Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Wraparound Counseling: An Ecosystemic Approach to Working with Economically Disadvantaged Students in Urban School Settings

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Wraparound Counseling: An Ecosystemic Approach to Working with Economically Disadvantaged Students in Urban School Settings

Article excerpt

Urban schools are faced with challenges such as low academic performance, increased incidents of violence, lack of parental engagement with educators, and school personnel burnout. Wraparound counseling is a holistic prevention tool that combines the best practices of counseling and special education for use in the school setting.


Urban public schools are besieged by myriad challenges. High on the list of these challenges are low academic performance, particularly among children from impoverished communities (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2006; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2003); school-based crime and interpersonal violence (Kaufman et al., 1998); burnout among school personnel (Brown, Galassi, & Akos, 2004; West-Olatunji & Behar-Horenstein, 2005); and low parental involvement (Ascher, 1987; Casas, Furlong, & Ruiz de Esparza, 2003; West-Olatunji, Sanders, Mehta, & Behar-Horenstein, 2010). Previous and current attempts to address these issues have included compensatory programs, school-based intervention strategies, referrals to alternative education programs, professional development schools, and collaboration initiatives between home and school. Although there has been some success with each of these responses, change has been slow. A more holistic, ecosystemic approach is needed (Adelman & Taylor, 2002; Chung & Pardeck, 1997; Lewis, Lewis, Daniels, & D'Andrea, 2003; West-Olatunji & Watson, 1999), particularly one that places counselors in a leadership role (Amatea & West-Olatunji, 2007a). As outlined in the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA; 2005) National Model, when counselors take leadership roles, they can serve as advocates for marginalized students who consistently underperform.

As advocates of the profession, counselors exemplify the humanistic underpinnings of counseling: a belief in the basic goodness of human beings and awareness that individuals seek self-actualization. This positivistic approach to mental health service provision relies on several basic assumptions--empathy, respect, and authenticity--as hallmarks of the discipline of counseling (Adams & Juhnke, 2001). Empathy, within the context of historical underachievement and the absence of self-actualization within marginalized sectors of society, is viewed as more comprehensive than the interpersonal empathy that is evident in traditional individualized service provision. Social empathy extends the traditional microlevel of empathy to incorporate the macrolevel or sociopolitical context (Segal, 2007). Thus, counselors use their skills to seek social empathy to consider the impact of the persistent underachievement on society as a whole.

For example, for the United States to compete in the global economy, U.S. students need to be internationally competitive in the fields of mathematics and science (National Science Board, 1998, 2006). However, the historical and systemic marginalization of low-income students have resulted in their chronic underperformance, when it has been shown that a good preparation in mathematics and science can help youth become more active citizens (National Science Board, 1998, 2006). Furthermore, by focusing on this population of students using a strength-based perspective, counselors can facilitate the inclusion of new voices that can contribute knowledge and innovative ideas to advance student achievements in mathematics and science, thereby advancing the country as a whole (West-Olatunji, Shure, Garrett, Conwill, & Torres, 2008). We focus on an ecosystemic framework because of its supposition that the school environment and the greater sociocultural environment influence the family and that the community and family influence the school in a reciprocal fashion (Amatea & West-Olatunji, 20071); Anderson, Goolishian, & Winderman, 1987).

The purpose of this article is to introduce an innovative approach, wraparound counseling, that can be used to harness this reciprocal relationship to meet the needs of symptomatic (i. …

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