By Harry Kuhn, MA, MSW, LCSW, BCD
|School Children’s Expression of Their Emotional State|
|The Day Begins|
|Responding to Emergencies|
|The School Social Worker as Advocate|
The professional mission of school social worker is to help parents with their family concerns, students with their personal issues, and teachers with their instruction. The school social worker helps by listening closely to students and adults who may have experienced very troubling circumstances at home or in school. The work of the school social worker also includes policy and program development.
The school social worker is professionally prepared to understand and respond to the many problems which people may have. These problems are typically related to life experiences that were or are emotionally very hurtful events. Intensely-felt guilt, shame, embarrassment, frustration, or anger can lead anyone to intensely-felt emotions of insecurity, fearfulness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, or even futurelessness.
These feelings and emotional states within school children can be expressed in a variety of ways that interfere with learning and cause inappropriate behavior in school. Such children may appear to be very active, highly distractible or impulsive. They may also have difficulty with paying attention, concentrating, and controlling their behavior in the classroom or anywhere else in school.
Students rebuild their self-worth, self-control, and self-confidence by speaking with the school social worker. With unique clinical expertise, the school social worker provides the type of counseling that helps students feel trust, hope, and empathy while learning coping skills. Such counseling will yield students who have deeper awareness of their own feelings and those of other’s to feel emotionally secure and safe at school.
The day begins when the school social worker awakens and is preparing to go to work. Ever mindful of each case’s unique demands, the preparation is one of thinking about problem-solving, and being solution-oriented. It’s a rare day when a parent isn’t in the parking lot or a teacher outside the classroom door, waiting for the school social worker to arrive.
Once the school social worker arrives in the office, it’s expected that messages will be received from the secretary, all marked “urgent.” It is common for the school social worker arriving at the office, to find a teacher or parent waiting to consult without an appointment. A quick glance at the appointment calendar may reveal a fully scheduled day.
The school social worker must listen and make a swift decision as how to respond most efficaciously to the parent and/or teacher. Appointments have a way of expanding beyond the limited time scheduled which requires the school social worker to decide if and when to schedule a follow-up appointment. Time is always the most precious resource for a school social worker.
Emergencies arise which can disrupt a schedule and consume a tremendous amount of time such as when, responding to a suicidal situation or to a crisis intervention. These situations typically involve parental notification and the development of a plan of action. The school social worker is responsible to follow protocol, hurdle over bureaucratic obstacles, and have emergency resource made available.
The school social worker has an ethical obligation to document all such activities, citing date, presenting problem, parties participating, and immediate outcomes with specific recommendations. Schedules need to be revised, albeit, an irritating source of annoyance for parents who perceive own their situations as equally important and no less critical.
As the day proceeds, student problems may be related to problems in school policy, practices or procedures. The school social worker needs to be sufficiently familiar with them to advise administration how some modification or revision of them is required. This type of advising-giving typifies the advocacy role that school social workers have and act upon to improve the learning opportunity for students.
At departmental or faculty meetings, the school social worker reaffirms the advocacy role to improve the school’s responsiveness to parent, student and teacher needs. The school social worker must be able to speak persuasively to gain the staff’s and administration’s support. Being able to field questions with convincing rationale and substantive research data is paramount to establishing credibility as a change agent.
The school social worker is a member of the interdisciplinary child study team, along with learning disabilities-teacher consultants and school psychologists. They work together to evaluate students who may be educationally disabled and develop special individualized education programs for them. The better functioning teams have a genuine respect and positive regard for each other and their respective expertise.
The school social worker’s assessment provides an appreciation of the student’s life as viewed by the parents and the student, and, evaluates the student’s mental health status. Educational assessment focuses primarily on the student’s academic level of performance relative to the student’s age and grade placement. The school psychologist provides an assessment of the student’s cognitive functioning and abilities.
The role of the school social worker is also to establish a working relationship between school and family. This, at times, requires conflict resolutions skills and the ability to promote open communication among student, parent and educator. In maintaining a working relationship with parents, school social worker makes sure that the parent understands and is understood when participating at meetings school staff.
As the school day ends, the school social worker is typically writing reports and case notes, making phone calls, and reviewing the following day’s schedule. These end-of-day responsibilities may extend into the late afternoon or early evenings with no compensation other than knowing that the needs of others have been met.