At the recent conference of social workers in schools in Auckland, New Zealand we shared some insights from the early stages of a research project that commenced this year. This is a great project to be doing and we thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to present some initial findings from they first phase of the study, which is briefly described below. We had some excellent conversations with social workers there and gathered some additional information. Please click on the link to see the PowerPoint slides.
The Vulnerable Children Act (2014) positions teachers as key professionals in a collaborative response to child maltreatment.Increased emphasis on a wide group of professionals, including teachers, to take a role in noticing and responding to child maltreatment. Currently school policies focus on principals and others with pastoral responsibility.But social workers in schools are very involved with children and families where there may be concerns about abuse and neglect, along with many other facets.
So in order to answer the research question below we are talking with several different groups.
What does this potential heightened emphasis on their role in child protection mean for primary and intermediate school teachers and, in particular, for their preparation for professional practice?
Research project: Our research project will gather the views of school principals, and also of registered social workers with experience of working in schools, with regard to the teaching profession’s increasing role in noticing and addressing child maltreatment and in concomitant collaborative work with other professionals .We will also ascertain the extent to which final year initial teacher education students feel prepared to take up this role.We will be blogging from time to time about the research so sign up to follow the blog and you will get an email when there is a new post about this study.
- Interview with social workers in schools (20)
- Interviews with school principals (16)
- Focus groups with final year initial teacher education students ( ongoing)
Phase one : Social Workers in Schools (SWiS)
We were interested in SWiS’s experiences working with teachers and principals in schools around the identification and response to child maltreatment. We also explored with participants their experiences of becoming a school based social worker, the strengths and challenges of the role. So far in our analysis we have also discovered some interesting recurring experiences that our participants shared. The major challenge we heard about was the complexity of relationships school social workers need to build and maintain in order to work effectively for children.The SWiS’s were passionate about the strength of their role:
I would say the strength is the fact that you do have these close bonds with your family because they see you there every day and they know that they can come and talk to and you are not a [statutory] social worker.
The next part of the study will be thinking about the implications of our first phase.What are the strengths and challenges and what is needed to ensure that this valuable programme is well supported. An important issue concerns the recognition of school social workers as part of leadership in schools, with a whole child focus and a commitment to social justice for children and families. What does the recent literature explore? These three quotes resonate with the challenges and strengths of school social work in the experiences of our participants.
‘They have served as counselors, mediators, and advocates. Traditionally, school social workers have been primary facilitators of communication and linkage between school, home, and community. Yet, despite having such vast and critical responsibility within learning systems, school social workers remain marginalized and discounted as school leaders’. (Sherman, 2016, p.1)
School social workers can be seen as a professional group operating on the margin of an educational logic that dominates schools as institutions.(Isaksson & Sjöström, 2016,p.1.)
School social workers are a group of professionals whose ethical mission is to intervene where these types of social injustices exist and to provide an opportunity for all children to optimize their educational potential. (Allen-Meares Montgomery, 2014, p.9)
Allen-Meares, P., & Montgomery, K. L. (2014). Global trends and school-based social work. Children & Schools, 36(2), 105-112.
Isaksson, C., & Sjöström, S. (2016). Looking for ‘social work’ in school social work. European Journal of Social Work, 1-12. doi:10.1080/13691457.2016.1188775
Sherman, M. C. (2016). The school social worker: A marginalized commodity within the school ecosystem. Children & Schools. doi :10.1093/cs/cdw016