School social workers play a crucial role in schools and in the entire school system. Their functions often put them in direct contact with students, their families, school staff and other members of the community. Social workers may be assigned to one school or to several schools in the district. Their primary responsibilities focus on identifying the factors that may interfere with students’ ability to learn and finding ways to resolve issues that may lead to emotional, behavioral or social problems.
Scope of Responsibilities
Social workers in the school system are involved in day-to-day tasks that are part of the school routine, but they are also also heavily invested in projects with medium and long-term goals. Staying involved with the daily flow of activities allows the social worker to observe students in their environment. This exposure provides an important backdrop when assessing students, their behavioral issues, socialization and learning challenges. Social workers serve as liaison between the school and families especially when it comes to children who may need intervention to help them thrive in the school environment.
They work closely with teachers and school administrators to ensure that academic goals are well-defined and compliant with state and federal standards. These tasks include involvement with scheduling and overseeing mandatory testing, surveys and special education services. Social workers develop and implement behavior management programs and oversee the implementation of said programs. The overarching goal of the school social worker is to ensure, with the help of school staff and families, that students thrive in a safe and supportive school environment so that they have a chance at realizing their full potential.
A Social Worker at Work
To start the day, the social worker may take a spot as a greeter to welcome students to the school and briefly meet with parents dropping off their children. This may not be a daily task, but teachers and other school staff take turns at this assignment as a way to underline student-focused policies, and it is also an excellent opportunity for the social worker to observe and interact with the student body.
When school is in session, the social worker spends the time developing and reviewing the school’s behavioral plans and academic progress schedule with special attention given to at-risk populations. School social workers may spend the day handling referrals of students identified as having behavioral issues. The social worker may meet with the students, teachers, school administrators and parents although one-on-one sessions are useful for minor cases. The social worker may also meet with parents to discuss intervention strategies for students who have been identified as having adjustment and other issues. As a case manager, the social worker will put families in touch with resources that children may need such as speech therapy, physical therapy, health services and food assistance. Those who have the necessary credentials in counseling and behavioral therapy may provide the service themselves.
The social worker may also be asked to train staff on matters related to behavior management, communicating with families and providing community services outside of the school’s resources to make sure that children’s needs are met. These sessions may include discussions of school safety practices, handling bereavement and traumatic events and legislative changes that may have an impact on schools.
During the testing season, school social workers may be asked to assist with test administration, including communicating with parents regarding testing preparation, understanding test results and strategies to improve test performance. the typical day concludes with parent conferences or meetings with administrators.
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School social workers have an extensive list of responsibilities that may extend outside the school day. In some cases, the social worker may have to conduct home visits. While the social worker’s functions are considered non-academic, they play a key role in ensuring that students’ needs are addressed in a timely, efficient and productive manner.