What Should Social Workers Know About IEPs?

Social Workers and IEPs

Social workers play a key role in coordinating the creation and implementation of a student’s Individualized Education Program or IEP. Students are screened to identify those who may need additional support to meet their learning needs. The IEP is the written statement of an educational program designed specifically for the student, taking into consideration the child’s perceived limitations that may or may not have been professionally diagnosed. Eligibility for special education services depends on the IEP, which is developed by a team of professionals, including the child’s parents or guardians and key school personnel, including the school social worker.

Contents of an IEP

Laws regarding education and special education services provide guidelines as to the contents of an IEP. The statement must specify the student’s current levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including an assessment of how the student’s

disability or condition affects compliance with and potential for progress in the school’s general curriculum. The IEP should describe specific goals and milestones that would be within the individual’s ability to achieve within the school year and the services, guidance and additional support needed to achieve these goals. The program should be clear about the methods of progress assessment.

Students with an IEP may be part of the mainstream program in their school with special breakout sessions for special education services. The IEP will specify how much time and in what ways the student will participate in separate activities from children on the regular curriculum. District-wide testing is mandatory in public schools, but accommodations may be made for students with an IEP. These accommodations can come in the form of exemptions, special schedules or modified testing materials.

Role of the Social Worker

Each student’s IEP is the product of collaboration among the child’s family representative, the school and support professionals as needed. The parents or guardians take an active part at all stages, including providing the baseline information regarding the child’s medical history, abilities and family dynamics that may be factors in the child’s condition and ability to cope with interventions. Typically, a psychologist or social worker undertakes the initial interviews with the family. In many cases, the evaluation and diagnosis may already be available, but the school may still require corroboration by their own staff.

It is the job of the social worker to interpret test results for the parents and school staff. Recommendations for further intervention will hinge on evaluations made by teachers, psychologists or psychologists/social workers.

The social worker may take a lead role in group activities designed for students with an IEP. Programs of this nature typically help students develop the social skills they need to cope in the general classroom setting and to meet their IEP goals.

IEP Expectations

At the end of each IEP meeting, the team will prepare a statement known as the present level of performance where the child’s academic and functional performance in terms of social, behavioral and motor skills are defined, using test scores, assessment notes and other data. The social worker should review these data with special focus on interpreting the results in the context of the child’s condition. Goals are evaluated based on these results, which may be modified based on team recommendations. Should the child require more services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy or counseling, it will be up to the social worker to coordinate referrals to the appropriate professionals based on state and school board guidelines.

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IEPs have been shown to be valuable in helping students to remain in the mainstream school population among their peers. The social worker should review the student’s IEP regularly, along with the team, to ensure that the child’s needs are being met and to ensure that the child progresses from one academic year to the next.