School. Seven (ish) hours we’re all trapped and forced to learn in the opinion of some. For others, school is a haven of knowledge, opportunity and most of all, safety. Not every child has the idyllic childhood from novels or films that we all hope to give our loved ones, and for those who do have more complicated upbringings, school can be a form of escape. In order to help those children, it’s important to recognise the role that social workers in schools have.
A school social worker has many different responsibilities, which are set out by the specific school or district, but a large part of any job for social workers in schools will be to assess the students. Social work training can help them identify any substance abuse, the physical and/or emotional functioning of the children and issues with peers that could be interfering with the well-being of a child; among other issues.
Students don’t just fit into one standard mould. They are not all alike with similar backgrounds, values, upbringings and home-lives. Those in the social work sector understand this. For example, “as a group, children in care do not perform as well in their education as their peers”, which means there is the risk that those who have a non-conventional family life are not getting their best chance at school, under the current system. This doesn’t just apply to children in care, as children from abusive households often do badly at school; and teenagers with divorced parents may find it difficult to concentrate in school. So, having a social worker present in the school environment allows for an extra set of eyes for children who may not be thriving due to their personal circumstances.
In an age of youth mental health issues taking over too many headlines, it’s easy to feel like we’re not doing enough to help our children and teens; so perhaps re-evaluating the structures in place to support school-age children is the way forward. School social workers have never really been a commonplace occurrence, but maybe considering the increasing pressures on children and young people in the modern era, they should be. Teachers are educators and so to add on the additional tasks of being aware and assessing the physical, emotional and psychological health of students as well as providing child protection services, is unrealistic. There is only so much one person can do in a 24-hour day, and so making social workers in schools a more regular situation could a mechanism that supports both the children, but also the current staff who are trying to safeguard their students. Bringing social workers into schools allows for a collaborative process when trying to improve the lives of students, which could yield better results.
Social workers are there to support individuals and their families who are going through difficult times and make sure that any and all vulnerable people, both children and adults, are safeguarded from harm. If that is at its core what the social worker role is, then surely placing children’s social workers in a setting where they can monitor and assess students is a good idea? Is it the right move to make every school in the UK require a social worker? There are endless if’s, maybe’s and how about’s when it comes to protecting children; but it seems a logical next step to utilise the skills a children’s social worker has in a place where a child is away from a difficult, unhealthy or even potentially traumatic situation at home. Social workers in schools can safeguard vulnerable children and ensure that they have as normal a school experience, and overall childhood as possible.