School social workers are some of the most supportive personnel families and teachers can turn to within an educational setting. They work hard to support the needs of young people, their parents, and guardians – and often provide an important link between family and school life for children across the US.
Therefore, As expected, school social workers will work closely with staff within their assigned faculties. While social workers are usually skilled enough to work independently, they’re also expert communicators – and to get to the heart of problems facing school-age children, they’ll need to work with teachers, parents, and others to help those they care for.
Let’s look at some of the typical duties of a school social worker and how they might work alongside faculty staff in a regular school in the US.
Social workers provide various emotional and mental health support to school-age children. Those who decide to work in schools will typically have specific experience working with children on top of a recognized social work qualification. It’s a career choice with multiple opportunities and specialisms.
School social workers guide students who might be experiencing major life changes at home, for example, if their parents are getting divorced or even if they are facing homelessness. At a pivotal age of development, a child can react to these huge life events in different, negative ways – for example; they might respond angrily, disrupt classrooms, or even lash out at others.
It’s the role of a school social worker to listen to children who are going through these experiences and to help them find support.
This might be as simple as listening to what children say without judgment. Trained social workers might also have access to strategies to help young people control or manage their emotions and reactions in school.
Social workers might also suggest interventions if they feel children are at risk. For example, if it seems a child is at risk from their parents in any way, they could pursue an investigation.
Moreover, social workers help children handle everyday school stressors, such as peer pressure, educational performance worries, and bullying.
Social workers are there as non-teaching support staff whom children and teenagers can turn to to discuss difficult problems or if teachers recommend a referral.
A school social worker will typically need to follow education through to an MSW or a Master’s degree in social work if they wish to work in a school setting.
However, it’s equally important for social carers to gain relevant experience working with children and teachers and obtain a clean license. Schools looking to partner with social workers will, naturally, also run background checks on anyone they interview.
That means anyone interested in this line of work must study and gain work experience. Thanks to the rise of remote learning in recent years, this has become all the more achievable for prospective social workers.
For instance, they might choose to study through Masters of Social Work online degree programs with colleges such as Cleveland State University. CSU’s MSW program helps social workers learn more about human behavior, social work values, and inclusivity policies – among other modules. Learning remotely, students can seek work experience and placements in their own time outside of their studies.
Gaining work experience alongside social care education is important as it helps students to apply their knowledge in physical settings and to work directly with children where appropriate. Given this line of social work can be challenging – but overall extremely rewarding – it’s no surprise that the more experience a social worker has, the better.
Although social workers and school personnel cater to different needs in many ways, they all work with children to help them progress through difficult periods. Ultimately, Teachers and faculty staff want to ensure their students get the best possible head-start regarding education and training before finding work as adults.
Meanwhile, social workers want to ensure children and teenagers get the best emotional and mental support possible – so that they can learn to handle difficult emotions and access resources they might desperately need.
It’s reasonable to expect school staff and social workers to collaborate to help children in any institution – but how do they work together in practice? Let’s break this down.
They help to train staff.
While it might not be too obvious to teachers and other school staff, social workers can help provide useful training on supporting students better in the classroom.
Social workers certainly can’t tell teachers and faculty staff how to do their jobs, but what they can do is help them learn strategies for handling certain behaviors.
Social workers can set up regular seminars and produce guides on what teachers can do if they have disruptive children in class and what they should do in a crisis instead of directly chastising a student.
Training and development sessions with social workers also allow teachers to ask questions and explore ways to ensure their students are on the right track. Social workers can advise teachers on how to adapt to certain needs and typical behaviors inside the classroom.
Social carers offer lots of insight into behavioral patterns and actions that some might label as “acting out.” Instead of punishing children for disruptive behavior directly, teachers can use sense from social care to understand why a child might act the way they do. With that knowledge, a teacher can then calmly plan with practical steps to ensure children get the help they need.
They help develop action plans.
Teachers don’t have to develop action plans for children and their families independently. In fact, it’s here where insight from social workers can be especially helpful.
Social workers in schools frequently develop individualized education plans/programs or IEPs. IEPs are ideal when working with children with special needs and requirements or who may be emotionally distressed while at school.
IEPs typically involve creating special teaching plans purely for specific students. For example, in the case of a student who might learn at a different speed or depth to others in their class, a social worker and a teacher can work together to create a plan that delivers knowledge and support at a pace that the child can adapt to. Developing IEPs frequently means social workers must bring together medical data and testing to identify the needed help and how much.
This also means that social workers and psychologists will work together with family members of children under IEPs to gain background information on what might be affecting their learning and development. Social workers will then collaborate with teachers to help shape and deliver these plans and keep an open mind to come back and adjust the steps agreed if progress is slower than expected.
Teachers don’t have to agree to all measures laid out by social workers, but as a collaborative process, both parties will likely come together to conclusions they can agree upon for the sake of their student(s).
They act as support between families and teachers.
Teachers might get frustrated when certain children or teenagers in their classes are frequently disruptive or refuse to adapt to their teaching methods. This can, if left unchecked, lead to some tension between faculty staff and students’ parents, particularly if either party blames the other for a lack of progress.
Social workers can, therefore, intervene as mediators and bridge relationships between parents/guardians and teachers. They might hold meetings with all parties to ensure everyone understands what’s at stake and what actions are for the best.
Social workers will also work separately with parents/guardians and teachers to gain insight into a child’s behavior in and out of the classroom. Using this information, they can build case files and action plans with greater accuracy and appreciation for both sides. For example, a social worker might check in regularly with student families to offer support and to help find resources that can help address issues at home. They might recommend home visits or set up meetings at school so both sides of the story receive fair attention.
While some families might feel the intervention of a social worker is intrusive, many are grateful for the chance to talk with a professional third party who can bridge gaps. Some families struggle to communicate their home problems and concerns to teachers. Conversely, some teachers have concerns about effectively “parenting” certain children in class because of their unruly behavior.
Although a social worker can and will offer this bridging support wherever possible, there’s no obligation for either side of the discussion to agree to any plans discussed. In these scenarios, all social workers can do is present the facts and apply their knowledge where they see appropriate.
They can intervene in crises.
Although social workers might not be able to handle all crises at school, they can work with teachers to help provide immediate support if a child needs it. For example, if it becomes clear a child is experiencing abuse or bullying – whether at home or school – a social worker can take immediate steps to find resources said student can use. If a teacher believes a student is at risk of violence or other abuse at home, they can call on the help of a social worker to pull together resources.
Social workers frequently have access to agencies and support systems outside of school, meaning they can bring in outside help if necessary. In a crisis, social workers will also work with teachers to judge whether or not matters demand the use of the police or other law enforcement.
Social workers will have certain powers and restrictions regarding intervening in certain situations and people. However, the role they play in supporting teachers can alleviate many issues without having to get outside enforcement involved. Again, social workers can communicate with families and bring meetings together with teachers to ensure children receive support for the better.
They can help solve problems.
Problem-solving is at the heart of all social care – and when it comes to solving students’ problems and supporting teachers, social workers will often need to think particularly creatively.
During meetings and on the back of drawing up action plans, social workers might suggest to teachers how they can better support students through specific programs and activities. For example, they might encourage bullying awareness programs or set up an open-door policy for students to talk to them about problems they might not want to discuss elsewhere.
Social workers will collaborate with teachers and faculty workers to create an atmosphere of trust. Many children feel they can’t open up about certain problems out of fear of being judged or bullied by their peers. They might even think that speaking about issues gets them nowhere, as it hasn’t supported them.
Teachers and social workers can turn this around by helping to coordinate problem-solving for very specific issues. Not only can they set up open-door policies, but they can also create breakfast clubs to ensure students get fed before school and may be able to provide subsidies for certain school equipment if funding is available.
Both teachers and social workers need to think creatively about resolving problems brought about by care gaps at home. These gaps might not exist due to outright neglect but simply because families don’t have the financial resources to give their children the best possible support.
This, again, means school social workers should always be ready to communicate and collaborate with others in the best interests of children.
They advocate on behalf of students.
That takes us to this highly important point. Social workers work as mediators between parents and teachers and as advocates for the students they care for.
Social workers are expected to communicate with children and teenagers regularly in schools so they can learn more about their problems directly from the source. This way, there’s no room or need for assumption.
Not all children will be willing to speak freely about their issues, which means social workers will need to take careful steps not to distress the students they work with. For example, if a social worker has prior experience working with children in special education, they will know that each case is different and that patience is key.
By working directly with students of all ages, social workers get insight into what children and teenagers want and need. Piecing together medical records, evaluations, and testimonies from teachers and family members, they can create case profiles and deliver suggestions to teachers. For example, suppose a social worker feels a particular child isn’t receiving adequate teaching attention in the classroom. In that case, they can present evidence and discuss their concerns with any teachers who have said a student in their classes.
Social workers might bring together multiple teachers, including headteachers and deans, to address general gaps in education and care they’ve noticed while working with children.
It’s then the social worker’s job to present this information in a logical, reasoned way and from a place of genuine caring. Some school staff might not be receptive to ideas and solutions to help children because of a lack of funding. In this case, social workers can research opportunities and use their connections to bridge these gaps, too.
Advocating on behalf of students means social workers can find solutions for children when they cannot find themselves. In many cases, teachers and faculty staff will be highly receptive and do what they can to help if they have the resources.
In others, social workers might find it challenging to communicate problems from a child’s perspective and for them to be taken seriously by staff. However, getting through to teachers on this level is immensely rewarding when they follow the right channels.
Given the limited resources and scope many teachers have, social workers have quickly become essential members of education teams in the modern age.
They advocate for children, help teachers understand why certain students “act out,” and help families find financial and therapeutic support they might otherwise not have access to.
Social workers help to link different people together – it’s an incredibly collaborative role, and when working in school environments, it’s a job rooted in genuine care and concern. It’s up to social workers to raise awareness, propose solutions, and ensure the right actions are underway.