Guest Editorial: School social workers benefit whole community
My name is Lana Schultz-Julin, a Perham High School alumna (1986) and current Licensed School Social Worker for the Perham-Dent School District.
I have worked for the district since August 2001, when hired along with two other school social workers. I am now the only remaining one.
I truly enjoy my job, as it allows me to work with many students, families, school staff and community members.
Those who knew me in my school days know that advocacy for my schoolmates, school and community was practically my middle name. This continues today through my work at Prairie Wind Middle School.
One of my primary roles is to establish and sustain a positive and safe school climate that promotes healthy relationships, school connectedness and dropout prevention.
I would like to share the following information regarding my profession, as this week, March 2-8, has been recognized by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton as School Social Work Week. The information is from “Understanding the Scope of Practice of Minnesota School Social Workers,” the 2013 position paper of the Minnesota School Social Workers Association.
I have been a member of this state association for the past 11 years, and have been an active board member serving Region 9 school social workers for the past nine years.
School social workers have the unique training, knowledge and expertise to address the mental health needs of children within the school environment, and they are the vital link between the school, home and community.
School social workers are educated to understand the interplay of systems and the impact those systems have on academic achievement. School social work is grounded in the foundation of evidence-based research and practices, which ensure that interventions implemented by school social workers help students be physically and emotionally ready to learn.
While the roles and responsibilities of school social workers may vary significantly based on needs of the students, school social workers operate under a scope of practice dependent upon their education, training, and level of licensure. All school social workers possess core competencies and skills that can be expected regardless of level of licensure obtained.
Licensed School Social Workers in Minnesota are dually licensed by the state department of education’s Board of Teaching and Board of Social Work.
All school social workers provide evidence-based interventions to help students address barriers to learning by using an ecological perspective. This perspective views the students within the context of their classroom, family, community and culture.
School social workers are equipped to understand and assess the educational, social, emotional and behavioral functioning of individual students within the context of multiple environments. Often, a school social worker focuses on providing service to people in the context of their social environments. This means that the social worker does not simply focus on a student who is struggling, but also considers the environmental causes (home situation, peer interactions, neighborhood conditions, classroom climate, etc.) of student behavior. This holistic approach also considers what effect the student has on others, such as other students, teachers and parents.
Though not an exhaustive list, the following activities provide examples of what a general social worker might do in a school:
-Conduct assessments and screenings to determine levels of service or referrals needed for students.
-Help families find resources to meet basic needs such as food or clothing.
-Advocate for student rights by helping families understand educational mandates and opportunities.
-Examine student performance, referrals to special education, and data specific to the achievement gap for students of color to identify the impact of racism and culture on academic outcomes and work to implement culturally responsive practices.
-Help parents create a discipline program to develop a bedtime routine so as to improve a student’s ability to concentrate in school.
-Refer a family to a counseling center to deal with personal issues.
-Locate services for a homeless family and assist families to access those services.
-Provide short-term individual or group counseling services to help a student increase organizational skills, manage anger, or get along with others.
-Help a group of students with difficulties in peer interactions.
-Help a teacher re-structure a class to better meet a student’s needs.
-Implement a school-wide bullying prevention curriculum or a project to improve respect among students.
-Provide in-service trainings on reporting child abuse, cultural competence, or the effect of trauma on a child’s learning.
-Consult with teachers, administrators, and staff including classroom observations, teacher consultation, case conferences, and meeting with administration regarding program needs.
In conclusion, school social workers are highly qualified to offer comprehensive approaches that not only address the social and emotional needs of students but also benefit the entire school community.