Academic journal article Social Work

A Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Academic journal article Social Work

A Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Article excerpt

Social workers practice in schools, hospitals, psychiatric clinics, juvenile courts, prisons, police departments, and a range of other settings (Abramson & Rosenthal, 1995; Gibelman, 1995). Current practice demands collaboration between social workers and the professionals who dominate these agencies. For effective collaboration, it is critical to know what constitutes and influences collaboration.

Trends in Social Work Practice Relevant to Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Trends in social problems and professional practice make it virtually impossible to serve clients effectively without collaborating with professionals from various disciplines. Teachers are less able to educate students when larger numbers of them come to school hungry, abused, and unable to speak English. Physicians and nurses are less able to meet the demands of managed care without assistance from social workers, occupational and physical therapists, and others to support patients in the least expensive setting. These problems are compounded by the limitations of some disciplines, limited understanding of the roles and expertise of other professionals, increased requirements for accountability and documentation, and complex diagnoses and treatment methods.

Practice with Children and Families: Collaboration in Schools

Trends in public education require more collaboration between educators and social workers to educate "the children of today." Many experts cite changing demographics as prompting a national concern with education (Brown & Chavkin, 1994; Hare, 1994; Pallas, Natriello, & McDill, 1989; Schorr & Both, 1991). Pallas and colleagues identified five key indicators associated with poor school performance: minority racial or ethnic group identity, living in poverty, living in a single-parent family, having a poorly educated mother, and having a non-English language background. Whereas one in four children fit the first four of the five indicators of poor school performance a decade ago, projected figures estimate that our schools will serve 5.4 million more children in poverty in 2020 than they served in 1984, 13 percent fewer white non-Hispanic children, triple the number of Hispanic children, and 22 percent more black children, with similar upward trends in single-parent families, poorly educated mothers, and childr en with non-English language background (Pallas et al.). These statistics indicate that schools will face more challenges and that these challenges will require expertise beyond "teaching." In other words, there will be a greater need for collaboration between school social workers and teachers. A clearer understanding of "what" this collaboration looks like is a first step in maximizing its occurrence.

Social workers have been active in the school-linked services movement to link health and social services with, and most often within, schools (Dryfoos, 1994; Hare, 1994; Hare, 1995; Pennekamp, 1992). The goal of school-linked services is to develop an integrated system of services for children and families that is characterized by collaboration. Berrick and Duerr (1996) outlined optimal conditions for school-linked services under which teachers and social workers work together to customize service plans to increase attendance, enhance academic performance, and develop creative ideas for managing children's classroom behavior. Supporters of school-linked services hope to achieve overall systems change (Gardner, 1989). They hope that more collaboration between teachers and school social workers can better address needs of students, families, schools, and communities. As Allen-Meares (1996) said, our schools often encourage professional "turfism" and an undermining of "a coordinated approach to equal education al opportunity and the development of our human capital. The need to reform the links between systems is urgent" (p. 538). Collaboration among individual professionals is a first step in developing collaborative relationships among community constituents, agencies, and professional groups. …

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