A school-based social worker advocates on behalf of children in her institution that need assistance. For example, she may intervene when a child is living an unhealthy or unbalanced lifestyle, and she can help the child obtain social, emotional and academic success. When a school-based social worker becomes involved, children and families are offered help that may involve parental or family counseling services, substance therapy or special prevention programs that aim to get the whole family back on track.
If the child needing help does not come forward himself, sometimes a teacher, administrator, friend or other adult contacts the social worker. Symptoms of a student's need for help may include his grades slipping dramatically, exhibiting aggressive behavior or having noticeable bruises on several parts of his body. The school social worker confidentially meets with the student, listens to the history, makes assessments and states a plan for help. Bullying, emotional harassment, poverty, a family crisis and substance or physical abuse are examples of what a student might reveal.
Once the problem is identified, the school-based social worker meets with the parents or others involved and starts the intervention process. Immediate help is given, such as food assistance, child care, admission to a substance abuse program or a temporary, safe home for the child. If the social worker feels the child is in immediate danger, she is obligated by law to involve the police.
Even if the state's social worker is involved, the school worker continues to meet with the student and parents to assess how things are going, especially as it relates to school performance and social interactions. The two workers may do this separately or together, until the situation is resolved. The school social worker continues to support the child with tools to problem-solve, and introduces techniques to think critically and emotionally about the situation.
Visits and Follows Up
Visiting the child at home, on the playground or in the classroom is important to identify progress or setbacks. For example, if the school social worker notices continuing bullying on the playground, she intervenes again and makes preventative changes. A home visit, for example, might still reveal a safety issue that needs correcting. It is the social worker's responsibility to ensure that conditions improve, and findings are documented and shared with the state social worker, parents or police as necessary.
Court Duties and Education
School-based social workers are sometimes required to testify in court. This is just one reason that it's crucial to keep detailed, organized and factually correct notes. In addition, school social workers keep up with changing state laws, new policies and field procedures, and institute ongoing prevention programs for students.
- NASW: NASW Standards for School Social Work Services
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Workers
- School Social Work Association of America: KIPP Inspire Academy - St. Louis, Missouri: School Social Worker Position Description
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect - Summary of State Laws
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