration Crisis: What U.S. Social Workers Are Doing to Help

More people are focusing their social work career on helping unaccompanied children who cross the border illegally.

The images are heartbreaking. Children left all alone to cross the United States’ southwest border— arriving in small groups and large; many under the age of twelve;* many suffering from dehydration, hunger, infections, and other ailments. Arriving by the thousands every year, these children risk their lives to flee unrest in nations such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. They—and the parents who send them—see the U.S. as the one hope for a better life. But their arrival has created a child immigration crisis.

While there’s no simple solution to solving the crisis, many can agree on this: the children who arrive deserve to be treated humanely. That’s why current immigration policy limits the amount of time an unaccompanied, undocumented child can be held in a detention facility to 72 hours. After that, they must be transferred to a children’s shelter or placed into the care of a sponsor during the court process.§ But many children need more help than that. And that’s where U.S. social workers are playing an important role.

The Child Immigration Crisis: What U.S. Social Workers Are Doing to Help

Social workers are trained to help those dealing with difficult situations, which makes them uniquely suited to understand and address the needs of unaccompanied children who arrive in the U.S. illegally. As such, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recently released a series of recommendations for how to better handle the child immigration crisis.** These recommendations include:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Should Partner With Social Workers

When CBP apprehends unaccompanied minors, NASW recommends that a licensed social worker trained in child services be on hand to properly evaluate the children for trafficking and other humanitarian concerns.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Facilities Should Meet Humanitarian Standards

CBP holding facilities and DHS emergency shelters should meet the accepted guidelines for humanely housing children.

More Funds Should Be Allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Help Child Refugees

The NASW recommends increased funding to provide services to children who cannot be placed in community-based care (e.g., with a relative). Children should be guaranteed adequate housing facilities, medical care, and mental health care. All unaccompanied children should also receive legal representation and child advocates who can help the children obtain immigration relief.

HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Should Expand Follow-Up Services

The NASW recommends the ORR do more to ensure children released from federal custody are safe and being treated properly. This includes helping sponsors obtain government benefits the child may be eligible for, ensuring children receive proper and regular medical and mental health services, making every effort to reunite children with their biological family, conducting home studies to ensure sponsor-provided care is appropriate, and ensuring children are enrolled in school and are receiving proper educational services.

How to Become a Social Worker Who Helps Unaccompanied Child Immigrants

As the NASW’s recommendations illustrate, social workers have a significant role to play, both in helping unaccompanied minors directly and in helping develop and advocate for policies that better meet those children’s needs. If you want to join these social workers in their effort to help handle the child immigration crisis, you should consider enrolling in a CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or Master of Social Work (MSW) program at a high-quality school of social work.

A BSW or MSW degree is a pre-requisite for most licensed social work jobs, whether you want to be a clinical social worker, medical social worker, school social worker, or a social worker specializing in the needs of refugee children. Fortunately, completing a BSW or MSW program doesn’t require you to put your current life and job on hold. Through an online BSW or MSW program, you can earn a degree in social work from an accredited institution more conveniently than ever before. In fact, an online social work degree program can give you the flexibility you need to complete the majority of your coursework from home while continuing to work full time.

Plus, many of the top online universities offer online BSW or MSW degree programs with CSWE accreditation— the only accreditation recognized in the U.S. for social work degree programs. When you earn a bachelor's or master’s in social work online from a CSWE-accredited program, you can be sure your degree meets the highest standards of education.

The unaccompanied children coming across our border deserve compassion and care. You can help provide that when you earn a BSW or MSW online and start a social work career.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*J. Krogstad, Children 12 and Under Are Fastest Growing Group of Unaccompanied Minors at U.S. Border, Pew Research Center, on the internet at

M. Joachin, Re-Examining the Medical Needs of Unaccompanied Children, National Immigration Law Center, on the internet at

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children Statistics FY 2016, on the internet at

§T. Meko, What Happens When an Unaccompanied Minor Is Caught at the U.S.-Mexico Border, The Washington Post, on the internet at

**National Association of Social Workers, Unaccompanied Migrant Children: Overview and Recommendations, on the internet as a PDF at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden University’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

The minimum academic credential required to obtain licensure to practice as a social worker in many states is successful completion of a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or Master of Social Work (MSW) program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Walden University’s BSW and MSW programs are accredited by CSWE. State licensing boards are responsible for regulating the practice of social work, and each state has its own academic, licensure, and certification requirements.

State licensing boards are responsible for regulating the practice of social work, and each state has its own academic, licensure, and certification requirements.

Walden recommends that students consult the appropriate social work licensing board in the state in which they plan to practice to determine the specific academic requirements for licensure. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to the state-by-state requirements for licensure. However, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all licensing requirements for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of its coursework or programs will permit an individual to achieve state licensure, authorization, endorsement, or other state credential as a social worker.