Academic journal article Social Work

Social Work Services in Schools: A National Study of Entry-Level Tasks

Academic journal article Social Work

Social Work Services in Schools: A National Study of Entry-Level Tasks

Article excerpt

Across the United States the quality of education and the need to reform schooling continue to be debated (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). Many states have approached this challenge by upgrading standards for both education personnel and pupils. This upgrading has included using competency examinations and setting specific standards for employment, promotion, and graduation (Allen-Meares, 1987). Society now knows that large numbers of children are not achieving, dropout rates for some inner-city communities have reached alarming numbers, and children from low-income families are less likely to come to school ready to learn. In the midst of these developments, both social problems and problems in family-child functioning continue to escalate. Large-scale changes in the demographics of the country (for example, growing racial and ethnic diversity) and new social problems (cocaine-addicted babies, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, increased rates of youth suicide, and the juvenilization of poverty) and their consequences present new challenges for schools and school social workers (Danziger & Stern, 1990-91; Ford Foundation, 1989).

Social workers have known for some time that educational outcome is determined by the interactions between societal and home conditions and school variables. Germain (1991) reaffirmed this point in her discussion of educational reform and school social work practice in the 1990s, acknowledging that the school alone cannot create equality in opportunity. There is a growing awareness that to achieve certain educational outcomes, social problems must be addressed first and that social work has a place in U.S. schools (Chira, 1991).

The study reported in this article has four purposes: (1) to collect information about the demographic and organizational contexts in which school social workers work, the populations served, and other working conditions that influence practice; (2) to identify the most important job dimensions that school social workers must be able to perform as they begin to practice; (3) to determine whether these dimensions are correlated positively or negatively in frequency with which they are performed; and (4) to identify the tasks school social workers prefer to perform and those that are mandated by the school.

This study is part of a collaborative effort involving the Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey; the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) Commission on Education; and the author. This collaboration has resulted in specialist credentials for school social workers, some of whom have been required by their respective states to receive certification by completion of the National Teachers' Examination, which did not include an appropriate battery of questions for school social workers.

Literature Review

Analyses of school social work tasks have dominated the literature since the conception of this field of practice. Major studies were conducted by Costin (1969) and Meares (1977), and since then, others have examined the status and current definitions of school social work tasks and functions (Alderson & Krishef, 1973; Chavkin, 1985). For example, Chavkin examined the status of school social work activities and the pattern of delivery in three states and 200 school districts. She found that traditional activities (for example, direct services to individual students, work with families, liaison work, and interpretation) were performed most frequently. However, nontraditional tasks were also provided (for example, groupwork, consultation, and administrative consultation).

Link's (1991) qualitative cross-national comparison study of school social workers in London and the midwestern United States found that the U.S. school social workers worked primarily to maintain the status quo, made referrals to agencies, and helped children adapt. Link blamed this state of affairs on the fact that these workers are bound by the school and its authority over them. …

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