The role of school social workers has continually been fragmented and determined by the context in which they work as well as policy changes at the federal. School social work has evolved over the past 100 years from enforcing mandatory school attendance in 1918 to providing emotional support for children and families beginning in the 1930s. New and changing educational legislation surrounding early childhood education and education of children with disabilities recently led to the expansion of school social work. Moreover, contemporary roles also include an emphasis on marginalized children by calling for school social workers to address violence in schools and to influence education policy.
Role development is a combination of both a social worker’s skills and the perception of the employment setting. However, because the school social worker’s role has not been prominent in Louisiana, the school’s perception of the social worker’s role tends to take precedence over the social worker’s skills and training. The lack of knowledge that schools and school districts possess about what tasks a social worker performs in a school setting, such as the case in Louisiana, has created a variety of role definitions. Consequently, school social workers often find themselves unsure about their role in schools and how their role corresponds with requirements of the laws and ethical standards governing school social work practice. A lack of uniformity in state and national role definition contributes to the role ambiguity among school social workers, with potential consequences for their job satisfaction, performance, and ability to advocate for the profession.
In a recent issue of the journal Children and Schools, Laura A. Richard, PhD, LCSW, and Leticia Villarreal Sosa, PhD, LCSW, publish their findings on a study they conducted to examine the role of school social workers in Louisiana. Results of the analysis led to a consistent role definition in Louisiana and the development of a conceptual practice model. This conceptual model and role definition has implications for school social workers’ ability to advocate for their positions, provide accountability for their work, and guide the training and education of school social workers.
Louisiana, like many other states, has defined a role for school social workers: to “provide services to a student and his family to assist the student to make satisfactory emotional and social adjustment in the school environment to enhance their academic progress” (Louisiana Department of Education [LDOE], 2010). Though defined, actual practice roles incorporated in this definition are lacking, leading to questions regarding the exact practice role, and uncertain, ambiguous, or overzealous role definitions by school districts in Louisiana. Research is needed to collect reliable and valid information about school social work practice to support the development of state and national standards that guide practice and policy. Louisiana has taken steps in that direction by surveying the population of school social workers in the state. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of school social workers in Louisiana; the data were used in combination with the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services (NASW, 2002, 2012) to develop a conceptual model of practice for Louisiana school social workers.
The study used information gathered from a statewide survey of Louisiana school social workers to establish a consistent role definition and conceptual model for the practice of school social work in Louisiana. Information was gathered concerning:
- Practice Roles
- Credentials and Job Titles
- Identified Needs of Changing Roles
The results of the Louisiana school social work survey combined with the general standards in the 2012 NASW Standards for School Social Work Services provided a conceptual classification of school social work practice in Louisiana into four major areas: supervision of other social workers, macro-practice encompassing school- or district-wide program design and management, micro-practice including individual and group mental health treatment or behavior intervention, and special education evaluation and evaluation coordination. This model provides a framework in which to understand the scope of the roles of school social workers in Louisiana, regardless of job title or practice context. The model is outlined in detail in the article.