By Dwayne Jenkins
School’s not out for social workers, as the social worker in schools (SWiS) contract has been renewed. A SWiS is a non-government organisation (NGO) social worker on a government contract, who is appointed at specific schools. SWiS usually provide a service potentially to around 600 students between one to three schools.
SWiS are another support in school for children, they can provide support in regards to issues that affect children’s education, well-being and rights. They can also deal with social, emotional and behavioural problems or find resources including food, housing and substance abuse resources (NASW, 2017). SWiS link together the different areas of school, home and community and another contribution they can make is to support referrals to community services.
One strength is that SWiS are able to collaborate easily with the teaching staff at the school, who see the children for 6-7 hours a day. Teachers have key knowledge about the child, such as behaviour in class or issues at home. Having social workers in schools means that the contact time is more frequent than in other areas of social work. Another example of this is the ability to informally catch up with children when walking around school at breaks – children can let the social worker know how their day is going and if they need to talk.
SWiS must maintain many different relationships as they work within the school, wider community and their organisation. They must get along with the key stakeholders – wise words for anyone going into a school, the administrative staff know and see everything. They are excellent resources and life can be difficult if SWiS do not have a good rapport with them. Other key stakeholders include children, parents, principals and staff. SWiS must be able to build good relationships with children who may distrust social workers. As a SWiS there is opportunity and time to be more creative, run group work and use different methods and explore their effectiveness.
One of the challenges in Aotearoa New Zealand is that school social work is voluntary rather than mandated, meaning that service users can choose not to engage with the service. In this case it becomes especially difficult to engage with service users as they are dependent upon their parents giving consent for the social worker to engage with them. For this reason, relationships are key in ensuring SWiS are able to work with children that need them.
SWiS work for a non-government agency, however they work within the school, prior to the recent change in service specifications there was tension surrounding what constituted the role of the SWiS. Some school social workers take on extra tasks, like coaching sports teams, to create better relationships and build rapport within the school; however, these are not strictly part of their duties as social worker.
Social workers in schools are an invaluable resource as they can provide extra social work support for children and families through school – a place children attend multiple times a week, making engagement much easier.
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