The Changing Role of Student Support Staff:
A Sample of School Social Worker Responses
As has always been the case when education budgets tighten, the tendency is to trim student support efforts more severely than other budget items. We see this as another indicator of the marginalization of student supports.
With the cuts and with new demands related to school improvement, the roles and functions of remaining student support staff seem to be changing. This was highlighted by a recent request to our Center from a school social worker who has been asked to do a presentation on the topic: The Changing Role of the School Social Worker.... What are our competing priorities and how are schools and school social workers adapting? She asked that we poll school social workers to see what they had to say about this.
So we did. We outreached to a sample of school social workers (N=175) in districts around the country who are on our Center's list. Many of them then forwarded the request to colleagues (see responses below).
It would be helpful now to hear from other support staff (e.g., school psychologists, counselors, nurses, special education staff, dropout prevention staff, etc., etc.). Send to Ltaylor@ucla.edu .
Note: Some time ago, in our efforts to enhance the role of all personnel who work in schools to support students, we suggested a framework focusing on both the speciality and generalist nature of the jobs of student support personnel. See Framing New Directions for School Counselors, Psychologists, & Social Workers
Highlights the current state of affairs and emerging trends with respect to addressing barriers to student learning and implications for reframing roles and functions; with these changes comes the need for revamping preservice preparation, certification, and continuing professional development; includes frameworks to rethink these matters.
RESPONSES TO DATE:
What we have received so far discusses (a) new skills/content to be learned, (b) demands for expanded roles and functions, (c) reduction in force due to budget cuts, and (d) impact of the context of education reform.
Below is a representative sample of the rich set of responses:
- "The role of the school social worker is becoming much more research and consultation-based. Many schools are moving away from small group and individual servicing/assessment, and going to school-wide programming. The issue with being more global is that many students lack the cognition/educational competence to answer many of the measurement tools correctly, and language is not always modified to address cultural differences, disabilities, and educational deficits. Additionally, when the social worker spends more time teaching staff how to address social-emotional issues, they are taken away from direct service provision, the factor behind the decision of many to pursue school social work as a career. Sometimes teaching staff is resentful of having to assume social-emotional program implementation along with their teaching responsibilities, some are uncomfortable with this area or have personal issues that a social-emotional component causes to surface. Students have always shown a benefit from direct servicing by a trained professional in the mental health field, but there is little research that documents prevention outcomes. In other words, if through contact with another we prevent them from making poor choices, we seldom can obtain data that would show that. I am doing much more classroom-based education, but also have a large mandated SPED caseload that I must make room for as well. We are often overwhelmed with paperwork, data collection and processing, and keeping our certificates up to date through professional development."
- "I have been a school social worker for 25 years. I would say that the biggest change is the expectations to be expert in behavior analysis and data collection. This is most likely more true in our system due to the dirth of school psychologists and the fact that they are primarily consumed with testing in our system. Thus the default behavior experts are the school social workers. The other major change is the dramatic increase in students with developmental disabilities, especially Autism Spectrum Disorders. Both issues have required professional development on my part, most of which is on my own time and my own dime. It seems that as the expectations increase the supports for professional staff have diminished, sad but true."
- "My district eliminated 11 of the 12 social work positions due to budget constraints. That pretty much sends the message that our services although important, are not a top priority. We are competing with (academic) counselors and since we are in a school setting it makes sense that counselors were barely touched. I am the only social worker remaining, although two of the other social workers were reassigned as school counselors. Their PPS credential allowed them to transfer to a counselor position. My assignment is split between a comprehensive high school and our homeless ed. population. Staff from school sites are requesting my services, but due to my funding source I will only service the one high school and the homeless population. I do consult with those sites, but that's pretty much it. I keep hearing this school year is going to be just as bad as last in terms of lay offs. Hopefully, this isn't true. I wish I had more positives to say."
- "First, thanks for asking. Second, please take my comments as expressing only my personal view since my perspective very often is a minority view in relationship to my colleagues. These comments also may just reflect my situational experience or my own institutional/organizational limitations. Third, I am not sure the roles have really changed all that much. Yes, maybe some priorities have changed due to budget pressures and the economy but school social workers (SSW) still are generally seen (here in the West v. East Coast) as marginalized/tolerated members of the education team as opposed to educational leaders. We are still fighting for recognition and respectability. We are often the first to be eliminated. I don't believe my doctorate in education has increased my credibility with educators one bit. When we make some headway like having MSWs promoted to principal, the individual often gives recognition to the Ed.D. instead of the MSW. Our roles remain in both the Micro and Macro worlds often depending on our perspectives of these roles. We remain voices and advocates for the under-represented in our school communities. With apologies to Clarence Darrow, a social worker "must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rouge, a renegade and a hated, isolated and lonely person.... Few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned." So what has really changed? Unfortunately, I think the initial question is premature. Instead of asking how the SSW role has changed, I think the better question is ��Why haven't school social workers had more positive impacts on K-12 education and what should we be doing about it?'
- "As I see it, one of the biggest challenges for school social workers (SSW) is there aren't enough of us. While I work in a small rural school district, I'm still the only SSW for eleven different schools. I often feel like my work is more that of triage than substantive. I'm continually rotating from one school to another to deal with various issues and never feeling rooted anywhere. I have strong people skills and am well liked by my cohorts (most anyway) in the different schools and this helps me with my integration, or should I call it pseudo-integration, but I often feel like a third wheel. Of course, funding issues are directly related to this paucity of SSW and with my state's budget the way it is, I don't see things changing in the near future. In terms of the evolution of the SSW role, I'm not real sure what to say about that. I've worked for two different school districts and have and do collaborate regularly with SSW from other districts. In my experience and observation, the "role" of the SSW is a little diffuse and hard to define in a concise statement. It seems the definition is more driven by a school district's needs than it is a field with a definitive specialty that the district then uses accordingly.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest shifts I've seen in my job--as my current employer defines it anyway--is a move toward working more and more with teachers and school personnel and less with families. I still do what I can to work with families, of course, but by being pulled in so many directions for multiple needs, my time to work with the family itself decreases commensurately. I attribute this shift in my time demand to the greater expectations being placed upon the teachers themselves (e.g., increased class sizes, more accountability via numerous testing measures, and other curriculum-driven demands). These demands result in both an increased need for compliance and cooperation from students--something not happening--as we run them through the educational manufacturing process, yet it leaves less and less room for the type of learning and other activities that can be more meaningful for the students and which foster better relationships. Go figure, the better the relationship the more cooperation and compliance; the more kids get and remain motivated to learn; and the better the outcome measures (which, ironically, are the numbers used as rationale for the increased curriculum demands placed on the teachers in the first place).
The increased demands for teachers ultimately translates into an increased demand for me to provide more and more behavior intervention supports for the teacher and school personnel almost exclusively. Another variable that contributes to my shift in time demand is the increasing occurrence of behaviorally challenged students. This point involves another irony for me in the sense that many--not all, but many--of the behavior issues seen in school stem from problems in the home. If I had more time to work with families in the home, it may ameliorate the behavior problems we see in the school system. Of course, families need to take ownership on this issue as well, however, and be more proactive in solving their own problems or at least take the steps to get help for solving their own problems.
As a SSW it is not uncommon for me to provide in-service training on behavior intervention techniques, or this or that mental health issue, or other topics. As an example of the role-shift you ask about, however, I was sent this year to get trained in a program that specifically teaches people how to build healthy relationships, increase effective communication, engage in effective conflict-resolution, and if necessary, how to use the least restrictive physical restraint methods. I became a certified trainer in this program so I could come back to the district and provide the training myself to the employees of the district. Thus, my role is taking a substantial shift from providing direct services to students and their families, as well as to school personnel, to being more of a trainer of just school personnel. A trainer, I might add, of a program designed, as far as the district is concerned anyway, to specifically address behavior issues or potential behavior issues within the school system.
As far as adapting to these changes: I just adhere to the philosophy of "Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape." As long as I'm feeling like I'm ultimately, one way or another, helping kids have a better experience at school and a more effective education then I'm accomplishing, in part at least, the purposes of what I understand a SSW to be and to do. I just "adapt to the new reality" and keep working for the kids, teachers, and families."
- "Great request! I'd be glad to get feedback from the other School Social Workers and pass it on to you. One of the major trends we're seeing is the cut back of mental health services (delivered by Social Workers or Counselors) at the elementary level as school district budgets get tighter. Another trend is the loss of the specific title and role of School Social Worker as districts create generic positions like "Support Specialist." All of this while the kids coming into the schools are more and more damaged and trained professionals are needed to work with them, school staff and community providers. The ironic fact is that, during this time of outcome measurements and emphasis on test scores, the assistance these kids need is not just academic but also ��social.'"
- "There is more and more pressure with NCLB to more directly ��prove' how social workers raise academic achievement in students, especially since the social workers' positions are directly funded by Title 1 here. Much of this sentiment is fueled by school district budget constraints coupled with NCLB expectations - i.e., should we replace social workers with staff who do more direct instruction? And due to the state of the economy, I know that there is an ever-increasing number of homeless students and their families locally, as there is nationally. It's a challenge to serve this population with the limited resources available locally - and these students' homelessness can play a major role in whether they will be successful in school."
- "This is a great question. My job responsibilities have changed greatly due to financial difficulties at our school district. This year I spend approximately 1.25 hours every day in the cafeteria for lunch room supervision. My other responsibilities include case managing all Special Education evaluations, providing small group and individual social work services to students, and serving on the PBIS and Problem solving team. I feel as though the lunch room supervision directly conflicts with my ability to provide Social Work support. I'm a disciplinarian in the cafeteria, but then need to work with some of the same children in a therapeutic nature. I'm adapting by trying to be preventative with lunchroom problems, e.g. communicating clear and reasonable expectations, reward positive behavior. However, I still feel that it conflicts with any therapeutic work I may need to provide. I'm taking advantage of the time I spend in the cafeteria, by trying to get to know the ��lunch time system' as best possible. The reality of financial difficulties in our district may override this conflict as we try to make it through these lean years."
- "As a school social worker I teach social skills/bullyproofing in all the K-5th Grade classrooms, handle student emergencies (suicide/threat assessments, emotional or behavioral issues etc), deal with discipline issues when administrators are not available, participate and facilitate RtI Meetings with parents as well as consult with staff on the RtI process, provide leadership for PBIS, offer community resources to families, provides services to Special Education students, deal with difficult parents/students/ situations, conduct FBA's and write BIP's, support classroom teachers, advise special education staff and parents regarding the legal/procedural issues around the IEP process, act as a consultant for ELL/ELA issues within the RtI process, and even act as an interpreter/translator since I am bilingual. My role has changed over the years in that as a school social worker I am expected to be even more versatile than in the past. With budget cuts, more and more responsibility has been placed upon the school social worker. In many respects, I am expected to be the ��go to person' for any question or concern in the building and to nurture the overall mental health of the building."
- "I teach my graduate students in school social work about Response to Intervention and the changing role of the school social worker."
- "This question is quite important to answer for the field of school social work, but also quite difficult, primarily because how school social workers are utilized vary a great deal from state to state and school district to school district. In addition, what school social workers are qualified to do may vary from place to place, as well. For instance, in some states, school social workers may be clinically licensed. What I can share with you is some information we have gathered over time here in Wisconsin about what school social workers in our state do. You will find a longitudinal analysis of the Wisconsin school social work survey over time at http://www.dpi.wi.gov/sspw/pdf/sswanalysisofssw.pdf
You may wish to contact the following individuals for more information:
- Frederick Streeck, Executive Director, School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) firstname.lastname@example.org - http://www.sswaa.org/
- Judie Shine, President, American Council of School Social Work (ACSSW) email@example.com - http://www.acssw.org/
- "In my experience as a school social worker, there have been numerous changes over the past 10- 15 years. I have worked primarily in rural settings, both small and large, and originally began as an outpatient therapist/social worker contracted to work in the district. The focus in the beginning was to provide individual student and small group mental health support. All of it had to be billable! In addition to helping students and consulting with their families, much of the "fun" of school based work was being part of the school community and learning about various cultural factors that affected functioning (or lack thereof). I was fortunate to eventually be hired outright by the district and was able to reach more students and interact more often with staff to provide education, resources, and support. Developing programs and initiatives was the icing on the cake! Being able to partner with community supports to influence protocol and change was a birthday wish come-true.
Now, in a smaller district, the role has shrunk quite a bit to focus once again on individual student support and only some school wide or district wide strategies for wellness. Being spread out over a high school, middle school, and elementary school each week does not lend itself well to embedding social learning and wellness skill development in each school environment. I have become more active in grant writing to work toward changing the infrastructure of student supports. Alas, some of the variables in our community have limited access to financial resources. Like many other school social worker colleagues, I have been trying to hold tight to the integrity of the position so that it doesn't disappear entirely in the budget or with other funding resources. Several of my colleagues (psychologists, school counselors, special ed personnel) are trying to preach the importance of social emotional learning and integrate this into the district mind-set, although it is extremely and profoundly frustrating.
I think the majority of school districts are not anywhere close to incorporating the third "component" of SEL into the instructional and managerial aspects of education. I think this is where the biggest bang for our buck will be eventually which holds potential promise for school social workers throughout the country. I see an additional role for school social workers is to become stronger advocates for ourselves in terms of educating the academic community about how to utilize social workers. Our state school social worker association is beginning to try to figure out how to develop a comprehensive school social work plan with specifics to that end, among other outcomes."
- "The major change that we see is increasing mental health needs. We are examining our role and looking at how it interfaces with an increasing milieu of outside therapists in the schools. Additional changes: increasing demand for basic needs resources due to the economy and keeping up with changing resources & truancy difficulties. Lastly figuring out how to keep up with and use technology in our work; issues regarding social networking and technology that impact students and families--Facebook, texting, cell phones issues that spill over into the school."
- "I was recently laid off after working for 13 years as a school social worker in the Long Beach Unified School District. The Board of Education decided to abolish the position of school social worker in the school district. Social workers with earlier Pupil Personnel Services Credentials (PPSC) were able to "bump" into school counselor jobs because their credential is more general: It is a Basic PPSC rather than a PPSC with authorizations in School Social Work and Child Welfare and Attendance. This change in the PPSC took place somewhere during the late 1980's. I was devastated. Not only was I left with a PPSC that is practically impossible to be of use in the Greater Los Angeles area, but I have to rethink my career goals.
Do I want to go "back" into mental health (since I also have a state license, LCSW) or do I want to continue working in the schools, in another capacity. Some might say that one can still find school social work jobs in Los Angeles, but it is not easy! I've looked on a number of school district websites and signed up for a variety of career websites that send job information to your email address. I have not seen ONE job for a school social worker since June, 2010. However, I get at least two to three job offerings a day for school counselor positions. There are some community-based mental health agencies that provide supervision for those seeking a PPSC in school social work. But in the end, the interns will probably work in the mental health agency. Again, school social work jobs are few and far between!
I decided to go back to school for a PPSC with an authorization in school counseling, so I could continue working in the schools. Am I a sell-out? Probably. But I love the field of education more than the field of mental health! Does one need to choose between the two? In my school district, mental health is secondary to education. I can only write about my own experience, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have chosen to work towards a PPSC in school counseling and MFT licensure. The other option is working toward both credentials at the same time. California State University, Fresno has such a program. In this way, students who have a passion for working in schools can cover their bases. For those preparing to enter the field of school social work: Be prepared to promote yourself from day one. Get familiar with the micro and macro politics. And understand how to collect and interpret qualitative and quantitative data that demonstrates your effectiveness to your administration, the district central office and the board of education."
- "How have our positions changed, I would say we are more concerned about the funding piece. We are now concerned about if we can bring in enough outside dollars to help pay for our positions. I have gone through the process of my position being eliminated; after the funding piece was reviewed I was then reinstated. This financial piece puts a lot of stress on a already stressful job."
- "I have been a school social worker for 25+ years so, yes, I have seen a lot of changes. But until the past several years, the changes were not major changes in our roles, I don't think. Now, with RtI - Response to Intervention - I think the role of the social is changing significantly. We have to now be more like behavioral analysts in our approach with students, able to define the functions of behavior and develop appropriate interventions. I, for one, have not been trained as a behavioral technician although I have always used some behavioral modification techniques in my counseling with students. I think that social workers definitely have to attend more meetings and be facilitators of the RtI, functional behavior assessment process for many students. This takes away, in my opinion, valuable time from the more in depth counseling with students and families that we were able to do 5-10 years ago.
Social workers still must focus on attendance problems, family and environmental problems that affect children at school. Most of us in my system are spread so thinly that I it is hard to be effective on these important issues.
The social workers role with ESE students and in the ESE placement process has greatly increased over the last 20 years. This seems to be a high priority in our district and it definitely takes away from what services can be offered to regular education students.
On a positive note, I see our system valuing what social workers do more and more. This has been a very positive change. Also. licensed social workers in our system are being highly utilized to evaluate the most at risk students - those in danger of harming self or others. Our role and expertise in crisis intervention work is highly valued by principals, teachers, district administrators alike."
- "Kids being expected to (and consequences for not) learning when their mental illness and significant social/emotional needs take precedence. Teaching teachers to understand and always take into account trauma, mental illness and deficits in social emotional learning.
Administration not knowing what a Clinical Social Worker does in a Level 4 school and having little to no understanding of mental illness and how to treat kids with severe mental illness.
How to positively affect the cycle of violence, poverty, trauma and the be a part of a system that addresses these core barriers for kids/families.
Balance of all aspects that make up our little beings (kids)��.academic emotional, behavioral, community, familial, and psychological.
How to not only manage, but treat symptoms of mental illness (again I have Federal Level 4 perspective).
How to break cycle (myth and mentality) of locking kids in jail as a consequence to behavior, when it is really symptoms of poor mental and behavioral health and trauma."
- "I think competing priorities include resource referrals, contact with outside professionals, skills training and planning (IEP and skills plan minutes), crisis intervention and unscheduled training/support, progress notes, TPR supervision, family contact, various meetings (IEP, triennial, child study teams, classroom meetings, unit meetings, committees, etc.) documentation, staff consultations, clerical, and various other duties. Schools and school social workers need to adapt by focusing on mental health service delivery that is the most beneficial to the population that they serve. This should include individualized contact minutes and individualized IEP and skills plans goals. With more time dedicated to mental health services, staff support for other tasks that do not require a school social worker (bus duty, clerical) are needed. Also, ongoing behavior management training that empowers staff to manage student behaviors that may not require a social worker would be beneficial."
- "One theme that comes to my mind is the sometimes competing priorities of mental health and safety. We see school administrators struggle with wanting the social worker to provide assessment, group work and collaboration with community providers for children with mental health needs. But they also want the social worker to be on call for crises and in some of our schools we are in constant crisis mode. Another theme is social workers wanting to reach out to the community and yet, needing to be in the building and available to respond to a crisis. Other competing priorities are the tremendous increase in English Language Learners and an increase in children living in poverty. The basic needs of so many children are taking a lot of social work time. Like so many urban districts the percentages of students living in poverty has presented challenges on resources."
- "Until the recent budget cuts we have been able to significantly increase the number of school social workers in our district. As a result their roles have significantly changed. Rather than covering numerous schools, most of our school social workers serve only one school. They have become vital members of multidisciplinary teams addressing the critical needs of individual students and school wide issues, providing case management for families facing challenges such as homelessness, and administering effective interventions to combat poor attendance, bullying, and numerous academic barriers. They are more closely involved with a greater number of students and their families while continuing to assure a partnership between schools and the community."
- "The biggest change for me in working as a SSW for 20 yrs in the same district, is that I am seeing more and more significant mental health needs that are being addressed at school. Since I got my clinical licensure, my colleagues who also have this designation and I have been asked to provide a more therapeutic social work approach, similar to what might be done at a mental health center, and yet focused on school success. But as we know, the more emotionally secure, the more successful students will be in academics, peer and family relationships, and positive feelings about themselves."
- "I have been a school social worker for the past 6 years. I am not sure I can truly answer the question you posed due to my lack of time in the field. However, I notice a great change in the duties of a school social worker depending on the area or school district they are employed in. As a social worker in a urban setting, duties were primarily centered on residency checks and truancy issues. However, as a rural school social worker duties involve more mental health treatment, behavioral intervention consultation, counseling and case management.
In the past 6 years, however, I have observed an increase in the number and severity of students facing personal mental health and behavioral issues. Therefore, it is essential that social workers have a strong mental health knowledge. My background in mental health, prior to becoming a school social worker, has made my job much easier."
- "We are seeing an increase in students with significant mental health issue and/or behavior issues, starting at younger ages. The needs of students and their parents are crippling for some and their ability to learn. We seem to hear of more domestic violence and substance abuse than before. There is often a sense of hopelessness in the family and student.
One major competing priority is academic achievement versus educating the whole student (emotionally and socially, too). Sometimes we have a hard time getting a 30 minute time slot weekly to see a student a teacher referred for social work services. The push is to pass assessments at the expense of a child getting help with building friendships or coping with a recent loss, etc. Academics are very important, but cannot stand alone. Schools are being pushed harder and harder to achieve academic success (No Child Left Behind). This affects the stress levels of teachers as they feel the push to meet academic standards. At times they are less open to Social Work services if it means pulling a student or taking class time the teacher feels she needs for instruction. Thus there seems to be less of an emphasis on developing emotional IQ and life skills like communication, conflict resolution, healthy relationships and boundaries. We are caught trying to support the schools' academic objectives AND work on the rest. We know students won't be successful in life - job and relationships - without those skills.
We are also seeing more families with greater socio-economic needs who are in constant financial crisis with fewer resources to meet the needs of their children. There is more unemployment and underemployment. Many households have parents working 2 and 3 jobs so there is less day to day support and interaction with the children in the family. There are more single families which makes childcare and other issues more difficult. So there seems to be less support from the home than 20 years ago. Families seem to be in survival mode. Homework is not the priority in these situations and they seem to be expecting the school to fill more of the needs of their children such as food, clothing, therapy, transportation, etc. Competing priorities also happen when school social workers work with teachers to find solutions to struggles in school caused by dysfunctional family situations. When there is substance abuse in the home or a mental illness then this can affect the child at school in multiple ways. I feel like sometimes I am walking a fine line between being seen as enabling the dysfunction and working creatively to solve the school issue (i.e. no homework completion, sleeping in class, etc.) resulting from the home environment during the school day. For instance if I suggest that homework be done at school that is usually seen as enabling the situation, when in fact the child is on their own for most of the evening and has no adult to ensure their homework is completed, let alone assist with questions the student might have regarding the assignment itself.
School social workers increasingly play the role of supporting these kids at school, working with teachers to best educate these kids, and connecting with community service providers. We spend much of our time helping teachers identify what behavior is a result of mental health needs and how to handle it as well as trying to help teachers keep student behavior from disrupting learning. Helping teachers understand the chaotic lives of children, the fact that they live from day to day, they live in a house without water, they are doubled up with another family, their father is about to be deported, a parent just got out of jail, etc. is a huge part of a school social worker's job. Helping teachers understand why homework is not being turned in as a result is a critical role, too. As is seeking to find ways to get homework done at school and not during recess is important. Children should not be punished for a parent issue. There is a constant need to find the balance between preventative services vs. crisis intervention.
We have to work more quickly, network more often and meet kids in groups instead of individually at times. We have to train teachers to deal with some of the issues. We need to continue obtaining training in clinical skills, communicating with other social workers (in and outside of schools), and building relationships as much as possible. Social workers also play an important role for families in crisis. Helping families connect with local resources is a critical function of social workers. Our job is not confined to the school and the children, but extends to the entire family unit. This can create competing priorities as well."
- "The Changing Role of the School Social Worker has entailed school social workers being more readily available to service all students (not only students with disabilities). In fact, it seems that the general education population has become more needy and in need of school social work services than the special ed. population. Competing priorities has entailed understanding the demands of SRBI/RTI, being able to implement school-wide positive behavior support, meeting with students for counseling services and crisis intervention, helping to foster better parent/school/community partnerships and ultimately assisting all students in meeting with academic success.
Since all the new legislation (i.e. No Child Left Behind, high stake testing, etc), school social workers are certainly feeling the pressure of accountability (as is all teachers) with ensuring student success despite any and all obstacles or concerns (i.e. social/emotional, behavioral, home or community concerns).
School social workers are also challenged to ensure that schools are building developmental assets for students as research shows that the more assets a student has the more likely he/she will do well in school and the less likely he/she will engage in risky behaviors."
- "In my opinion, no discussion of the changing role of the school social worker would be complete without looking at the ferment that is gripping the education sector as a whole. In the spirit of maximizing this moment of challenge and opportunity, we must take stock of the larger societal forces (including fiscal/economic) that are buffeting the system. There are many helpful thinkers who are reflecting on the challenges and offering solutions. Mike Rose, professor of education at UCLA, offers some perspective in his blog. He seems to have a wonderful grasp on the "complex human interaction that enables teaching and learning." He mentions a recent New Yorker essay by Nicholas Lemann that puts the school reform movement in a historical context and urges us to use caution as we move forward as a nation. Lemann concludes, "In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken." I agree with Lemann. Let's think together as school social workers about how to help fix what's wrong in education without declaring the entire system broken."
- "I guess I would say that in the current economic times, there appears to be more needs then resources. Many parents do not have the means to provide mental health services for their children and we are therefore seeing ""sicker"" students because of the lack of early intervention. I think the pace has tripled, you better be prepared to do three things at once all day long. Greater emphasis is being placed on data and research based evidence but sometimes it seems like at the expense of the human element, like developing a positive therapeutic rapport. There are also pro''s and con''s to the RTI model which greatly impact us. There are still not a lot of interventions available for social/emotional, especially at the high school level. We are also being asked to work more and more on increasing academic success as well as emotional."
- "Here's a struggle I have.....we need special ed funding so I'm told to be on as many IEPs as possible, special ed kids get priority. Well, in today's world, so many kids who will never qualify have so many needs! Divorce, death, military deployment, homelessness, etc. That's very difficult for me to balance. Just because a child may have a learning issue, that makes their loss/stress/trauma more important than a student without a learning issue?"
- "There are several different priorities that a school social worker must have while working with students that vary state to state. In my experiences in northern states, priorities were set valuing education and academia which produces less conflict. Now that I practice in a Southern Sate, there are many responsibilities to focus on outside of the student''s learning environment. In my current position I balance attendance, economic hardship, mental health concerns, Suicide prevention, health issues, personality and behavioral problems, bullying, academic success, and familial health. With each one of these categories I am a counselor, a consultant, a resource manager and advocate. Therefore, not only are there conflicting priorities but also conflicting roles as a school social worker.
There are several ways to adapt to the changing culture, responsibilities and roles of being a school social worker. One is keeping up to date with current research on the latest strategies dealing with my areas of focus. There are many journals that publish empirical research on effective programs concerning school social work. Another way is building strong professional relationships in the field. The school social workers in Marietta City Schools are a close knit professional group. We work together in finding things that work and do not work in addressing the range of issues that we deal with across the school system. The final suggestion is to knowing what role to play at what time. Before going into a home visit to asses needs, I know that I have to have the eyes and ears of a resource manager and counselor. Working with a student failing English I have to place my advisement hat on. It''s all about keeping perspective in an ever changing environment in order to best serve students and their families."
- "Summary of my "role" which is specific to serving the bilingual/Spanish population. Social work assistance/Emergency assistance to students and families in these areas:
Mental health (screenings; connecting to outside resources and services, assisting student in disclosing issues to family that will require intervention; DFCS; family involvement; family meetings)
Medical/physical health (hardest part is that many families within the group I service do not have or are eligible for health insurance; connecting students with dentists or doctors, glasses, etc.)
Economic hardship situations (about to lose a home, homelessness, loss of jobs, loss of utilities,). This is big one, last year it was worse then the first year and now it's turning out to be pretty frequent as well.
Families who are dealing with "immigration issues" where one or both parents are in fear of, or have been arrested and/or deported or have received recent legal status. Helping provide for their children (who are citizens), helping connect families to resources within the community, and helping to prevent further problems through a packet I've created giving them information from the government that is helpful.
Attendance. Sometimes it is simply educating parents in their native language what the attendance law is, letting them know they can write notes in Spanish, etc. In serious attendance issues, it is usually youth that are involved with other agencies, ie. DJJ.
Home Visits - mental health situations, economic aid situations (bringing food or clothing), and other issues (many of my parents can't drive due to lack of ability to get a license.)
For many, I think "competing priorities" might mean that attendance issues takes up their time and not enough time to do some other things that would help the students such as mental health groups etc.
For me, I think if we had two social workers doing my job, my priorities would be:
In mental health, following up more with those I have to refer �out' which I think is so important and useful. Also, providing the services here at the school when Next Steps is �full' and there are no other bilingual/Spanish options the family can afford or do. I am licensed, I would be able to do it, but there is no time in my schedule for group or individual �sessions'.
There is a lot of fear and mis-information surrounding immigration. In some schools it affects 1/3 of the families. If I had time, I would use the US Citizenship Department more with families, to do workshops in schools etc to disseminate the correct information. This would help in many ways, including with the fraud that goes on with lying attorneys who take advantage of this particular population. It is one of the reasons why there are economic issues. They give their life savings to an attorney who robs them blindly. (The govt is aware of it and prosecuting when they can.)"
- "I'm a little bit mental health therapist, medical social worker, county resources specialist, child protection investigator, financial worker, special education expert, behavioral intervention specialist, ELL advocate, mediator, mentor, social skills instructor, children's advocate, police investigator, undercover reporter, family/community liaison, sociology student.
In short, I tell people that school social workers are specialists in children's social/emotional/and behavioral development. We are the link between home, community, and school. I have to hold in my head the goals of the school with the perspective of the family and the community's."
- "I can honestly say that I have seen a shift in what the school social work expectations are. New roles placed on us in the past few years are as follows:
- Truancy- reducing truancy, tracking down kids, referring for tickets, holding truancy court in the high schools with the judge
- Locating missing students for the 3rd Friday counts
- Evaluating gaps in extra-curricular participation and holding focus groups/promoting participation
- Acting as LEA''s for IEP meetings
- Classroom presentations-we really have to have a presence in the building
- Alcohol and Drug abuse presentations, counseling and referrals
- Huge increase in referrals for mental health evaluations
- Providing basic necessities for homeless students and their families through the McKinney Vento Program/and through vouchers
- Identifying students At-Risk of not graduating and implementing goals to help overcome barriers so they graduate
- In some smaller schools we are even asked to take a role in discipline if the principal is out of the building
- Presenting at School Board meetings to defend our roles and promote what we do
Change is hard. Some years it feels like more and more tasks are placed upon us, which ultimately leaves less time for us to work one on one with students and to do home visits. We have a lot to fit into a work day. Quite often we work later hours because we need to attend IEP meetings etc. However, there is always a nice balance once you get into a routine. Sometimes I think the more work we do, the less likely they will cut a social work position when it comes to budget cuts."
- "If you look at the role of school social worker, you may find different expressions of that role depending on the community and the school climate. Our priorities have always been to support family, typically parents in the community, with direct school staff as the link to the child. But we also have an important role supporting the school��.our role is one of dual advocate��.I find myself advocating for families but advocating for the school as well. A bridge really, to help both parts have a better understanding of one another.
Currently we find ourselves thinking of ways to help the school reinvent how they interact with the family system and community. As communities become more diverse and rich with cultural differences (differences that sometimes challenge the way the school delivers their services) - the school social worker role may be that of learning about our clients (the community) and helping the school understand and develop better ways to meet their (the community) needs. Finding ways to support a ��goodness'' of fit is also essential: our school staff are not necessarily representative of the community they serve.
We are also in a position to take a macro view of the schools service delivery��and how they (may have) always done things/business��..and identify the ways their service delivery may be better tailored to changing populations and different cultures �� to see the ways their services may result in barriers (and thus thwart shared goals) because school systems are sometimes entrenched in their patterns.
We can see that schools themselves are like families �� some better functioning than others. And we can provide interventions accordingly to those schools that require more support.
These are times of opportunity for school social workers. And we must remember that the training that we receive allows us to mediate and build bridges. We are listeners, we are systems specialists, we are able to be flexible in our approaches to problems and to identifying solutions��.we are sounding boards, we are hopeful, we have witnessed changes that surprise us��.and we know that all situations are unique, and the variety in our experiences allows us to be good resources for both families, schools, and communities.
To also empathize and encourage more expansive and innovative ways for the school to provide services. From a systems perspective, we can remind schools that simply one intervention, or change, to the system, can result in other changes that may be those desired by the school.
Also, goals between schools and families are nearly the same: to provide and receive education, for children to be safe, and to ultimately create better communities."
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School Mental Health Project-UCLA
Center for Mental Health in Schools
WebMaster: Perry Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org)