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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

The Role of School Psychologists and Social Workers

By Peter DeWitt — May 22, 2012 3 min read
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As homes are in crisis, the children who live there attend our schools. That is why having high quality school psychologists and social workers is so important.

In schools, we see a number of children who have social and emotional issues. The economic crisis over the past few years has brought a number of issues to families. Parents have experienced job loss, alcoholism and drug dependency. Students experiment with drugs and alcohol at a young age and need help to combat those experiences.

As homes are in crisis, the children who live there attend our schools. That is why having high quality school psychologists and social workers is so important. Those staff members can be a bridge between the classroom and a difficult home life. Unfortunately, those important roles are at risk in our nation’s schools.

As school districts and their communities experience budget cuts and reflect on what they value, our social workers and school psychologists are often left off the list. Parents who have children that utilize the service are not always able to stand up and express how important their services are to students. Parents who have children that do not see the social worker or psychologist do not understand how important their role is to the school.

Teachers and principals have many students who are in crisis. Believe it or not, those issues begin in elementary school and go up to our high school population. We have students who are disconnected or say they want to die by suicide and cannot always maintain their engagement throughout the day. School administrators and teachers constantly look to the school psychologist or social worker for help during these crisis moments.

Mandated Services
Students may get counseling through their IEP and school psychologists complete the testing necessary to see whether a student qualifies for the necessary services needed to help assist them in their day. Most of our school psych’s and counselors have a healthy list of students they must check in with or meet with during the day. Those meetings bring comfort to students as they negotiate through their school day.

However, kids who are in crisis don’t always have that label and schools must intervene when those students enter school. Perhaps it was a bad morning with a parent or a fight with a sibling or best friend, a bad transition into school can make for a distracted morning in school. Some kids don’t have the coping mechanisms needed to make it through life. It is often the school psychologist or social worker that is part of the team that helps get to the heart of the issue for those students.

As states cut budgets and talk about what is mandated and what is not, it is impossible for a school psych or social worker to not work with a student based on whether they are classified or not. We all need to make sure we use common sense when looking at mandated services and non-mandated services for this very reason.

Child Study Team
Many students struggle with school. That struggle may be due to social-emotional issues or it may be due to a learning disability. Schools have child study teams (CST) which include the school psychologist and social worker. The people in those positions bring a great deal of knowledge and often have followed student progress over a number of years. They can speak to the growth of the students or to the hardships the students have seen outside of school.

School psychs and social workers communicate with parents and offer resources to help the family when they are experiencing a hardship. They have connections with local and state agencies that other teachers and principals may not have. A great school psychologist or social worker can tap into a network of resources that are greatly beneficial to families. Without them, schools will once again find themselves at a disadvantage.

In the End
School districts are experiencing budget cuts. Teachers and administrators are losing jobs but so are school psychologists and social workers. Unless parents have children who utilize the services they may not understand the important role these staff members play in the school culture. They are vital to the development of many of our neediest students.

Students walk into schools at a disadvantage that they cannot control because it is due to their home environment or social emotional issues. That achievement or social-emotional gap that we see as they enter our doors is always at risk of becoming greater and greater. Our school psychologists and social workers help students change those issues, or at least how they react when those issues arise. Their input and proximity to important resources can help engage students and their families.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.