What Does a NICU Social Worker Do?

Marisa McFadin LMSW

Interviewed by Erika Goyer, Hand to Hold Family Support Navigator

A NICU stay can be one of the stressful and traumatic things that can ever happen to a family. Whether a family knows they might be headed for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or whether it’s a complete surprise they quickly discover that the NICU is a world unlike any other. Parents need to learn new terms, communicate with new professionals, and make medical decisions that will have a lasting impact on their child’s health and development. Fortunately there are people there to help you navigate these rough waters!

Your NICU’s social worker can be a lifeline! They will not only guide you to the information and resources you need during your NICU stay – they will also be a safe place to go to get the support you need to care for your family physically, financially, and emotionally.

This month we interviewed Marisa McFadin LMSW at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas – a hospital that is known for its dedication to family-centered care.

What is your title and what was your program of professional study?

My title is NICU Social Worker.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of North Texas and a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington.  I am licensed by the State of Texas as a LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker).

What roles do social workers play in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit?

My focus as a social worker in the NICU at Cook Children’s is on the family.  I work with doctors, nurses and other hospital staff to make sure the patient’s and family’s needs and concerns are addressed so that the child’s ongoing health care needs are met.  I often meet parents during times of physical, emotional and financial stress.  I try to alleviate some of their worries by assisting them while their precious baby is in our NICU.

What sorts of assistance do you provide?

I often have to change hats from a counselor to a concierge or a family advocate to a problem solver several times a day in order to help assist parents as they go through the journey of the NICU.  I help parents by referring them to community resources, assisting with discharge planning and coordinating services after going home.

When would a family talk to you?

Photo courtesy of Cook Children’s

If your baby is admitted to the NICU at Cook’s then parents can expect a visit from me, or another social worker, soon after admission.  We recognize that this is a very stressful time for families and want to offer support from the very beginning.

It’s not uncommon to experience stress in other areas of life while a baby is in the NICU.  Many families have problems that arise at work, with extended family and sometimes in their marriage.  I can help with those types of issues that come up while your baby is in the NICU.

Read “Finding a Balance Between NICU and Home” by Erika Goyer, Hand to Hold’s Family Support Navigator

What would you tell families they should expect when they meet with you?

I start off by saying; “We meet with all families that have a baby in our NICU.”  I hope that is a relief to parents and they realize we aren’t speaking with them because something is “wrong”.  I tell families in our hospital at Cook that there are social workers that are specific to the NICU to offer emotional support and resource information.  I explain that I will work with them during their entire hospital stay until the day of discharge and if they have any questions, needs or concerns to call me for help.

How can you help them during their NICU stay? Upon discharge?

Depending on the patient’s diagnosis, there may be specific resources available to the family.  Also, depending on the length of stay in the hospital a family may become eligible for resources that they normally wouldn’t qualify for.  Many resources offer financial assistance, while others offer support.  It all depends on how comfortable a family is, or if they are “ready” to talk about these types of topics.  Some families are just trying to get from today to tomorrow and I respect that.  It’s my job to meet parents where they are at and empower them to make the best decisions for their baby.

To find out more about Medicaid Waiver Programs in your state visit www.medicaid.gov or call Hand to Hold to get support from our Family Support Navigators.

At the time of discharge I help coordinate the Rooming In process and discharge teaching.  Another very important part of discharge is scheduling follow-up appointments and in home services such as ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) or a visit from a Cook’s Home Health social worker for additional support.

Does being approached by a social worker mean that there’s a problem?

I know that when I introduce myself to parents many cringe and think, “Why is a social worker talking to me?  Does she think I am a bad parent?”  And that could not be further from the truth!  I am fortunate enough to work at a hospital that VALUES the role a social worker can play during a child’s stay at Cook Children’s.  At Cook social workers are a part of a team of experienced professionals that are on hand to care for baby AND family.

What resources would you recommend for parents who want to find out more about your profession?

To find out more about our medical facilities visit Cook Children’s  www.cookchildrens.org.

To find out more about the field of social work visit the website of the National Association of Social Workers  www.naswdc.org.

LEARN MORE: Hand to Hold loves this wonderful resource developed by Cook Children’s – When your Baby is Born with a Health Problem

Lea este articulo en español – Cuando su bebé nace con un problema de salud





  1. Such a wonderful piece, thank you for highlighting NICU social workers and the wealth of support and information they can provide to NICU families.

  2. Tania F. says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of information! Born at 5 months, a one pound preemie baby 25 years later I am still God’s miracle child! Thanks to the great doctors and social workers at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, FL for helping my mother & I every step of the way! Now my goal is work as a neonatal social worker assisting other fragile babies and sharing my story!

  3. Amanda Price says:

    My little sister was born at 32 weeks, weighing 3lbs 8oz. She spent 21 days in the NICU. Knowing what my family went through, my goal is to become a NICU social worker. What type off educational requirements are there for pursuing this career? I’ve talked with a few advisors at different schools in my area, and none of them seem to know what direction to point me in.

  4. Dear Amanda, We recommend getting in touch with the National Association of Perinatal Social Workers. Here’s a link: http://www.napsw.org/. I bet they will be happy to help you! Best, Amy Carr


  1. […] A NICU stay can have a real impact on your finances. You may need to take time away from work. Not to mention the hidden costs of a NICU stay: gas to and from the hospital, parking permits, food. Then there’s the question of how much your baby’s care is going to cost you. Know that there are resources available to help you and your family. If you need help navigating insurance – or the lack of it – there are people who can assist you. Start with your NICU social worker. […]

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