Social workers within school settings work closely with students, staff members, and parents in order to help students overcome social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that interfere with academic success. School social workers are an integral part of the academic system, and extensive training and education is required to enter into this profession.
Social Work in the School Environment
Social workers are an important of the education system at all levels, and positions are found in primary, secondary, and even some post-secondary institutions. School social workers must also have knowledge of various developmental, social and economic, and special education needs in order to best meet the needs of all students.
School social workers observe students in and out of classrooms, provide both individual and group counseling services, provide crisis prevention and intervention, advocate for students and parents, educate parents, provide social services information, and give referrals for various social services programs. By incorporating assessments of behaviors, counseling, collaboration with teachers and other staff members, and working with community and social resources, school social workers identify issues and develop plans for individual students.
Acquiring skills in research, group communication, interpersonal communication, empathy, problem solving, and understanding of human behavior and relationships is essential for school social workers. For additional information on school social work, visit the National Association of Social Workers "Areas of Practice" section at http://www.naswdc.org/practice/school/default.asp.
An Undergraduate Degree in Social Work
For the majority of primary and secondary positions, a bachelor's degree in social work is the most common requirement for education. In the social work discipline, students will complete courses in human growth and development, social welfare policy, small group theory, social welfare policy and practice, organizational theory and practice, community behavior, and child development.
Students also have to take a set number of credit hours in elective courses within the social work discipline. Examples of electives include case management, human rights, statistical reasoning, child abuse and neglect, working with families, crisis intervention, and grief and loss counseling. For most programs, students will also be required to complete a field practicum. Through the tailoring of electives and field practicum, undergraduate students have an opportunity to better prepare for the school environment.
Graduate Degrees in Social Work
In some school districts, a master's degree may be required for social work positions. Students in graduate programs for social work include advanced courses such as social work practice and complex cases, integrative learning, the social environment and human behavior, clinical intervention with children and adolescents, advanced family theory, and merging policy and planning for education.
Programs also often include specializations in various aspects of social services. Options might include social and business, families and children, mental health, community organizations, health care, and planning and administration. For additional information on accredited undergraduate and graduate programs in social work, see the information at the Council on Social Work Education at http://www.cswe.org/Accreditation/Accredited-Programs.aspx.
A bachelor's degree in social work is the starting point for beginning a career as a school social worker. With the curriculum in a social work undergraduate program, future social workers are well prepared for the various situations and people they will be working with in primary or secondary schools.