Role of the School Social Worker

Student & Family Support
Many of the district’s most fragile children come to school with significant barriers to learning and academic success. Their families may lack basic resources such as housing, food, preventative medical/dental care or clothing. Their parents may be preoccupied with issues such as domestic violence, extreme poverty, joblessness, mental health diagnoses, substance abuse concerns, or debilitating illness. These families cannot focus on supporting their children’s academic success without access to resources to address their needs and concerns. Social Workers in the district are uniquely qualified to address these issues with families and children.

For children and families coping with these concerns, Social Workers provide instrumental support and referral services so that students and parents can increase their capacity to focus on academic, social and emotional success. For example, we have students in our district who are homeless. Social Workers are responsible for determining where those students are staying and ensuring they have access to transportation and other resources which allow them to continue to attend school each day, increasing their chances of academic success.

Many district students receive breakfast and lunch at school each day. Social Workers aid families in completing the Free and Reduced Lunch forms correctly and in a timely manner to ensure that children will receive nutritious meals while at school. They are also instrumental in helping students and their families with food concerns throughout the year by conducting food drives, obtaining donations for grocery store gift cards, referring families to churches and community food banks, and by delivering backpacks with food every Friday through the CHCCS’s Child Nutrition Backpack Program.

Families may not have transportation to critical meetings at school or in the community. Social Workers may provide transportation so that parents can attend school meetings or community appointments, thereby increasing their participation in these crucial activities and further deepening their connection to school and community supports. By providing outreach (through home visits, phone calls, meetings at school, parent group meetings), education, and referrals to resources to meet a family’s pressing needs, Social Workers create connections between these families and the school, which further increases the students’ academic success.

Collaboration with Schools
Within the schools, Social Workers provide consultation to individual teachers, administrators, and PLCs regarding students whose outside experiences impact their performance and/or behaviors in school. We respond to crises such as suicidal statements, suspicion of child abuse or neglect, and domestic violence. We are responsible for ensuring students attend school consistently by tracking attendance, addressing truancy concerns, and working to decrease the drop out rate.

We also work on and often lead school teams such as Equity, PBIS, and Safe Schools to address individual student needs as well as develop school-wide strategies to meet the needs of all students, increase student achievement, and work towards closing the achievement gap. Social Workers play an instrumental role on Student Support Teams across the district with Social Workers chairing five SST committees and serving as members on seven other teams. We work collaboratively with other schools to transition students from school to school and from one level to the next (e.g., Pre-K to Elementary, Middle School to High School). This attention to smooth transitions ensures that our most fragile learners receive consistent support and do not fall through the cracks.

Connections with the Community
In addition to direct support to families and work within the school, Social Workers have strong collaborative connections with community agencies. We must stay up to date on community agencies and services so we are able to make effective referrals. Once families are connected to these agencies, we become the link between these agencies, the family, and the school.

Social Workers make referrals to and collaborate with a wide array of agencies in the community including:  Department of Social Services, Juvenile Justice, various mental health agencies, Unlimited Success, Orange County Health Department, UNC Healthcare, area food banks and pantries, foundations providing grants, Family Resource Centers, District Court, Police Crisis Unit, Child Support Enforcement, Women’s Center, Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boomerang, SKJAJA, Scholars Latino Initiative, Dispute Settlement Center, Pace Academy and Christmas House. Social Workers sit on a variety of school, district, and community committees and boards, and hold positions of leadership. The collaboration between community agencies, families, and schools is imperative to effectively meet student and family needs, thereby increasing their ability to focus on school and maximize their academic achievement and success.

The above description provides a very broad and, by no means, exhaustive list of duties and responsibilities performed by our district’s School Social Workers. It outlines the types of intervention we provide and the direct link between these interventions and student achievement. Through our distinct expertise in service provision, Social Workers are an integral part of the school team. Social Workers in each school provide specialized intervention tailored to the unique characteristics and needs of their school population. Regardless of our varied responsibilities, Social Workers play a critical role by removing barriers to learning and academic success through support to students, families, and school staff with the goal of increasing student achievement.