Crucial role of school social workers highlighted March 7-13

March 9, 2021

This year, the governor’s proclamation designates March 7-13, as School Social Work week in Delaware.

The School Social Workers Association of Delaware would like to share with Delawareans the important role of social workers in school districts, and what we do for students and families in the schools and communities. Typically, social worker roles are understood in the context of hospitals, nonprofits, military, state and local governments, etc., but exactly what role do we play in your child’s school?

Now more than ever, with the pandemic, financial uncertainty, and civil unrest, our students and families face greater adversities. School social workers are on the front lines every day playing a vital role in schools, providing direct and indirect services to students, families, staff, and the school community.

This year’s national theme for School Social Work Week 2021 is Beacon of Hope: School Social Workers – Lighting the Way. In our role, we are able to light the way, emphasizing the whole child, collaborating with other professionals, linking students and families with needed services, and advocating for our profession. We work closely with teachers, administrators, parents, and other educators to provide coordinated interventions and consultation designed to promote student success in school and offer hope.

While students are in school during the pandemic, whether in-person or remote, school social workers are providing critical services. As families are struggling with basic needs, lack of food, income, internet services, ability to pay rent, and mental health needs, school social workers are being relied upon for their expertise, knowledge, and relationships with local communities to link families to resources.

Social isolation, dramatic changes in routine, and uncertainty about the future create stress for families. These challenges are magnified by lack of access to mental health care. These unmet needs can impact student engagement and interrupt learning. By providing access and connection to tele-mental health services, school social workers are addressing the social and emotional needs of students.

School social workers are supporting teachers and staff by ensuring they are involved in district wellness and self-care plan teams. While the impact on students can be more obvious, teachers and staff are struggling too. The stress from having to abruptly learn and transition to a new online teaching platform can impact their physical and mental health. As teachers engage their students, they are listening to their struggles, seeing signs of neglect and abuse, and worried when students are not getting on consistently or at all. Teachers could possibly experience vicarious trauma and need support to effectively respond to and support students.

With students not engaged in remote learning or not showing up, and students who are showing up, but are struggling with motivation and engaging in assignments, school social workers play another essential role. Using a Multi-tiered Systems of Support approach, they are versed in engaging students in community (tier 1), family and group (tier 2), and individualized (tier 3) interventions to support and re-engage these lost students.

Additionally, school social workers are making lasting impacts in the areas of mental health and advocacy because of their specialized clinical training and education in systems navigation. Many families and educators will experience the loss of someone they know and love. Many students will also grieve the loss of rituals such as prom, graduations, and simply being with their friends, compounded by the intense social isolation. Each of these instances can carry over into schools long after the pandemic has passed. These enduring effects must be treated with a trauma-informed approach that school social workers are trained in, and leaders in implementing nationally. They have the education and training in crisis intervention and postvention, and the skills to help students affected by trauma, poverty, and mental health issues.

With the timely reintroduction of House Bill 100 – sponsored by Sens. Valerie Longhurst and Marie Pinkney, which establishes more mental health units for Delaware elementary schools at the ratio of 1 to 250 students, the timeliness of highlighting the important work of school social workers is appropriate and crucial.

As school social workers across the nation have the opportunity to come together to provide advocacy for the profession this week, we hope you’ve learned more about what we do and why we must prioritize mental health support if we expect our students to truly recover and regain skills from the lost in-class instruction time. Delaware schools and educational staff are facing a challenge unlike anything in our history, and by coming together as a community and focusing on the whole child, we will create an education system that is better able to meet the needs of all students.

Gloria L. Ho, LCSW, is school social worker at Milton Elementary School/Cape Henlopen School District and co-president, School Social Workers Association of Delaware.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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