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Developing your career: Working with children

Children and young people are our future. There can be few more rewarding ways to invest in tomorrow than inspiring the next generation (in or out of school), supporting their emotional and physical wellbeing, helping them overcome challenges, looking after their rights, and enabling them to develop into successful and fulfilled adults. 

Childcare worker in nursery grounds

Whatever your particular area of interest, there is a huge variety of career options across the private, public and voluntary sectors:

  • Education – childcare, early years, educational psychology, play work, library and information services, primary and secondary school teaching, special needs
  • Health – art/drama/music therapy, clinical psychology, health visiting, paediatric medicine, paediatric nursing, speech and language therapy
  • Legal work – family law, youth justice, child protection
  • Social care and guidance – advice work, careers advice, counselling, probation, psychotherapy, social work, youth work.

To get detailed information about typical jobs within these areas – including day-to-day activities, the qualifications you need and what you might expect to earn – visit the Prospects careers website, GradIreland website, or Skills Development Scotland website.

How the OU can help

To build a successful career working with children, it’s increasingly important to get some qualifications. Teaching, nursing and social work are all graduate professions, and the early years sector is moving the same way. Whether you’re just starting out, changing direction or already working in the field, The Open University offers flexibility, choice and quality. Our practice-focused courses at undergraduate, masters and research level enable you to apply your learning to your own context as you study, and draw directly on our world-renowned research programmes – bringing you up to date with the latest thinking.

Subjects range from early childhood, teaching and child development to counselling, health and social care, and youth justice. We also offer qualifying degrees in law, nursing and social work, and a wide choice of standalone modules to support your continuing professional development.

Getting started

If you’re not quite ready for degree-level study in working with children, our People, work and society Access module (Y032) could be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s designed to build your confidence and study skills while introducing ideas and debates about children and young people, health, law, management, psychology and social science. By the end of the module, you’ll be well prepared to begin your first full OU course.

More about access modules

Work experience

If you can provide practical evidence of your commitment to working with children in addition to your OU study, it will put you well ahead of the competition – so if you’re not already employed in the sector, it’s a good idea to get some work experience. You could volunteer in a nursery or school; help run an activity, sports or youth club; become a summer camp counsellor or help with a holiday play scheme; do some play work on a children’s hospital ward; sign up as a school governor; or train to be a ChildLine counsellor to help focus on your chosen age group to both demonstrate your commitment and help confirm your interest. 

The opportunity to contextualise your knowledge and skills will also greatly enhance your learning – and for some courses, it will be a requirement. Note that you’ll need to apply for a police check to work with children and young people.