How Do Social Workers Help the Families of Children With Disabilities?

0
July 31, 2006 at 5:06 pm  •  Posted in Disabilities by  •  0 Comments

By Kristen Humphrey, PhD, MSW

Introduction
Does Your Child Have a Disability?
Common Disabilities of Childhood
Mental Health Disabilities
Where to Get Help?
Social Workers in Hospitals and Long-Term Care Facilities
Social Workers in Schools
How School Social Workers Help
Getting Services Through the Schools
Social Workers in Child Welfare Agencies
Social Workers in Community Mental Health Agencies
Social Workers in Private Practice

 

Introduction

Children with disabilities may receive services in a variety of settings. If you have a child with a disability, you probably want to find out about resources available to you. This guide will give you some general information about disabilities, will list the most common places where children with disabilities and their families receive services, and will explain how social workers in those settings may help you.

Does Your Child Have a Disability?

There are many, many types of disabilities. If you think that your child might have a disability, discuss this with your pediatrician and s/he will make the necessary referrals for obtaining a diagnosis. Definitions of disabilities may be different from one agency to another. Organizations that help people with disabilities usually have their own definitions of disabilities and criteria that decide who is able to receive services there. This list of common disabilities will give you some general information. Just remember that agencies or organizations that you go to for services might use a different definition.

Common Disabilities of Childhood
  • Autism – Autism is a developmental disability. Symptoms of autism usually show up during a child’s first 3 years. Children with autism may have a very hard time communicating with others and playing with other children. They often have speech and language delays. They also may react to sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and touch in ways that are different from typical children. See: www.autism-society.org
  • Blindness – Blindness is often defined as having less than 20/200 vision in the better eye with correction. (If a person has 20/200 vision, the smallest letter that they can see at 20 feet could be seen by a person with normal vision at 200 feet.) See: www.nfb.org
  • Deafness – a hearing impairment that is so severe that a child cannot process what others say through hearing, even when the sound is amplified (made louder). See: www.deafchildren.org
  • Developmental Disability – a disability that begins before a person is 22 years old.
  • Hearing Impairment – a hearing loss that doesn’t meet the definition of deafness.
  • Learning disabilities – A learning disability is a neurological disorder. Children with learning disabilities are as smart as other children are, but they learn differently than other children. People with learning disabilities may have trouble with certain areas of learning such as reading, writing, or math. They may need the information taught to them in a different way than most others. See: www.ldonline.com
  • Mental Retardation – Mental retardation means that a child has substantial limitations in his or her intellectual functioning (the way the mind works to learn, understand, or reason) and other areas such as communication, social skills, and self-care. Sometimes an IQ score is used, and a child is given a diagnosis of mental retardation if his or her IQ score is less than 70. See: www.nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs8txt.htm#whatis
  • Physical Disability – a condition that significantly limits a person’s basic activities such as walking, lifting, or carrying.
  • Speech/Language Impairment – a problem with communication or with the way the mouth works to make sounds. It includes sound substitutions (such as saying “wing” instead of “ring”), trouble making sense of what others are saying, trouble using language to communicate, or problems with the use of the mouth for speech. See: www.nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs11txt.htm
  • Traumatic Brain Injury – an injury to the brain, usually caused by a very hard hit to the head or by violent shaking. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can cause the person to act differently, learn differently, have trouble paying attention, understanding or remembering things, have trouble thinking or talking, walk differently, or have difficulty with seeing or hearing. The term TBI is not used when the brain injury happened before a child was born or during childbirth.
    See: www.nichcy.org/pubs/factshe/fs18txt.htm
Mental Health Disabilities

Sometimes when a person is having emotional trouble or behavior challenges, he or she goes to a doctor, a social worker, a counselor, or other mental health practitioner for help.

Many types of emotional troubles or behavior challenges are common enough that they have been given a name. These names are types of diagnoses. When a doctor or other mental health practitioner learns about the symptoms or challenges that a person is having, he or she might decide that the person has a certain diagnosis (or more than one diagnosis).

If your child has seen a doctor or other mental health practitioner about emotional or behavioral challenges, he or she might have a mental health diagnosis. If you are unsure, ask the person who met with your child or contact the agency where you took your child. They should tell you if they assigned a diagnosis to your child.

Examples of mental health diagnoses are Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, and eating disorders. (These are the most common mental health disorders of childhood. However, this is just a short list of examples; there are many more diagnoses.)

See:
www.ffcmh.org
www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/childmenu.cfm
www.nami.org/

Where to Get Help

If your child has a disability, social workers and other professionals can help your child and your family. You may meet social workers in a variety of settings such as:

  • hospitals and long-term care facilities
  • schools
  • child welfare agencies
  • mental health centers
  • private practice
Social Workers in Hospitals and Long-Term Care Facilities

Doctors diagnose some disabilities at birth or even before birth while others are discovered later. Illness or injury may cause other disabilities It is normal to feel all sorts of emotions when a child is diagnosed with a disability. You may feel sad, angry, confused, ashamed, or scared. You may even go through a grieving process (as people do when someone close to them dies). You may want to work with a hospital social worker.

Hospital social workers can help you:

  • think about how you feel about the disability
  • figure out what you and your family member need
  • help you find resources in the community that may help you
  • help you with applications for services
  • connect with other families of children with the same disabilities
  • connect with support groups

If you want to meet with a hospital social worker, ask your doctor or nurse to help set that up, or call the hospital’s main number and ask for social services.

Social Workers in Schools

Children and teenagers with disabilities often receive services in the public school system. Depending on the disability, your child could begin getting services when he or she is a baby or preschooler. Or, your child may start getting services later when you and your child’s teachers realize that he or she needs them.

The roles of school social workers vary from one school district to another and from one state to the next. School social workers may work with children in general education, special education, or both. School social workers may talk with children and their parents when a child is considered for special education services. Social workers are often part of the team involved in the evaluation when a child has behavior or mental health concerns.

School social workers may provide counseling to individual children, work with children in groups, or work with entire classrooms. School social workers may help families get services that they need or connect families to other community agencies. School social workers may consult with teachers, parents, and other adults in the children’s lives. School social workers may address needs at the individual level, group level, and school level.

When working with individual children or groups, school social workers may work with children on issues from behavior problems, hygiene, or coping skills to substance abuse issues and grief.

Your child (if he/she qualifies) may receive early intervention services until he/she is three years old. The public school system or other government agency offers these services, but they can take place in your home. These services have different names in different states. Your 3 to 5 year old may also receive services through public schools. These services are usually provided at a school close to you. Your child who is in Kindergarten to 12th grade may receive Special Education as part of his or her school day.

Early intervention and preschool services may include:

  • speech therapy
  • occupational or physical therapy
  • social work or psychological services
  • assistive technology
  • audiology or vision services
  • others services not listed here

Special education services for Kindergarten through 12th grade may include:

  • education in the general classroom and/or in a resource room
  • school social work services
  • speech and language services
  • occupational therapy
  • adaptive physical education
  • transportation
  • other services not listed here

The services provided depend on your child’s unique needs. Your child could receive services through age 21 depending on individual needs.

How School Social Workers Help

The roles of school social workers vary from one school district to another. School social workers may work with children in general education, special education, or both. School social workers may talk with children and their parents when a child is being considered for special education services. It depends on the type of disability. Social workers are often part of the team of people involved in the evaluation when a child has behavior challenges or mental health concerns.

School social workers may provide counseling to individual children, work with children in groups, or work with entire classrooms. School social workers may help families get services that they need or connect families to other community agencies. School social workers may consult with teachers, parents, and other adults in the children’s lives. School social workers may address needs at the individual level, group level, and school level.

When working with individual children or groups, school social workers may work with children on issues such as:

  • Behavior problems
  • Emotional issues
  • Getting along with friends
  • Getting along with adults
  • Hygiene
  • Anger management
  • Coping skills
  • Grief
  • Substance abuse

These are just examples. The role of school social workers vary among schools. You may ask your school’s social worker what types of services he or she provides.

Getting Services Through the Schools

To see if your child qualifies for early intervention or preschool services, contact your local school district and ask to initiate an evaluation. Social workers are usually part of this evaluation. The district usually does a global assessment that looks at your child’s overall development. A social worker will typically evaluate your child’s social-emotional needs.

To find out if your school-aged child is eligible for special education services, contact your child’s principal and ask for a special education evaluation. (It is best to do this in writing.)

After the evaluation, you will find out if your child qualifies for services. If your child qualifies, and you want to accept services, you will meet with a team of people from the school district to develop an IFSP or IEP.

An IFSP stands for Individualized Family Service Plan. If your child is under 3 years old and receives early intervention services, he or she will have an IFSP. It is a plan developed by you and the team of professionals working with your child to meet the needs of your child and family.

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan. If your child is 3 or older and receives special education, he or she will have an IEP that you, your child’s teacher, and other school staff who are part of the IEP team create. The purpose of the IEP is to develop a plan based on your child’s individual needs that will allow your child to benefit from public education.

If your child does not qualify, the school may refer you to services outside of the school that may be helpful. Or, you may be asked to come back after a period of time for a reevaluation.

If your child has a disability, but does not qualify for services through Special Education, he or she may qualify for a “504 Plan.” A 504 plan is a legal document that was developed as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A 504 plan is a written plan for children who have special needs, but who do not receive special education. 504 plans are provided by the public schools. If you would like to request a 504 plan, talk to your child’s principal.

For more information about early intervention services see: www.nectac.org/contact/ptccoord.asp

For more information on special education see: www.seriweb.com

For more information on 504 plans, see: www.504idea.org/504overview.html

Social Workers in Child Welfare Agencies

If your family is involved in the child welfare system, you will have a case manager. Case management is often, but not always, provided by social workers. Case managers help people find and coordinate services such as housing, employment, family services, or community resources.

Some families receive Family Services. Your state’s child welfare agency may offer you Family Services to keep your child safely in your home or a relative’s home if a child welfare agency has found that your child is being abused, neglected, or will likely need to be removed from the home if services are not provided.

These services for children and families may include:

  • help accessing mental health services
  • help accessing mental retardation/developmental disability services
  • help accessing special medical equipment
  • help accessing special education services
  • referrals to other services, such as food stamps, child care, cash assistance, child support services, and Medicaid
  • parenting classes
  • anger management classes
  • drug and alcohol assessments
  • home visitation
  • getting rid of lice
  • mediation
  • domestic violence services

The amount and type of services offered will be different from one state to another. Contact your local child welfare office if you want to know more about family services. Social workers may provide these services, but people from other professions could provide them too.

Social Workers in Community Mental Health Agencies

Social workers in community mental health agencies provide services to children and families. The services available will vary from one agency to another, but common services are psychosocial groups, respite care, counseling/therapy, and case management.

Social workers may lead psychosocial groups for children and youth. A Psychosocial Group is a group made up of children or adolescents along with mental health staff. The staff members guide activities to work on social skills, teach problem-solving skills, and identify personal strengths, interests, and abilities. These groups are often available at Community Mental Health Centers.

Social workers may help families get respite care. Respite care is a service that gives parents or other caregivers a break from taking care of a child with a disability.

Social workers provide counseling/therapy at mental health centers. There are several kinds of therapy including individual therapy, family therapy, home based family therapy, behavior therapy, or group therapy.

  • Individual — Individual therapy involves a person meeting with a clinical social worker to talk about concerns. You may want to see a social worker for therapy, or your child with the disability may see a social worker.
  • Family Therapy — Family Therapy is a type of therapy that involves members of a family. Family members may not all be present, but the social worker views the individuals as members of a family and explores issues within the context of the family. You may want to go to therapy as a family to work on things that concern your family.
  • Home Based Family Therapy — Some families receive home based family therapy (HBFT). If you receive HBFT, a social worker will come to your home to help you work on things like parenting, solving family conflicts, or communicating better. Generally, people receive home based services to prevent hospitalization or out-of-home placement and create an ongoing community support system.
  • Behavior Therapy — If your family member has problem behaviors, you may want him or her to receive behavior therapy. Behavior Therapy focuses on stopping unwanted behaviors or improving a desired behavior. It is based on a belief that behaviors are learned and can be unlearned.
  • Group Therapy — Group therapy involves several clients or consumers meeting together with a social worker to explore similar issues.

Social workers often provide case management services in mental health agencies. A case manager may help you find the right services for your child and help you keep track of services that your child receives.

Social Workers in Private Practice

Social workers who are licensed at a level to provide independent services may be in private practice. Generally, this involves a fee for service which might be covered through insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. Social workers in private practice perform many of the same services as those in a community mental health center, but generally have a smaller case load and are able to spend more time with their clients.

To find a private practice social worker, check your local telephone book under counseling, therapy, or mental health. You may also locate social workers here.

You may also find these resources helpful:

###

Leave a Reply