Overworked and Stretched Thin: Burnout and Systemic Failure in School Social Work

Jul 17, 2023

Children and Schools journal

“Overworked and Stretched Thin”: Burnout and Systemic Failure in School Social Work by Stephanie L. Carnes (Children & Schools, July 2023)

The effects of burnout on client service provision, organizational health, and individual well-being are increasingly a focus of social work research, particularly against the societal backdrop of the post-COVID-19 era. Children and their families rely on school social workers (SSWs) to meet increasingly pressing and common mental health needs. However, burnout may jeopardize not only SSWs’ well-being, but also their collective ability to serve this vulnerable population.

This article in the journal Children & Schools showcases the findings of a study on SSW burnout. This study captures SSW perspectives on burnout related to the following themes:

  • SSW–administrator dynamics;
  • role conflict and lack of role definition;
  • presence of trauma in caseload;
  • systemic challenges (including the subthemes of unrealistic workload, the desire for more interprofessional collaboration and social work–specific supervision, and limited resources); and
  • the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using these perspectives as a guide, policy recommendations are made to enhance interprofessional collaboration, clarify roles and responsibilities, and safeguard SSWs as “first responders” for children’s mental health.

The author writes:

“Advocacy is a crucial aspect of the social work profession, and social workers are frequently powerful agents of change for social justice. However, social workers must find ways to fine-tune this ability to advocate not only for client needs, but also for themselves as individuals and for the profession more broadly. As advocates, SSWs must endeavor to use their collective voice to initiate policy change, ultimately advancing the profession.”


Stephanie L. Carnes, PhD, LCSW, immigrant student mental health specialist and former school social worker

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