School social worker

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School social workers are one of the three professional pupil services groups that provide counseling services to children and adolescents in schools in the United States. School social workers have worked in schools for over 100 years and are recognized in a majority of U.S. states and several foreign countries. Most school social workers hold a Master of Social Work degree and have specialized training in helping students within the context of local schools.

Historical highlights[edit]

School social work has an extensive history, dating to 1906-07, when it was established in New York, Boston, Chicago and New Haven, CT. At its inception, school social workers were known, among other things, as advocates for equity and fairness as well as home visitors. The expansion of school social work services was encouraged by a number of factors. By 1900 over two-thirds of the states had compulsory attendance laws and by 1918, each state had passed compulsory attendance laws, making school attendance obligatory, and not simply a privilege. Child labor legislation, the Progressive Movement which saw social work efforts initiated in the schools, and community settlement programs also led to its growth. A 1917 study of Truancy in Chicago supported “findings that the need for school attendance officers who understood the social ills of the community” and school social workers were best equipped for that responsibility (Allen-Meares, 1996, p. 25). Mary Richmond, one of the founding mothers of social work, devoted an entire chapter to the visiting teacher in her 1922 book on What is Social Casework? The testing movement influenced school social work growth as well. Through the testing movement, educators were gaining knowledge about individual differences, underscoring the need for some children to attend school, children whose social conditions related to their test scores. Lastly during this time, leaders in the field like Sophonisba P. Breckenridge, expressed concerns of how school and education would relate to future success and happiness, and expressed the need to connect school and home in order to relate to the needs of children.

In the 1920s, the mental hygiene movement was concerned with treating nervous disorders and behavioral problems in difficult children. In the 1930s, like school counseling, school social work also declined. From the 1940-1960 casework in schools had become an established specialty, the profession began to emphasize collaboration and communication with teachers and others school personnel. Now the school social worker was an expert who could help schools on psychosocial issues.

School social workers were affected by governmental reforms and education research. In the 1960s, pupil-personnel laws called for a greater emphasis by school social workers on the development of school policies. Like school counselors, social workers were now called upon to address student needs while also addressing the sources of student troubles within the school. In the 1970s, school social work services were officially recognized by the U.S. passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children's Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142), renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990. In the latter part of the 1970s, inflation was rising at an alarming rate and budget cuts threatened the profession of school social work, especially as many social workers were being replaced by other school personnel claiming similar roles. The National Association of Social Work (NASW) published a newsletter to bring attention to the issue and get responses from practitioners. Through this, NASW conducted research and replicated the findings of others' studies on the roles of school social workers and models of practice, and school social work continued to expand. In the 1980s, this led to NASW giving more attention to the profession and more service to meet the needs of this social work group. NASW participation in the profession eventually led to a school social worker credential in 1992—the first time the School Social Work Credential Exam was given. From then until now, there has been a trend of integrative collaborative services. (Allen-Meares et al., 1996) In July 1994, driven by a need for more specific services for school social workers, a group of about 64 school social workers from across the country met in Edwardsville, IL. The group decided to form the School Social Work Association of America and drafted the first constitution and by-laws for the organization. In June 2009 a second national organization incorporated, the American Council for School Social Work, after reviewing the direction of the profession and concluding that a stronger, enhanced national voice would benefit the profession.

Theoretical framework and services[edit]

Traditional model[edit]

School social work is structured around a range of ever expanding practice models. Alderson first described these as the traditional-clinical model; the school change model whose major focus was the dysfunctional conditions of the school; the community school model which urged school social workers to employ community organization methods; and the social interaction model which de-emphasized a specific methodology and required the worker to intervene with the systems interacting with the target system. While many school social workers use an approach that draws on components from all of these, the traditional model, focusing on working with students with social and emotional difficulties and their parents, continues to predominate. In the clinical model, school social workers work primarily through casework methods supplemented by group methods with students and family members. In today's practice, a greater emphasis is placed on evidence based and promising intervention methods (Raines, 2008).

School-community-pupil relations model[edit]

Of all the models, this one, first articulated by Lela Costin, seems to be the most comprehensive. It focuses on the school, community, and student and the interactions among the three. In this model, school social workers serves as mediators, negotiators, consultants, and advocates for students and school personnel, listening to student grievances. They also set up informal groups for students, teachers, and other school personnel. This model also encompasses the evaluation by the school social worker of characteristics of students, the school, and community conditions that may affect the availability and quality of educational opportunities for target groups (students with chemical dependency, disabilities, and so on). They are grounded in social learning theory and systems theory.

The role of school social workers continues to expand as the knowledge-base, recognition of opportunities to address student need, and the level of student need grows. Two examples of this role expansion include functional behavior assessment, an efficient, empirically - supported, and amenable approach to undesirable school behavior that can be accomplished in a classroom collaboration model with teachers (e.g. Waller, 2008) and a leadership role in helping schools become foundational in promoting the mental health of children and adolescents in a manner similar to that role that schools already play in promoting physical health (Waller, 2012).

Education and training[edit]

States regulate school social work practice in different ways. Approximately 33 jurisdictions license or certify school social workers. Most require a master's degree in social work (MSW), but a smaller number of states also license Bachelors of Social Work (holders of the BSW degree). The National Association of Social Workers with 150,000 members also offers a Specialty Certificate in school social work but this is not required for employment in the schools.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the national accrediting body for social work education at the BSW and MSW levels. It specifies foundational social work program components, but social work specialties areas are defined by the individual accredited MSW programs. "Social work education is grounded in the liberal arts and contains a coherent, integrated professional foundation in social work practice from which an advanced practice curriculum is built at the graduate level." (CSWE, Educational Programs and Accreditation Standards, For a list of BSW and MSW programs accredited by the Council visit their web site. Other specialties in social work may include policy, planning, administration, and a range of practice areas including child and family services, health, mental health, and aging.

Associations, Code of Ethics & Literature[edit]

School Social Work Association of America [1]

National Association of Social Workers, USA [2] has provided a model code of ethics for school social work professionals

American Council for School Social Work [3]

School social work journals have been published across the globe. The oldest and largest is the School Social Work Journal sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Social Workers from Illinois, USA [4] Another is the Journal of School Social Work(JSSW) from Chennai, India [5]

School Social Work printed books are also available School Social Work: Practice, Policy, And Research by Massat, Constable, McDonald, & Flynn [6]. There are many books published [7]

See also[edit]


  • Alderson, J. J. (1972). Models of school social work practice. In R. C. Sarri & F. F. Maple (Eds.). The school in the community. (pp. 57–74). Washington, D.C.: NASW
  • Allen-Meares, P., Washington, R. O., & Welsh, B. L. (1996). Social work services in schools. 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Costin, L. B. (1969). An analysis of the tasks in school social work. Social Service Review, 43, 274-285.
  • Raines, J. C. (2008). Evidence-based practice in school mental health. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Richmond, M.E. (1922). What is social casework? An introductory description. NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. (n.d.). MSW program of study. Retrieved on November 25, 2003, from
  • Waller, R. J. (2008). The concise teacher's guide to functional behavioral assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • Waller, R. J. (2012). Mental health promotion in schools Volume I: Foundations. Bentham Science ebooks.
  • Ward, B.R. (April 1995). The school's role in the prevention of youth suicide. [Electronic version]. Social work in education, 17(2) 92-101.

External links[edit]