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When people think of careers in education, they often assume teaching is the only option.

While teaching is certainly an important and rewarding career, there are plenty of alternative roles within the industry.

The education sector hires many professionals, from security officers and administrative personnel to social workers and catering staff. With varying skills required, it takes a diverse range of staff to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education in a safe and supportive school environment.

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What do school social workers do?

School social workers are mental health professionals who work to promote the well-being of students and staff to enhance the school environment. While a school social worker’s job description can vary from one position to another, most school social workers provide emotional support, behavioral intervention, classroom assistance, and mental health support.

In addition, school social workers will often work cohesively with teachers, school districts, and families to address various issues. A range of external factors influences students’ academic performance, so they must have access to a range of professionals. If students are experiencing upheaval at home, for example, it may be reflected in their behavior in class or their attainment at school.

By providing individual therapy and group therapy for students, school social workers have a direct impact on a student’s well-being. As a result, they can assist students in dealing with troubling issues and help to resolve a range of scenarios, such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, issues at home, and unrecognized youth carers.

Furthermore, school social workers enable students to confide in someone about their worries. Whatever concerns a student may have, they can discuss them with a social worker in school and access the support, guidance, reassurance and help they need.

Why are there social workers in school?

Social workers work in various environments, so it is not unusual for them to operate within the education sector. Being a school social worker is a specialized social work profession.

Today’s teachers often find that non-academic issues affect student behavior and performance. If a child is acting out, for example, it may disrupt the class and prevent effective learning. By having a school social worker present, teachers can ask for assistance and intervention when they believe it’s needed.

As a result, the individual student will be able to access help, and the teacher will be able to continue teaching effectively. Of course, this benefits the class as a whole, as their learning experience is no longer being disrupted.

What is social work in a school?

There are many instances of social work in school, so most parents and students will interact with a school social worker at some point.

When liaising with parents directly, for example, school social workers may:

  • Identify and alleviate family stress
  • Help students to confide in their parents
  • Offer behavior modification techniques that can be used at home
  • Direct parents to a range of services and programs available to them
  • Help parents to access the help they are entitled to
  • Assist families in managing school transitions
  • Encourage families to use the school support services which are available

When working directly with students, social workers in school may:

  • Provide individual and group therapy
  • Implement intervention strategies
  • Help with conflict resolution
  • Assist in the classroom
  • Provide crisis intervention
  • Offer anger management strategies
  • Enhance social interactions and social skills
  • Increase acceptance
  • Promote confidence

Additional tasks which come under a school social worker job description may include:

  • Liaising between staff and students
  • Implementing individual student arrangements to facilitate academic success
  • Taking part in special education meetings
  • Addressing external issues which may affect behavior in school and academic performance.
  • Assisting in developing school policies and strategies
  • Offering support to school staff
  • Assessing students and identifying potential mental health issues
  • Securing community resources to assist students
  • Coordinating services with community resource providers
  • Developing programs for students who are unable to thrive in a classroom environment
  • Acting as a case manager for families who require intervention and assistance from a range of resources
  • Implementing programs for students with exceptional abilities
  • Advocating for enhanced services and funding
  • Providing information regarding school policy and school law, including Section 504 and IDEA

As you can see, the duties of a school social worker are broad and far-reaching. While school social workers frequently work directly with students, parents, and caregivers, they also play a role in shaping school policies and accessing appropriate funding.

The varied nature of the role appeals to many people, particularly those who recognize the impact a student’s schooling has on them academically, emotionally, and socially. In addition, many professionals are eager to specialize in school social work to improve the education sector and ensure every student has access to the necessary resources and support.

Becoming a school social worker

Most people choose to specialize in school social work after qualifying and gaining experience as a social worker. A bachelor’s degree is typically required, and many school social workers will have studied social work, sociology, or psychology at a degree level.

However, the requirements to qualify as a school social worker vary from state to state. In some states, you may be required to have completed a master’s level course in social work, while others may require you to have valid licensure as a social worker. In addition, school social workers may choose to enhance their credentials with additional programs, such as the Certified School Work Specialist course offered by the National Association of Social Workers.

Despite the importance of social workers in schools, many districts are experiencing a shortage of qualified school social workers. This highlights the potential employment opportunities available for recently qualified social workers or people considering a career in the education sector.

As well as being a rewarding and fulfilling career option for the individual, becoming a school social worker ensures you will be helping your school community and society as a whole.