The Positive Impact Social Work Can Have on Public Education

Social workers aren’t always associated with public education. Their roles in social service delivery, legal arenas, and advocacy are often more readily recognized. However, social workers provide vital support within our education system and contribute meaningfully to helping countless children progress through primary and secondary education in the United States every year.

The Social Worker’s Role within the Education System

Social workers can hold a number of responsibilities within a school setting. They might work one on one with students or work with groups and deliver programming. They may also work in home settings with said students outside school hours to help them with homework or learning. However, their interventions are delivered, social workers are primarily concerned with students from disadvantaged backgrounds or with heightened needs. Social workers support their learning processes and make sure they receive the attention they need to be able to succeed in school.

When underprivileged students face difficulties or danger in their home or personal lives, they are far less likely to perform well in the classroom. Social workers’ responsibilities when working with school children that live in tenuous or unstable circumstances can extend past academic support and include monitoring their safety, the provision of their basic needs, and wellbeing of their caretakers. Social workers that are based in schools or academic settings often tend to needs that extend beyond the classroom. They can help provide comprehensive support for school-aged children to give them the best chance of graduating and having success later in life.

The History of Social Work and Its Purpose

The development of the social worker, and of social work in its current form in the United States, can help inform how social work fits into public education and complements the academic endeavors of the educational system. Social work’s origin was brought about by the unintended side effects of industrialization that resulted in high levels of unemployment, abandoned children, poverty, and chronic physical and mental illnesses.

By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, organized charitable bodies were beginning to oversee social welfare projects and the occupation we know as social work came into existence. Along with hospitals and settlement houses, public schools were one of the primary arenas in which social workers served. From the very beginning, children’s welfare and development has been a primary concern for the social work field.

Since its inception, the realm of social work and services provision has morphed and changed.  Various presidential administrations adjusted Federal funding and support. Large-scale cultural phenomena presented unique challenges at various points over the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. However, social work still adheres to one of its founding priorities – the support of children and especially those who are disadvantaged. Social workers’ role within the public education system is just as important as ever for providing support for countless children as they progress through their educational journeys.

How Social Work in Other Areas Can Also Benefit Public Education

Though some social workers work more directly with school children or within the academic setting than others, the effect of social work on society at large creates substantial benefits for public education. Social workers can be found in a wide variety of settings – from hospitals to homeless shelters, and from rehabilitation centers to nursing homes. Social workers impact people from all walks of life, and some may never come in contact with a school-aged child.

However, people don’t exist in a vacuum. The widespread nature of social work’s reach means that social workers impact individuals who are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, teachers, and more for children within public education. Their influence helps make society as a whole operate more smoothly, and that includes public education.

The impact of social work on our school system is hugely significant. Social workers provide support to countless individuals across the country, whether students in school themselves or those that support, teach, or care for them. Social work is an integral part of making the public education system successful.

NASW Highlights the Growing Need for School Social Workers to Prevent School Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – School social workers play a critical role in schools. They serve as the liaison between school, home, and the community. The underlying premise of school social work services is based in strengthening students’ academic progress by removing barriers to learning including meeting their basic physical and emotional needs.

Any form of school violence, including the mass shootings at schools around the country such as the recent incidents Florida and Maryland, prohibit students’ sense of safety and their learning. School social workers work to prevent mass killing in schools as well as guide schools in recovery after a crisis has occurred. Today more than ever, there is a growing need for school social workers to help prevent school violence and to support students in moments of crisis.

Unfortunately, school social work positions across the country have been eliminated or replaced by other professions. Due to extensive financial deficits and constraints, as well as competing priorities, local education agencies are often unable to hire enough school social workers to adequately meet the needs of the student population. In many instances, school social work services are eliminated altogether.

School social workers work in preventing school violence. They are trained to understand risk factors and warning signs of violent behaviors. They are knowledgeable in classroom management and behavior intervention and can assist teachers and school personnel in identifying concerning behaviors of students and developing supportive intervention plans. They are experts in research-based school discipline policy development that can increase school connectedness and decrease incidents of school violence.

School social workers work to provide support after a crisis. They are extensively trained to manage and deal with crisis and are equipped to assist school administrators and teachers.  School social workers are experienced in delivering difficult and sensitive information and can assist in developing messages that are age-appropriate and culturally sensitive.  In addition, they can lead the development of strategic plans that prepare other school personnel to respond adequately during the times of chaos and crisis.

School social workers can link students and their families to community resources. They are well-informed regarding relevant resources in the community and online and can aid in connecting students and families to the appropriate resources during times of crisis.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) advocates for ratios in its latest revision of the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services that reflect the need for an increase in social work positions across the nation in all schools:

School social work services should be provided at a ratio of one school social worker to each school building serving up to 250 general education students, or a ratio of 1:250 students. When a social worker is providing services to students with intensive needs, a lower ratio, such as 1:50, is suggested (NASW, 2012).   

Violence in schools has increased dramatically over the past decades and is seen by many as a public health issue. School social workers aid in the prevention of school violence and provide much needed services and support after a crisis has occurred. NASW strongly urges the funding for an increase of school social workers in schools across the country to adequately meet the needs of students and decrease school violence.

NASW is in partnerships with coalitions that are working to support school social work positions. We urge our members and the larger social work community to contact their elected officials to advocate for school social work positions in schools. For more information contact NASW Senior Practice Associate Sharon Dietsche, LCSW-C, LICSW, at sdietsche.nasw@socialworkers.org

9 Mobile Apps for Social Workers

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Add digital skills to the many skill sets we wear as social workers. Our clients are carrying around devices that can serve as a secondary tool to support practice and our primary connections. Many practitioners feel that technology is taking away from the human interaction. However, technology can actually enhance our practice and empower our clients while scaling our efforts.

For instance, we can reach people in rural areas we weren’t able to reach before, empower clients to monitor their moods outside of sessions and have real time data to discuss in session, make connections with children on the autism spectrum that is difficult for a human to make, assess suicidal ideations, alert authorities/contact of domestic violence situations in real time, and the list goes on.  We must not fear technology as it is here to stay.  In fact, they are now moving into the world of the Internet of Things (IOT) such as wearable technology.

The social work practice will not progress by chance, we will have to embrace and educate ourselves on technology in order to most effectively advocate for our clients and the profession.

  • “Most social workers have no access to data in the field, even though worldwide global mobile access is above 87%.” Northwoods Business Brief
  • “Smartphone owners use an average of 24 apps per month but spend more than 80 percent of their [in app] time on just five apps.” Forrester Data
  • “To date, 85.5 percent of the world subscribes to mobile phone services…” Technology for good: Innovative use of technology by charities

Mobile apps are a wonderful tool, however they are just that: a tool.  They should not replace the relationship but rather enhance and augment the work you are doing.

1.     PTSD Coach – “The PTSD Coach app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that often occur after trauma. Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work
  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms
  • Convenient, easy-to-use tools to help you handle stress symptoms
  • Direct links to support and help
  • Always with you when you need it

Providing you with facts and self-help skills based on research.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Veterans, Mental Health

2.     Northwoods Compass CoPilot – “It’s the ideal solution for mobile social workers at child and adult protective services agencies, and other workers who visit clients in their homes or other locations. Social workers in the field use Compass CoPilot to access all case and client information, forms, and documents, just as they would in the office. It’s the only social services software to ensure that social workers are never without the files and information they need while they’re on the road. During client visits, social workers can use Compass CoPilot to record interviews, take photos, document, and notate their findings — all while they are in the field. Being able to accomplish all of this with a tablet makes the information gathering less intrusive, which helps put clients at ease and allows for better interactions. Our innovative social service software syncs the new information with the agency’s Compass® system back at the office.” (iTunes)

Tags: Child Welfare, Case Mangement

3.     Classdojo – “Easily encourage students on participation, perseverance, or something else? Customize ClassDojo to work for your classroom.  See a timeline of students’ progress, share a beautiful timeline of all the wonderful things your students do. Students love how positive classrooms are and it saves teachers valuable class time, too.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: School Social Work, Autism

4.     TF-CBT Triangle of Life – “new [free] mobile game app helps children who have experienced trauma by letting them use their tablets or smartphones to practice life skills they have learned in the therapist’s office. With the tagline “Change how you think; change your life,” the TF-CBT Triangle of Life game is designed to help children age 8-12 better understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and move toward a better quality of life. During this game, the player takes the role of the lion in a jungle story, guiding other animals toward more positive experiences and relationships.” (iTunes,Google Play)

Tags: Mental Health, Trauma, CBT, Therapist

5.     Aspire News – “A domestic violence app is disguised as a normal icon and even has a decoy home page, so you’ll be safe if your abuser takes your phone. The most important feature of the Aspire News app is called the GO Button, which you can activate the moment you are in danger. Once activated, the GO Button will send a pre-typed or pre-recorded message to multiple trusted, preselected contacts, or even 911, saying that you are in trouble. Additionally, once the app is activated, your phone will begin recording audio of everything that is going on in the room, which can be used as evidence for any legal proceedings that may stem from the incident. Robin emphasizes that it’s important to always have your location services activated, as many of the app’s features require it. For example, the app can be used to locate the shelters and resources closest to you.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Domestic Violence

6.     The Savvy Social Worker – “Trying to stay abreast of developments in social work and human services practice? Few practitioners have the time to identify all the key sources of information on the web. This app, developed by the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, will help you stay current with new developments in social work practice, especially evidence-based practices and best practices. We bring information about key practice resources and practice research findings to you all in one place, in an e-news reader format. You select the information providers (channels) that you would like to monitor, and we do the rest. Included in our list are key sources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Cochrane Collaboration, the Campbell Collaboration, ad Information for Practice.” (Google Play)

Tags: Social Work, Resources

7.     Suicide Safety – “Suicide Safe, SAMHSA’s new suicide prevention app for mobile devices and optimized for tablets, helps providers integrate suicide prevention strategies into their practice and address suicide risk among their patients. Suicide Safe is a free app based on SAMHSA’s Suicide Assessment Five-Step Evaluation and Triage (SAFE-T) card.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Therapist, Suicide, Social Work

8.     The DBT Diary Card – “DBT Diary Card is the only DBT iPhone app designed and created by a licensed and DBT intensively trained psychologist.” (iTunes)

Tags: Therapist, Social Work, DBT

9.     Dialysis Finder – Dialysis Finder App quickly identifies your location and lets you choose the nearest Dialysis Clinic as well as get other information about the location. A convenient way to find a US Dialysis Clinic near you. (iTunes)

Paving the Way for Change is #YSocialWork

B_R4dyFW8AAE9PsAs a social worker to my core, I love this year’s theme for Social Work Month, “Social Work Paves the Way for Change” which is why most of us became social workers in the first place. We believe whole-heartedly in the ability of people to change.

As much as I entered this field to try and save the world, over the course of many years it has been incredibly humbling to learn that it is the broken and lost who have provided the inspiration and motivation to continue to serve. In fact, my most precious education and understanding of humanity have been supplied by the countless children, families, elderly, and foster and adoptive parents I have been blessed to know.

In my role, I have the privilege of meeting so many amazing social workers. Each and every one of them continues to take on extremely stressful situations, and dedicate more hours in a day than most people know to protect children and adults and strengthen families. Their work is driven by a mission and commitment that is very much appreciated by those they serve.

Whether it is offering a comforting hug to a hurting child, or simply holding the hand of a 90-year old great-grandmother to let her know that she’s not been forgotten, social workers keep the fabric of our society held together. As a result of their willingness to do this, they serve as the foundation for change.

As a tribute to these remarkable individuals, I wanted to share words from a few of those caseworkers and social workers about why they chose social work, and what keeps them motivated to inspire change, no matter how small, every day.

#YSocialWork - Laura Hughes

#YSocialWork - Kristen Hamilton

If you want to be even more inspired, check out a great Social Work Month social media campaign from Social Work Helper, #YSocialWork, encouraging social workers to use social media to explain why social work matters. Visit the Social Work Helper website to download and print out a campaign sign to write your message. Then post your #YSocialWork message to Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram with the #YSocialWork hashtag.

Or, simply take the time to let the social workers in your community know how much they are appreciated.

Happy Social Work Month!

No Child Left Behind and the Role of School Social Work

It’s no secret a high-quality public education can develop a knowledge base and nurture skill sets within children further maximizing their potential while stabilizing communities and strengthening economies. On January 8, 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was signed in to law by President George W. Bush in an effort to reform public school education.

Although NCLB acknowledges and seeks to close the achievement gap, it unfortunately does not address the systemic barriers that children often face when they live in poverty or oppression. From a social work perspective, high student expectations are essential for academic success, but failure to account for segregation and structural inequalities sets up already disadvantaged schools to fail. Moreover, NCLB does not take community differences or issues of multiculturalism and diversity into account. Even though the research literature available in education has long identified personal and family characteristics as risk factors regarding academic achievement, NCLB does not adequately take these factors into account.

ssw2015School social workers are often assigned to work with students in the at-risk subgroups defined by NCLB, and research demonstrates that by alleviating the social and emotional barriers at-risk students face, it increases their likelihood of being successful in school. NCLB does not mandate interventions to address the many additional barriers to learning that students in at-risk subgroups are likely to face and that contribute to the educational achievement gap.

A new study was published that found if we eliminate the achievement gap in the United States, we can grow our gross domestic product by 10 percent and raise the lifetime earnings of low-wage workers by 22 percent.This study by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth outlines strategies that have worked in other countries to bar achievement gap.  NCLB affects every public school in the United States–with the unified goal of leveling the playing field for students who are disadvantaged including:

• Students in poverty
• Minorities
• Students with learning disabilities
• Students receiving other special education services
• Those who speak and understand limited or no English

NCLB is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with efforts focused on providing equal educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. Therefore, even if a school as a whole seemed to be doing well, it wouldn’t be making enough progress to satisfy the state if a large enough group of minority, disabled or otherwise disadvantaged students missed their targets.

NCLB changed the relationship between the federal government, states, and K-12 schools. The ultimate goal was to make every student proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or disability. States did not reach this goal but Congress has yet to overhaul this law so it is still currently in effect. There’s much more to No Child Left Behind than testing but the testing and accountability provisions have always been the most controversial parts of the law.

There’s a debate centered around the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,a law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his War on Poverty, at its root, was about leveling the playing field for kids. No Child Left Behind, which is the law’s most recent iteration in emphasizing testing, pulled us away from the focus on kids especially those who are poor–as are half of public school students in the United States.

I have found stories from teachers and administrators even more compelling as they reveal the inequities that continue to persist in America’s classrooms. A teacher from Florida wrote, “I work every day to support learning and high expectations for students who are hungry, are homeless, have experienced trauma, and struggle in many ways. … Please, authorize ESEA in a way that provides for the needs of all students, whether they live in an affluent neighborhood, or in my school’s neighborhood.”debate centered around the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,

While the current house bill would make some needed improvements to accountability, it would also lock in recession-driven cuts to education., allowing state and local governments to walk away from their responsibility to maintain funding from year to year. It would also divert money meant to go to urban public schools and give it to wealthier schools.

A recent report released from the White House found that this bill would cap “spending for the next six years at $800 million lower than it was in 2012.” This is happening at a time when child poverty rates are alarmingly high and when Title I — the biggest federal education program — has failed to see any increase since 2012. The report also found that high-poverty districts could lose $700 million, while more-affluent districts could gain $470 million.

The House bill would further harm our most disadvantaged youth. We need a law that gives kids the resources they need, including computers, lower class sizes, nurses, social workers, and counselors, even when their communities can’t afford them. If the American public define success as getting every child able to read and do math by the 2013-14 school year, No Child Left Behind has failed. By 2011, nearly half of all schools nationally weren’t making adequate progress toward proficiency.

Although the data produced in response to NCLB does show some state-by-state decreases in the achievement gap, national indicators reveal that poorer, urban schools and children in at-risk subgroups continue to under perform in comparison both with national averages and with their white and affluent counterparts. Additional studies have found that the new accountability demands imposed by NCLB may unintentionally be widening the achievement gap for at-risk students.

Accountability mechanisms based on test scores can have a disparate impact on schools with larger populations of minority and low-income students. Small schools and those with highly concentrated at-risk and homeless populations, such as schools in urban and rural areas, are also more likely to fail to meet the requirements. In addition, many schools do not start with a level playing field because of scarcity of resources, lack of qualified teachers, and lack of technical ability to fulfill accountability requirements urban schools and children in at-risk subgroups continue to under perform.

For instance, policy stipulations do not address the impact of nutrition, adequate housing, safe communities, or adequate health care on a child’s ability to attend and excel in school beyond implying that even students in difficult situations should be expected to perform academically. When families do not have access to such services and conditions, children are more likely to struggle academically. Personal and family problems such as abuse and a lack of parental supervision are also risk factors for underachievement. In addition, a lack of steady housing or employment is negatively correlated with school success.

The presence of a mental health problem also makes students more likely to underachieve. It is estimated that 20 percent of children have mental health problems severe enough to impede their learning, but only one-fifth of these children receive the services that they need. NCLB does little to address student mental health and its influence on academic success, with the exception of stating that states can apply for federal funds to address student mental health concerns, which aren’t always acknowledged.

Consequently, some scholars have argued that NCLB overlooks the overall well-being of children in schools. Research has identified protective characteristics such as belief in self, determination, independence, and cultural appreciation all help students from disadvantaged settings to excel. However, when schools are focused solely on test scores and a narrow curriculum, it is difficult to utilize the creativity and effort needed to assist students in developing these traits.

As a result, students are not able to tap into resiliency-promoting traits that make them less likely to fall behind academically or to drop out of school. The quality of the school environment is recognized as a major contributor to student learning, yet it is not addressed in NCLB. Positive school environments are those in which students feel supported by adults, have positive peer networks, and feel secure. Conversely, a lack of positive peer networks is a major risk factor for academic underachievement.

When schools foster feelings of self-connectedness, students experience less emotional distress, exhibit fewer violent behaviors, are less likely to use alcohol and other substances, and be less sexually promiscuous. Feelings of alienation and disengagement in middle and high school students leave them at risk for increased truancy and dropout levels. The socio-emotional risk factors outlined in this article pose a large enough threat to student achievement that policies such as NCLB cannot be expected to succeed unless these conditions are adequately addressed. Focusing federal education policies on both academic interventions and those that address these risk factors could be a more effective means for bridging the achievement gap.

However, the good news is that school social workers can take a lead role in helping students to overcome these obstacles and in bringing these policy issues to the forefront. School social workers are in a unique position to intervene on behalf of students at risk and, thus, help ensure their academic success. School social workers are equipped with knowledge of the structural, social, and emotional barriers to learning, especially for vulnerable students.

They can help reduce the achievement gap by working within the current system of educational reform by educating school staff members about the impact of poverty and racism on students’ ability to perform in the classroom and helping school systems to become more culturally competent in their interactions with students by assisting them in broadening the range of multicultural education.

Examples of ways that these issues can be addressed directly in schools include holding regular in-service sessions for staff, establishing a committee to address the needs of students, making connections with community resources and agencies to help families in need of employment, health care, housing, clothing, and other basic needs.

Social workers can assess students for mental health problems, substance abuse problems, and problems in the home environment. They can also offer school-based interventions to begin to overcome these obstacles. For example, research has described successful school-based interventions such as Positive Behavior Support (PBS) and Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) that improve behavior and social functioning for at-risk students and facilitate meaningful mentoring relationships to increase attendance and classroom engagement.

The creation of school-based health and mental health centers can help students and their families receive comprehensive health care, individual or family counseling, and other vital services that may improve academic performance. More importantly, school social workers must monitor the impact of their services on academic achievement which will support how school social work services improve academic functioning and decrease the risk of dropout for at-risk students. It will also demonstrate to teachers, administrators, and policymakers how social and emotional problems contribute to the achievement gap and how social interventions can help to eliminate this problem.

The development and implementation of programs addressing bullying, peer mediation, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and other fundamental school issues are also relevant to promoting academic success. In addition, it is important for school social workers to understand the amount of stress that policies such as NCLB place on teachers. School social workers should offer support to teachers and help them to more successfully tackle their classroom concerns especially for at-risk students. Addressing barriers to learning enhances students’ ability to focus more on academics and positive interaction.

School Social Workers are best situated to advocate for education policy change that looks beyond test scores to the multidisciplinary best practices that help at-risk students succeed in school. Additionally, school social workers can address resource inequalities, school segregation, and the impact of NCLB at the macro and mezzo level.

Its current state, NCLB is not working. Social Workers must advocate for policy improvements by addressing the impact ethnicity, poverty, and inadequate school resources have on academic achievement. As members of a profession that focuses on social and emotional barriers to change, we have a unique perspective to lend to policymakers regarding both the strengths and the flaws of NCLB.

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