School Social Work Guide - 2022

Last Reviewed: June 16th, 2022

As centers of education, schools serve a great and noble purpose in our society. It’s where we send our children to learn basic concepts that will allow them to develop critical thinking and social skills, an understanding of morality, explore their creativity, and become productive members of the community in which they live. 

Why do we have School Social Workers?

Parents, teachers, and school administrators play a vital role in a child’s educational development. They all find ways to keep a child motivated and engaged with learning, but there are challenges along the way. There will inevitably be a situation with a child that requires another expert to bring their knowledge and resources in to help resolve the matter. That expertise will likely come from a school social worker. 

School social workers are trained to identify, assess, and support children in crisis or in need of intervention to prevent an issue from escalating. Their role in education settings is critical as they deliver services to improve a student’s emotional well-being and academic performance. When issues such as consistent lateness, social withdrawal, bullying, and rebelling occur, you will usually find a school social worker has been called upon to address the situation. They also use their insight to delve into emotional, physical, and economic issues that lend to the problem.

The list of functions a school social worker performs is lengthy, and their days are never mundane or predictable. Students’ needs vary, and so does the role a school social worker plays in each of their lives.

A positive climate is necessary to create an environment that properly supports learning. School social workers educate students on what positive behavior looks and sounds like through prevention programs that encourage healthy interactions. These programs are implemented throughout the school and promote social and emotional development among students.  

When particular groups or individuals fall behind in their studies, interventions are created to uncover the underlying issue contributing to the decline. They’ll work with the students on any problems they have at home affecting their behavior in school and will offer counseling services for the family to get the child back to performing at a higher level.

The social worker is also an advocate for education and school policy reform. We live in a crucial era where right-wing anti-education policies are prominent in Republican school districts. Social workers fight for government funding to create insightful programs to educate parents and school administrators about education reform and the positive effects it will have on our children for generations to come.

To identify those requiring more intensive interventions, social workers engage with the student body and connect those in need, and their families, with resources available in the school and community. They bridge the gap between families, schools, and the community by making critical connections to the partnership’s success. 

They are facilitators and resources for education, behavioral intervention, and social-emotional engagement. School social workers consult with and train principals, educators, and other administrators to recognize students with mental health issues and how to connect them with the services they need. 

The principal isn’t the only faculty member responsible for providing a safe and effective learning environment. The entire staff must be on board and willing to collaborate with other staff members and community-based organizations for consistent results. The school social worker’s goal is for the school to become a full-service facility that incorporates the social services students and their families need to address behavioral and mental health issues in an educational setting. 

Learn more by exploring the School Social Work Association of America.

What do School Social Workers Do?

For Students

School social workers are liaisons between schools, families, and the community and are well-trained to handle crises. They help the faculty and staff members develop a plan to prepare to manage a crisis and assist with the recovery process. Two of the most valuable skills school social workers learn are how to deliver difficult or sensitive information and answer hard questions. They work with the school to develop an age and culturally appropriate message and collaborate with the school to discuss the situation with students and families. 

Many school social workers are able to perform clinical services so they can provide counseling for anyone seeking it after a crisis. Social workers assist in these critical situations by working closely with and connecting at-risk students to resources that address their immediate needs. 

It’s important to reach a child in their young developmental years and stress the importance of education so they can achieve academic success. Early interventions are used to assist at-risk students by engaging their families so the child has the support at home needed to navigate their academic career successfully. If truancy is an issue, the social worker will complete an assessment by talking with the child and parents or guardians to discuss the cause behind the lateness. They will then develop a strategy and connect the family to any resources that can assist with making sure the child is at school on time. 

During an early intervention phase, the social worker may visit the family’s home to develop a strong relationship with the parents. They can assess the child’s natural environment for risk factors that contribute to the problem the child is experiencing. Regular meetings with the family are held where the child’s progress is evaluated and discussed. If changes need to be made to improve the current plan, the social worker will inform the family and advise them on actions they can take to reach the end goal. 

The social worker will visit the school and speak with teachers and other staff members when appropriate to better understand the entire situation and how it affects the child’s behavior. 

The school social worker holds scheduled individual and group workshop sessions to address students’ social and emotional needs. Principals, school counselors, teachers, and other administrators are met with on a regular basis for team building and professional development sessions. These meetings are meant to establish new roles, clarify the responsibilities of each role, and how they can collaborate with one another to serve the children’s best interests. 

When a child is having trouble developing social skills, the school social worker can provide an assessment and recommend activities and changes for you to work on with them at home. They’ll put you in touch with the school or community resources or professional services to help your child’s social growth. Social workers can give you the vocabulary needed to discuss the issue with family members when you can’t find the words to explain the matter properly. 

Throughout the intervention process and after, social workers take notes on each case so they can later refer to the information and determine if their methods achieved the desired result. The students are closely monitored to assess their learning rate and performance level. The intensity, frequency, and duration of the interventions depend on the students’ Response to Intervention (RtI). 

Students are given research-based, scientific instruction in a classroom setting. Through continuous monitoring, social workers are able to gather information about learning rates and achievement levels for the group and individuals. Individual results are compared to the findings for the peer group, and the data is used to decide which students should be watched closely. Changes are made to the curriculum when needed, and parents are kept informed of their child’s progress and the goals that are being set for them. 

The intervention is data-driven and based on high-quality scientific research to ensure the best approach is used for the children. 

For Parents and Families

When a child is found to have a hard time adjusting to school, social workers are contacted to provide ongoing support to parents so they can help their child adjust. The social worker will develop programs to help students adapt to school. Students who have been absent for a long period due to a family tragedy, illness, or other circumstance will also need assistance with becoming reacclimatized with the school environment. 

After completing their intervention, the social worker returns to the parents with the data they’ve uncovered. They’ll schedule a meeting with the family and bring along any relevant reading materials to educate the parents on their child’s issue. The family is informed of the data-driven results to get on board with the treatment or strategy suggested. 

Families living in underserved and impoverished neighborhoods are under a great deal of stress. While a school social worker cannot change the structural issues causing the stress, they can show families a different way to cope with it so that it doesn’t begin to affect the children negatively. For example, if the parents have to be to work early and don’t have time to make breakfast or prepare lunch for the children, the social worker can help the parents fill out meal applications to get reduced or free meals at school. 

That small gesture eliminates a lot of stress and solves several issues. A hungry child doesn’t concentrate well in class, and that application may play a key role in their academic achievements. Many parents don’t know about the programs available in the school or community to help their families. A school social worker can educate them on how to search for assistance and the services provided by different agencies. 

Helping Other School Personnel/Teachers

A teacher’s job is to educate, but you must be aware of the environment’s cultural, societal, economic, familial, and health influences to be an effective educator. A social worker is taught to recognize these factors and provide training sessions to help school personnel identify when these factors directly affect a child’s ability to learn. 

That will help teachers and administrators create a better learning environment as they find new techniques for dealing with disruptive students. Using these evidence-based practices takes away the reliance on suspension, detention, expulsion, and other harsh disciplinary actions that are often ineffective for long-term success. 

The social worker can show the teachers different ways to reach the children by making the lessons culturally relatable. Or, instead of sending a child to detention for talking in class, have a discussion with them and find out if anything is going on at home or in school that may be causing the rebellion. Social workers can help teachers establish long-lasting and trusting bonds through proper training and guidance. 

Services to the School and District

Each school and district have a goal and mission they want to accomplish. A school social worker makes that job easier as they can be brought in to consult with administrators on developing a plan for the entire district. If there is already an action plan in place, the social worker can assess and make subsequent recommendations for improvement. 

There may be an issue with children reading below grade level, so the social worker develops a district-wide initiative to promote reading. Social workers will hold meetings with students and staff to get an idea of what’s needed, then refer to their own training and conduct research to find the best way to implement a program. 

School social workers can also be found working closely with members of law enforcement on developmental plans for students. Some children end up in legal trouble and need help integrating back into school and the community. Before the student reenters school, the social worker may set up a counseling session to assess the student’s mental health and expectations. They’ll examine the environmental risk factors that lead to legal trouble and make recommendations in the child’s best interest. Sometimes that means they cannot return home and may have to stay with a relative or foster home. Fortunately, social workers are very skilled at noticing warning signs and potential dangers for the child.  

The social worker will set up regular counseling sessions with the student and monitor their progress to determine how well they are adjusting to their new circumstances. Follow-up visits are conducted, and if necessary, law enforcement is kept aware of the child’s progress. 

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504 both deal with discrimination against those with disabilities. IDEA is a federal law governing special education services, and Section 504 is a civil rights statute that mandates no handicapped child can be discriminated against. Schools must accommodate the needs of these students, and if they don’t, they’re in danger of losing any federal funding they currently receive. 

Social workers have an in-depth understanding of IDEA and Section 504, so they are often called on as consultants when schools need to set policies, and legislators need to establish laws. The knowledge held by a social worker is invaluable and applicable to so many different areas of society. 

Issues School Social Workers are Fighting For/Against

School social workers are kept busy fighting for education equality and against the injustices that plague our school systems. Education reform is at the top of that list. Currently, there are districts where Critical Race Theory (CRT) is banned from being taught. CRT is very similar to school social work since they both operate on the premise that a multicultural approach to addressing education and disparities is best. 

Anytime something new is introduced into society, you will have a group that pushes back on progress. That’s why it’s so important for social workers to be proactive in addressing these matters. Every child deserves a quality education, regardless of the zip code they were born in, the color of their skin, or the native language they speak. School social workers are faced with making sure each child under their supervision is treated fairly and afforded the same educational opportunities. 

That means reaching out to community resources and organizations for school supplies. Social workers will also coordinate with school administrators to set up clothing and toy drives for underserved districts. 

LGBTQ+ children are also under fire and need the protection and counseling services a school social worker can offer. LGBTQ+ topics have also been banned from school districts leaving many students feeling invalidated. Trying to get an education in a school that doesn’t want to acknowledge your existence can cause major internal conflicts that put these children at risk. A social worker can advocate for the child to be placed with teachers sensitive to their developmental needs so they are in a safe learning environment. 

The principles held by school social workers align with those fighting against others who want to de-educate while continuing to discriminate and disenfranchise marginalized groups. It’s a battle that needs all hands on deck. Drawing on the community’s resources and the school to provide adequate protection for the children is something school social workers do daily. 

They can’t fight for social justice alone; they need help to get, and keep, struggling students headed in the right direction. A holistic approach is taken to assist these students, which means everyone in the community has to pitch in with an offering. 

Students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community need to come together to listen and discuss the issues. Students’ voices are often overlooked as the adults feel they know better, but the students’ concerns can be heard with a social worker facilitating the meeting. They may even have a solution no one else considered.  

Each community member has a unique perspective. They should be shared to flush out ideas and develop ways to intervene so the children can take full advantage of the benefits offered by our education system. 

School safety is an issue that affects an overwhelming majority of us, and now the topic is hotter than ever. With school shootings continuing to be a frequent tragedy within our society, many wonder what a social worker can do to help increase safety measures. Of course, we understand how they help after a crisis has taken place, but what preventative measures can they take? 

They can set up a violence prevention program where they work with all students on decreasing interpersonal violence by working to change behaviors and thinking patterns. School social workers can develop and implement anti-bullying programs early in a student’s education. They’ll learn how to respond to bullies, help others being bullied, and who to go to when something happens that they don’t know how to handle. 

A program for anger management and other emotional issues is another way social workers can work to prevent mass shootings from happening in our schools. Students need support for their mental and behavioral health at school, at home, and within the community. Social workers can also work with policymakers to develop protocols for schools in their district to follow when they believe a student has displayed signs that they may commit a violent crime at school.