By Andrea Centerrino, LICSW, QCSW
|The First Line in a Crisis|
School social workers are extremely valuable resources to parents, students, and teachers at the middle and high school levels. Areas that school social workers can be most effective in are:
- Crisis Intervention — School social workers are usually able to respond to a crisis in a child’s life almost immediately.
- Referral and Consultation — Contact with mental health treatment providers are a key part of the school social workers’ role.
- Prevention and Education — School social workers develop and implement programs that address topics relevant to their school’s population.
- Brief Treatment — Direct services can be provided for students in a manner that is affordable, convenient,and timely.
- Family Support — Outreach to families and parent education and support are an important aspect of their job.
- Advocacy — Navigating the educational system including all of the laws and regulations can be daunting; school social worker can help students exercise their rights and access available services. This can be particularly helpful to students with disabilities, teen parents, etc.
As we know, adolescence is a time for becoming more independent. However, teenagers still crave and value guidance from adults they respect. Many times, adolescents feel uncomfortable talking to their parents about serious issues that affect them. This is a normal part of growing up. These same teens though often seek out other adults to confide in during this challenging time in their lives. In fact, they are often surprisingly candid and willing to share deeply personal feelings when they find someone they feel they can trust. Perhaps more surprising is that teens often look to the adults in their lives for specific advice and direction, limits and boundaries.
The school social worker is especially trained to to listen to teens with empathy and to assess their individual needs. Often, a student who is reluctant to access traditional mental health services is more willing to talk to a counselor at school. School social worker are often the first in the line of crisis; if the student’s experience with the social worker is positive, this can improve the chances of successful referral to further mental health services.
Another advantage to seeing a school social worker is that they have the ability to view the child with their peers and in their own environment. This offers a perspective that is unique compared with other treatment providers, and often very valuable to getting a true picture of the student’s needs. It also provides the opportunity to see a child at the time that they are in crisis, or to provide an appropriate intervention. These components are critical when working with teenagers, for whom mood swings and conflict can arise and escalate quickly.
School social workers are privy to subtleties in the social structure and culture of the adolescents and the school with whom they work. This enables the school social worker to be aware of problems or issues within the student body before they become common knowledge. An example would be a particular substance abuse trend in the community. This awareness means that interventions can be put into place sooner rather than later. Community resources can be tapped as soon as a need is identified. Prevention programs and support groups can be implemented in a way that students find relevant to their lives and communities.
Providing social work services in schools is critical to adolescents and their families. The school social worker is a support person, educator, liaison, and advocate. This professional has the opportunity to reach many teens, particularly those who may be at-risk, and to intervene immediately on their behalf. Given that adolescence is such a challenging developmental stage, and that teens face multiple issues and feel increasingly isolated in this day and age, the school social worker is a vital and effective resource.