School social workers collect information on students that help them understand which students need additional social and academic assistance. They offer relevant community services and provide counseling to students. These types of social workers also help students improve decision-making and problem-solving skills. They assist students with positive coping strategies and work with students on an individual level. School social workers are employed at every level of education. These levels can range from preschool up to high school. In some cases, they work at the college level as well as in specialized schools helping disabled children.
This area of social work concentrates on developing a safe and proficient school environment. These type of social workers focus primarily on helping students handle issues and pressures they face daily at school and at home. The purpose of a school social worker is to help students succeed in school and cope with problems.
According to the BLS, the average salary for school social workers specializing in children and family welfare was $41,530 in 2012. The highest paid workers earned around $72,980.
According to the BLS, the average salary for the lowest paid or entry-level school social worker was around $27,450. This is typically for a worker with less than one year of experience.
A school social worker must recognize students that are experiencing difficulty in school or at home. The method used to identify students usually occurs during direct observation. However, school faculty members may also report a student that’s experiencing problems. These school workers must help students with behavior, academic, and social problems. In some cases, school social workers find that problems in school and problems at home are directly related.
After a social worker recognizes an issue, they attempt to determine the root of the problem. In most cases, this is accomplished by testing the student, using direct observation, and interviewing. When the social worker suspects issues within the home, such as poverty, abuse, or neglect; the worker will visit the home for observation. At this point the social worker will develop a strategy to help the student overcome the problem or obstacle. For the most part, this strategy will include the help of the students, the teachers, and the parents.
There are many skills required to be a school social worker. Social workers must be compassionate, sensitive, and understanding. These workers must also remain objective and have excellent listening skills. More importantly, they should have excellent problem solving skills and be resourceful. School social workers should be able to understand directions and communicate information successfully to others. These workers must be efficient at identifying problems and creating solutions. School social workers also require superior decision-making skills and acute social perception skills.
These are not the only skills required to be a school social worker; however, these are extremely important.
Education and Degree Requirements
Many school social workers earn a bachelor’s degree in social work. Coursework includes classes in psychology, health, and child development. These types of courses offer a fundamental understanding of what is required to work in this area. In most cases, this initial degree qualifies the worker to obtain an entry-level position in the field; however, it does not provide the necessary training required to work as a school social worker.
In order to work in a school setting, a master’s degree in social work is required to become licensed for most positions. Many graduates must also complete one year of supervised experience in a school setting.
Although requirements vary by state, receiving a license from the applicable state is needed to become a school social worker. According to the BLS, some states require at least two years of supervised experience. Social workers must also demonstrate a thorough understanding of school social work by passing the National Teachers Examination or NTE.
A certification from the National Association of Social Workers as a School Social Work Specialist or SSWS is also required. In order to receive SSWS credentials, the applicant must have a passing score on the NTE, a master’s degree, and at least two years of supervised experience.
Pros and Cons
There are many advantages to becoming a school social worker. Workers that have a passion for helping others view social work as a gratifying field. Many school social workers find a sense of pride in helping students find resources and manage their problems. More importantly, school social workers help students succeed at school and cope with issues at home. For many social workers, this is the rewarding aspect of the career.
Although there are some benefits to becoming a school social worker, there are also a few disadvantages. One of the main disadvantages is the high emotional demand. In some cases, handling the day-to-day emotional demands of different students can become stressful. For many workers, it is important to learn how to leave work at the office. This process helps to revitalize the worker each day without experiencing a burn out.
Prior to becoming a certified school social worker, there are a few steps a potential worker can take to prepare for the career. It is important to take classes in high school that relate to the field. Although many of these classes will be AP; they can prepare the worker for future coursework. It is also important to begin earning experience as a volunteer in peer-counseling and social-service programs. This can offer training as well as an opportunity to connect with other students interested in the career. More importantly, this step will help potential workers meet current professionals and teachers in the field. A potential school social worker should also read as much as possible about the career and courses before enrolling in a specific program.
According to the BLS, employment for social workers is expected to increase 20 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is a much faster growth rate than many other occupations. Although growth will vary depending on specialty, there will be an increased demand for both social services and health care workers. Child, school, and family social workers are currently needed to help families and students identify problems and create solutions. These workers are also needed to help prevent abuse, develop better parenting skills, prevent neglect, recognize poverty, and find alternative homes for children. Growth in this field is also a result of a rise in student enrollment.
In some cases, employment in this area is restricted to budget limitations at different levels of government. Additionally, the availability of local, federal, and state funding will play a major role in deciding employment growth within schools. School social workers are employed at every level of education ranging from preschool to college.
Overall, a career as a school social worker has many benefits. The ability to help students succeed and cope with their problems is a worthwhile experience. This career offers a competitive salary and stable work environment. Although some days may be stressful, many school social workers believe the stress is well worth it.
For further reading: 50 Great Scholarships for Education and Teaching Degrees