Public schools have numerous personnel who serve students and help the school to run effectively. School social workers are critical members of the educational team, as they go to the source of problems that students are experiencing and work with the student, school and family to remedy them. For many families, the school social worker is the person who is first in line for information about issues that affect a child's learning.
Education and Experience
A school social worker must have a master’s degree in social work. School social workers must also obtain their state’s credentials to work in a public school. This often consists of taking a qualifying test. Some schools may also require experience working in a school environment.
A school social worker has a wide range of responsibilities. He must have excellent time-management and organizational skills to effectively perform all duties. A school social worker may find that the demands of the job frequently exceed the amount of time allotted. A school social worker works with students, families and teachers to solve problems relating to student achievement and mental health. The individual should also be prepared to manage crisis situations as they arise, and can expect to be on call for such crises. He must be familiar with social service agencies in the community so that students and their families can be connected to the appropriate services. (Many schools require the school social worker to provide individual and group counseling to students and their families. He frequently will serve as a professional resource for school staff, who may seek his counsel on coping with a student’s abnormal behavior or request training on an issue that affects students, such as family abuse or drugs. A school social worker often must make home visits and should feel comfortable working with people from all ethnic and economic backgrounds. A school social worker can expect to participate in the creation of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), serving as an advocate for the students. He will also be required to serve on committees, such as those established to draft school improvement plans, intervention programs and other programmatic changes. Completion and maintenance of paperwork is also a requirement. A school social worker must maintain clinical records on his case management services, which includes documenting home visits, counseling sessions and other services.
A school social worker must have exceptional interpersonal skills as she must interact with a wide variety of personalities every day. She should be flexible, as her day will never be predictable. She needs to possess good public speaking skills, as she is sometimes called upon to conduct staff training sessions or participate on community panels. Computer proficiency is required for a school social worker. She must use word processing software, spreadsheet software and database software proficiently. She should possess Internet research skills.
Kathy Armenta, clinical associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, points out that school social workers can play a key role in helping to increase the resiliency of the students with whom they work. Resilient individuals demonstrate three traits—interpersonal connectivity, a feeling of personal validation and the certainty that their opinions are valued. Armenta points out that school social workers have many opportunities to guide students toward experiences that support the building of these traits.
A school social worker’s salary will be dependent on the school district he works for and how long he has been with that district. The average salary for a school social worker is $53,860, according to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of school social workers earned more than $66,000, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $26,000.
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