The Evolution of School Social Work Services in an Urban School District

Oct 9, 2015

sb10069478b-001How do school districts go about implementing social work services for their students? In search for an answer to this question, researchers Robert Henry Ayasse, MSW, and Susan I. Stone, PhD, have published their findings from a case study of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), in the October 2015 issue of the journal Children and Schools. The case study is important, the authors note, because:

  • While social work and related services in schools have historically been difficult to fund and sustain, there is surprisingly little scholarship describing how and under what conditions school social work programming emerges and grows over time.
  • Although school social workers are well-positioned to play leadership roles in the development and sustainment of collaborative programming, there is a dearth of literature documenting the nature of these roles.
  • There is a resurgent interest in how schools can serve as key hubs to harness community resources to meet the unique needs of students and families within the context of varying local, state, and federal resource configurations.

In August 2012, SFUSD initiated the process of retitling employees known as “learning support professionals” to “school social workers”. This process marked a transition from a patchwork of services unevenly distributed across schools to a comprehensive and integrated approach to services delivery and a distinct recognition of the unique role and contribution of school social workers. How did SFUSD reach this point?

Ayasse and Stone outline and elaborate on several steps in the process:

  • Student need and funding streams as catalysts for expanded services
  • City involvement
  • Proactive grant proposal development
  • Advocacy for social work positions
  • Community-perceived need
  • Support for the educational mission
  • Consequences for professional preparation
  • Evaluation as a priority

The authors point out that, “stable funding and powerful advocates are crucial to the sustainment of social work services. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that stable funding and advocacy are sufficient conditions.”

They point out that such things as collaboration with university partners, the development of well-articulated goals, and strategic collaborative orientations already in place from earlier programs assisted in the process. Though the authors call for more research, this article is a valuable addition to understanding the process for implementing a robust school social work program in an urban school district.

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