School social workers relevant to student well-being, success

Sep 17, 2015

A school social worker is generally employed to help students academically and behaviorally, so they can succeed in the classroom and beyond.

But the role goes beyond that, as school social workers can wear many hats, said Sharon Dietsche, a senior practice associate at NASW.

“A school social worker in this position may help a student with everything from buying alarm clocks so the student can get to class on time, dealing with issues of adequate housing, talking to a student’s family, and having one-on-one sessions,” she said. “The role is not always clearly defined, but it’s vital when it comes to a student’s overall well-being and success, inside and outside of school.”

NASW has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the School Social Work Association of America, and Dietsche said the two organizations are working together to develop best practices for current school social workers and to strengthen the school social work workforce.

“School is where a child starts to gradually learn and prepare for the adult world,” she said. “The better their success in school — both academically and emotionally — the more successful they will be after they leave school.”

School social work positions have seen cuts in the last few years, largely due to budget constraints that vary in different school districts, said Myrna Mandlawitz, policy director and lobbyist for SSWAA.

Social workers often are not seen as instrumental to a student’s success, and are the first positions to go when financial cuts occur, she said. Usually it’s assumed that other roles, such as school guidance counselors, psychologists and nurses, can fill in the gap instead.

However, she added, school social workers have a specific skill set and can delve into issues the other positions may not have the time or training for.

“We are seeing many more kids in school now who have more significant needs than we’ve ever seen before — from family issues to physical health problems,” Mandlawitz said. “Life is more stressful than it used to be, and there are greater levels of anxiety.”

The more school social workers we have, the more student success we’ll see, she added.

From the September 2015 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story here.

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