As millions of preK-12 students return to school that will be largely virtual this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a national study of school social workers (SSWs) highlights the need to address hunger, housing instability, health, mental health and other challenges that a high proportion of students are experiencing, especially low-income students..
The study, “Opening Schools Safely in the COVID-19 Era: School Social Workers Experiences and Recommendations, Research Brief for Policy Makers,” underscores the urgent need for a coordinated and comprehensive response from federal and state policymakers and national educational leaders to address the needs of students during this crisis.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) conducted the study together with researchers from Loyola University Chicago, UCLA, Cal State-Fullerton, and Hebrew University. Almost 1,300 school social workers participated in the study, most of whom work for schools with a high proportion of low-income students. It was conducted during the spring public school closure period.
SSWs have long played a crucial role in addressing student’s mental health and social care needs so they can succeed educationally. They are the liaison connecting students and vital community resources, expert contributors in school interdisciplinary teams of teachers, administrators, and other professionals, and provide essential services in school crises.
Among the findings, study respondents reported:
- Limited to no contact with some of their students when schools were operating virtually, due to a variety of barriers including students’ unaddressed social care needs, including lack of sufficient access to technology.
- Significant concerns about the challenges in the engagement of the students with whom they did work.
- Profound and urgent social care needs among students, including food insufficiency (62.4 percent), housing instability (42.8 percent), health issues (61.6 percent), individualized student tutoring disruption (62.3 percent), and mental health challenges (75.7 percent).
The study also reveals the effectiveness of SSWs in meeting these unprecedented challenges, whether through the creative use of technology or in connecting students to resources to address their basic needs. But a high-performing, skilled SSW workforce alone is not sufficient. Comprehensive reinvestment in the nation’s social safety net is essential in ensuring that students can grow, develop and succeed academically.Read the Report