If you're interested in studying social work, you might want to head
back to school when you've finished your social work degree. For those with
a strong desire to make a career out of changing young people's lives, social
work in schools holds lots of opportunities.
It's a good time to enter this field. Student problems are getting
too big for teachers to handle on top of their teaching responsibilities --
this is where the school social worker comes in.
Employment of social workers is expected to grow faster than average through
2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specifically, employment
of school social workers is expected to steadily increase.
Several national magazines have recently cited social work as one of the
fastest growing and exciting opportunities for professional training, says
Dr. Linda Moore. She is a professor and chair of the department of social
work at the Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
"It is a great field because you get to work with people and see them improve
their lives," Moore says. "It is hard work but it is rewarding work."
Factors Behind Demand
School social work is a specialized area of practice within the broad field
of social work. As a school social worker, you bring your knowledge and skills
to a school system and its student services team.
Numerous societal changes and issues are creating this demand for more
school social workers. At one time, school counselors were able to handle
the assortment of problems and needs that arose in schools.
"In the past, our top disciplinary problems included gum chewing, noise
or talking out of turn, littering, running in the hall and/or day dreaming
in class," says Alphonse Shropshire. He is the administrator of school social
work services for New Orleans public schools in Louisiana.
"Presently, school social worker and staff concerns are focused on decreasing
assaults toward teachers and peers, teen alcohol and drug use, robbery, ...and
in a number of cases, child abuse and [depression]," says Shropshire.
A typical school counselor is involved in career guidance, college admission,
standardized testing and graduation requirements, says Moore. School counselors
often do not have the time or training to do counseling from a clinical perspective.
"Social workers are prepared to solve problems, do case management, refer
to appropriate outside and internal resources and provide ongoing counseling
for specific problems," Moore continues. "They also work at every level of
schooling including elementary, middle (junior high) and high school."
Teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, physical and sexual abuse,
health issues, violence, bullying and other difficult challenges are among
the social dilemmas affecting school systems, says Moore. These problems are
simply too much for teachers to address alone.
"Many school districts are cutting resources so that classes are larger.
Students are more troubled or may appear more troubled as they get less attention
from teachers, and time is less available for 'problem' students," Moore explains.
"As we have collapsed the neighborhood schools into the large district
schools, there is less personal attention. And students have fewer social
connections with teachers and peers."
More immigrants and refugees are entering school systems. These changing
demographics create a need for more school social workers too, says Ruth White.
White is director and assistant professor of the social work program at Seattle
"The children of these immigrants often face challenges with acculturation
-- [they] often feel caught between traditions from their country of origin
and the expectations placed on them as 'Americans,'" White says.
There are also negative influences from the media, including the Internet,
video games, music and television. Experts agree that these influences are
creating pressures among young people.
Chrissy Johnny is a social worker with an aboriginal program. She says
that poverty, along with drug and alcohol addiction problems, contribute to
the need for school social workers.
Johnny points out yet another upcoming social change. "The baby boom generation
will soon start a mass retirement, leaving a huge gap in service providers."
Social Worker Stresses
Much of this demand for school social workers depends on government funding.
Furthermore, these demands create huge stresses for the social workers themselves.
Budget cutbacks hurt social workers, says Johnny. "Huge caseloads do not
allow social workers to provide adequate services to the families and children
on their caseloads."
Most school social workers are overworked, cautions White. "Many social
workers are responsible for large numbers of students and serve more than
one school on a rotating basis."
Although there are pressures and stresses, "social workers are trained
to deal with these issues as part of their preparation for the profession,"
Moore says. "It is asking a lot for teachers to have to address these issues
and also teach classes. Schools right now are not easy places to work."
Training and Competition
Students interested in a social work career can research the opportunities
available in their state. The location of your job determines whether or not
specialized training is required.
School social workers need at least the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree.
Some school systems require a Master of Social Work (MSW). Others also require
that the person be certified to teach.
Different states and locations within states have varying requirements,
Moore says. She believes that schools are great arenas for social work graduates.
They provide a variety of experiences because of the different problems students
Moore suggests taking a course or two in the education department to learn
more about schools. "Many schools hire social workers to focus on specific
problem areas, such as drugs and alcohol and teen parenting. So coursework
in those areas is helpful."
Competition for social work jobs is strongest in cities. However, opportunities
are good in rural areas, where organizations often find it difficult to attract
and retain qualified staff.
To gain an edge on the competition, take a foreign language and aim for
fluency, advises White. "This will help you work with the increasing number
of immigrants, and give you greater job flexibility and security and advancement.
"Students should find volunteer opportunities in which they work directly
with social service clients. They should try and experience various populations
and problems so that they know what they want to do with their degree, in
terms of their career."
- National Association of Social Workers
Find information on career opportunities and voluntary credentials
for social workers
- School Social Work Association of America
Provides news and links related to social work in schools
- Council on Social Work Education
Find accredited social work programs in the U.S.
- Association of Social Work Boards
Provides information on licensing requirements and testing procedures
for each state