Schools are microcosms of society, a mixture of cultures and socioeconomic levels that often lead to conflict. It’s a place where kids learn social behaviors of all kinds, most of which they’ll carry into adulthood. School social workers’ mandate is to keep students safe while working through the many confusing and troubling concerns that keep them from succeeding.
Students understand that adults have more life experience, and generally welcome school social workers’ help as they look for ways to cope with the pressures they are experiencing. Giving teenagers new perspectives on their lives and their relationships is one of the most important and gratifying experiences a school social worker can have.
What do School Social Workers Do?
Good school social workers are uniquely trained to recognize and help students solve social, emotional, and academic problems. They interact with students throughout the school day, watching and listening for the sounds of trouble. They know that problems at home quickly become problems at school.
As liaisons between the school, students’ homes, and the community, school social workers promote understanding and respect. Parents often depend on school social workers to help them work with the school administration and to understand school standards and educational requirements.
School social workers must often bridge cultural differences between home and school in order to help their students. Especially in cases where language is an issue, school social workers partner with community resources such as immigrant associations, churches, and non-profits to help parents feel included and understand that they have a voice in their children’s education.
In addition to developing constructive, collaborative relationships among students, parents, teachers, and psychologists, school social workers must also take responsibility for maintaining and updating case files. They must make sure that all parties are informed and that any changes to a child’s condition is immediately acknowledged and treated if necessary.
Children with behavioral problems are of special interest to school social workers. They often counsel both the children and their parents in resolving behavioral issues. They typically work with authorities and private therapists to find the help the child needs. Ongoing mentoring by the school social worker focuses on helping the child implement a new behavioral plan and explore new ways of interacting.
Because school social workers are so connected to their communities, they are instrumental in locating specialized resources such as language and literacy coaches, translators, speech therapists, physical therapists, and other support personnel that may be needed. They also are familiar with welfare resources as well as state and federal regulations protecting children.
Teaching students how to cope with the pressures they are experiencing at home and at school, social workers often connect students to private therapists or include them in group therapy sessions. Providing helpful resources gives students a better chance to change attitudes, mature, and develop new perspectives.
Goals for School Social Workers
Although school social workers are expected to make a difference in kids’ lives and become trusted friends and counselors, the fundamental goals of school social workers are to keep kids safe, to keep them in school, and to help them achieve.
The first priority for school social workers must always be to detect incidences of child-abuse or neglect. Teaming with school counselors and psychologists, school social workers try to identify and monitor at-risk kids. Because children are so vulnerable, social workers have a special mandate to watch for signs of neglect, such as:
- Frequent school absences
- Begs or steals money
- Inability to pay attention
- Disheveled appearance, consistently dirty
- Insufficient clothing
- Disruptive behavior
Or, signs of abuses such as:
- Bruising, bites, broken bones, black eyes
- Sudden changes of behavior
- A child’s unwillingness to go home
- Shrinking from adults.
Once a situation is detected, school social workers initiate intervention procedures, teaming with school administration and local authorities in doing what is necessary to protect the child.
Staying in School.
The goal of keeping kids in school is a complex problem. Students drop out for a number of reasons. Sometimes, kids feel they should get a job to help support their family. In these cases, school social workers refer families to resources that can help them with food, shelter, and other expenses.
The social challenges of middle and high school often isolate students, creating stresses that can be debilitating, resulting in a disassociation with school and school activities, and eventually leading to dropping out altogether. Because kids are still learning interpersonal skills, they often need special help. Social workers counsel kids on how to get along with others, how to avoid fights or bullying – even how to mediate conflicts. These skills empower kids to solve their social problems rather than withdrawing from them.
Underachievement is also often stress-related. Some kids fail because they can’t keep up in their classes, become overwhelmed, and give up. In an effort to alleviate their stress, school social workers work with teachers, find diagnostic testing to determine if the student has learning disabilities, and even locate tutors for those who need special academic help.
With the understanding that all children and teenagers deserve a good education and as much help as they possible, the success and well-being of students is the priority of all school social workers. Their commitment is to mentor and advise students – some of whom live in difficult situations – providing them with support, encouragement, and the resources for success.
Educational Requirements for School Social Workers
School social workers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work and in many places, a master’s degree in social work may be required. Most program and department directors have master’s degrees. For more information get in touch with schools offering degree programs in social work.
Those with bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, or policy-making may find entry level jobs in social work, but will eventually need to complete a higher degree in social work as well as the required hours of supervised fieldwork in order to advance. Coursework in school social work includes family-centered and educational studies.
Every state has regulations governing the licensing of social workers. Most states also have additional supervised fieldwork requirements in order to verify workers’ skills. Check with state licensing offices in your state. For more information refer to licensing requirements for social workers.
Income Estimates for School Social Workers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the field of school social work will continue to grow ahead of the general economy. The mean income for school social workers in 2014 was $60,700 for those working in elementary or secondary schools, according to the BLS.