How is the School Social Worker’s Role Expanding?
School social workers have long been critical to our public education system.
They’re the vital link between students, parents, school staff, and district administration. They work with and benefit students in so many ways, including:
- Training school staff
- Connecting families with community resources
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the already blurry lines between students’ issues at home and issues at school have become unrecognizable. Suddenly, an unstable home environment means a student’s educational placement during remote learning is a special education problem needing immediate resolution.
Here at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we know special education administrators are already functioning at maximum capacity to deliver a free appropriate public education (FAPE). We want them to realize a social worker’s specialized knowledge and expertise can resolve a host of complex problems.
Reviewing the Traditional Role of a School Social Worker
Students identified as needing behavioral, social, emotional, or mental health services tend to be dealing with complicated issues at home that bleed into their classroom performance.
School social workers can assess these students and recommend interventions to:
- Alleviate personal or family stress.
- Help with conflict resolution and anger management.
- Provide a social or developmental history for children in distress.
- Build bridges between home and school around behavioral interventions.
Social workers offer specialized insight into the global environmental factors impacting a student. The student’s team can incorporate this insight into the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). In this way, it ensures all professionals who work with the child have the perspective needed to provide a holistic plan of care.
And as students with special needs transition from high school to vocational programs, a social worker can identify supports to help them access employment or independent living.
Overcoming Problems in Making Home the Classroom
As the pandemic wears on, more school districts are moving into an all-virtual or hybrid remote and in-person learning model. The stress on parents, guardians and other caregivers, who are often trying to work in or out of the home themselves, has never been higher. And for families who are socio-economically disadvantaged, access to technology and internet connection has become a FAPE issue—not just an inconvenience.
The stress of the pandemic has also worsened existing problems at home. The UN reports data from many regions already suggests significant increases in domestic violence cases, particularly among marginalized populations. Inconsistent student attendance for regularly scheduled remote learning or related service delivery sessions may indicate parents are unwilling or unable to facilitate a student’s participation. Students known to be at risk for domestic violence may need periodic check-ins.
A school social worker can help with all these concerns.
They can help families access programs that enable their children to fully participate in their local school district’s virtual instruction. They can train teachers to identify potential indicators that a student is exposed to or is the subject of abuse or neglect at home. And they can connect the student and family with community-based resources to help relieve social, emotional or financial stresses.
Managing Behavior and Mental Health Conditions from a Distance
For students with existing behavioral and mental health concerns, the pandemic has exacerbated these problems. It has caused isolation and a lack of outside supports. With their training in counseling, social workers may be the only access to mental health support services many students have.
Collaborating with school counselors and behavior specialists, more social workers are becoming trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a way to treat stress, anxiety and depression by identifying patterns in thinking that negatively affect emotion and behavior. Social workers can provide CBT one-on-one or in groups. It doesn’t require in-person sessions, making it an ideal modality for our current environment.
Social workers can help special education programs connect the dots between home, family and school in ways needed now more than ever.
If your program needs a school social worker’s services, call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online to let us know. We’ll be glad to explore how we can help your program meet your students’ mental health and behavioral needs in these challenging times.