My Turn: School social workers to the rescue
The complaint has been made so often, it’s become a cliche: Schools are asked to do too much. Teachers feel like social workers. Guidance counselors are overwhelmed. Administrators try to deal with students who don’t do homework, skip classes and have hours of unsupervised time after school to fight, hurt themselves or plan ways to disrupt schools and communities.
Why can’t schools just teach? Why must the job always be bigger? Assessments and No Child Left Behind are powerful incentives for students and schools to get down to business, but they do nothing to address the greater challenge of reform: helping students actually learn.
We want test scores raised and we want kids to stop dropping out, but kids are coming to school with abuse histories, not properly clothed or fed, and with unaddressed medical histories. Schools alone have never been able to deal with these social issues effectively. It is time for them to employ partners with experience and expertise. Helping families with problems will help students do better in school. Students who function well socially are apt to perform better academically.
As a school social worker having provided this needed service to an area school district for the past 28 years, I am most interested in reaching out to youth who may be struggling for a variety of reasons such as poverty, mental illness, behavioral concerns, violence in the home, substance abuse and learning disabilities. We know these students are more likely to not experience school success, are at risk of dropping out, may be involved with law enforcement and generally are not able to benefit from a relationship with a caring adult, including teachers.
By providing active targeted intervention services, school social workers promote academic achievement, positive mental health and a more positive school climate. Many students require intensive support to be successful academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally. Teachers, administrators, coaches and guidance counselors could benefit from school social workers to understand the familial, cultural and community components of students’ responses to instruction. Most important, a social worker can act as a school-home liaison for the community and stakeholders to ensure ongoing and open dialogue.
I encourage school boards all over the state to strongly consider the addition of school liaison that has a social work background as a complement to the guidance department. Schools in New Hampshire should strive to reach all youth from our community and remove barriers for success by providing a critical link for families and students in crisis.
(Jane M. Johnson of Pittsfield is a certified school social worker.)