School Counselors and External Providers: Conflict or Complement

Article excerpt

The school counselor is rarely the only human service provider in the school who works with children and youth, their families, or even teachers. Other human service providers-called external providers in this articlehave found their way to the schools through a variety of routes. As their numbers increase, unavoidable issues for school counselors are raised. They will either be in conflict with external providers, competing for a job and limited resources, or they will find ways to work together so that the strengths of the external providers and the school counselors can be utilized in a complementary fashion for the benefit of the clients they serve.

The number of external providers in the schools is on the increase, and this situation can present problems for school counselors. Evidence can be noted in the frequency with which the concern is mentioned on electronic bulletin board discussions such as the "International Counseling Network" (ICN) or the Counselor Education and Supervision (CES) group "L" bulletin board sponsored by the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Comments range from questions about how to deal with an influx of external providers who are not licensed as school counselors to descriptions of how school counselors and external providers have developed good working relationships in the school setting. Bulletin board comments indicate that in some instances licensed school counselors are being replaced by other service providers-either as school hires or as external providers. In other instances, external providers have been brought into the schools without clear definition of responsibilities and relationship to the school counselor, and role conflict has resulted.

Much of the attention to integrated services is coming from organizations outside the school counseling arena such as the Center for School Mental Health Assistance (Garrison, 1996) and the National Center for Social Work and Education Collaboration (Clinton, 1996). In any event, the presence of external service providers has become so common that the implications for school counselors need to be addressed. In a recent random sampling of 10% of the public elementary, middle, and high schools in a western state, 80% of the schools reported the presence of one or more external providers at their school site. Respondents to the survey produced 25 different titles of human service professionals working in the schools, and some sites reported as many as five different providers at their site. Melaville and Blank (1991) clearly identify the need for collaboration in the statement, "At a time when many families across all income levels are experiencing greater stress and when child poverty is at record levels, the school cannot view itself as an isolated institution within the community, separate from family and community service" (p. 13).

We take the position that there are not enough school counselors to do everything that needs to be done, especially in a time when student needs continue to increase in number and intensity. We also contend that there are few effective models of how different professional providers work together A system in which all of the social service provider components work together in harmony could be called a system of integrated services. School counselors need to understand how and where they fit into such a system.

The term integrated services is used in this article to describe a system where several service providers, or more than one service agency, work together for the benefit of a single client or client group. The term will be applied to systems where most of the human services are delivered at the school site rather than having the student or client seek out the services at their several separate locations. Another term used to describe a similar organization and delivery of services is school-linked comprehensive social services (United States Department of Education/American Educational Research Association [USDE/AERA], 1995). …