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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.)

Legacy Comments7

Hurrah for Ms. Johnson and congrats to Pittsfield for its insight.

It's very simple: schools must now do all these things as well as teach because so many parents are absent, inept or don't care.

And every one of those absent, inept or indifferent parents will champ at the bit to retain an "advocate" who will harass the school until it is forced to provide the support that the parents can't or won't.

BINGO! Just like folks who's first action is to sue a school instead of holding their kid accountable for their actions. This is because they are aware on some level, of their ineptitude as parents and feel guilty about it. But, rather than face up to their own shortcomings, they will instead channel their anger at themselves into hatred of the teacher, the administration, etc, etc and use it to fuel their own personal litigious crusade against the school.

But let me state that I am grateful that most of the parents I see re not like this. They ARE good parents and DO hold their kids accountable. A person's most precious possession is their child. When you're in the business of sharing the duty of caring for the communities children with their parents - things can get ugly.

I don't see that in my school system. Yes, there may be a few kids with issues but I don't see an epidemic. Mainstreaming of students is also an issue and it drains resources. As far as parents not be responsible, let's place blame for that squarely where it belongs, a poor economy, moral relativism replacing faith and belief is something bigger than the here and now and just excusing behaviors which lead to a lack of responsibility in society in general. It is called liberalism. Parents, however are so absorbed in themselves that many children DO, in fact, suffer.

Re: "It is called liberalism". I disagree. I think if you examine the root causes for what you describe as a lack of responsibility, it's due to what's being called the "Great Dismantling". For more than 3 decades, the middle class has been shrinking, inflation-adjusted wages have remained stagnant. We've stopped investing in our future--things like universal kindergarten and preschool, more challenging academic programs for our gifted, infrastructure and technology R&D investment--things our competitors and allies offer their citizens. For more than 30 years, we've listened to the siren song of those who claim the market will take care of everything. We now know how that has worked out--bubble economies, a growing plutocracy that didn't happen as the result of "the best of all possible worlds" but instead is the result of weakened labor laws, tax policies that favor the wealthy, and the failure to adequately protect our manufacturing base. Strong families need a strong economy. That requires an investment in society--not just in individuals.

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