School social workers serve as a link between students, parents, school staff, and the community. School social workers address concerns about students’ academic success, overall wellbeing and adjustment in school. They provide direct services to families, students and administrators, and help them access school and community resources for added support. School social workers also work with teachers and school administrators to ensure safe and positive school environments. As employees or contractors of school systems, social workers provide one-on-one and group counseling sessions. A school social worker also may address a student’s physical, emotional or economic challenges by making home visits and recommending other resources. In addition to providing counseling and referral services, school social workers frequently coordinate school programs for peer counseling and mentoring. They also provide staff and parent-training opportunities, contribute to school policy development, and develop crisis intervention strategies. Many of the issues addressed by school social workers are unique to educational settings, such as school attendance, bullying, school violence, and support for students with multiple learning problems or risk factors. Other issues, such as substance abuse and teen pregnancy, are also found in the community at large.
School Social Worker Jobs
School social workers differ from school psychologists and counselors in their approach, focusing on family and social factors that detrimentally impact a student’s academic experience and outcomes. School social workers provide mental health services in school and work with students and their families to ensure those students’ needs are met. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment of child, family, and school social workers will grow by 15 percent from 2012 through 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. Rising student enrollments will drive the need for additional school social workers. The education sector offers some of the highest-paying jobs for social workers who specialize in child and family services. The BLS reports that the mean annual salary for social workers employed in elementary and secondary schools in May 2013 was $60,480. In comparison, the mean annual salary for individual and family services social work jobs was $39,040. The top paying states for this occupation include New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Illinois, with mean salaries ranging between $55,470 to $62,380.
Become a School Social Worker
Careers in social work require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Positions in schools often require an M.S.W. degree from an accredited school of social work along with completion of a relevant practicum, internship or supervised field experience. Many states require school social workers to be certified or licensed by the state education department. Some universities now provide a concentration in school social work as part of a two-year M.S.W. program. These concentrations build on general social work knowledge obtained in the first year of the program and include special courses in families, children and school settings. Students typically also complete a required number of field experience hours in a local school. Certification programs in school social work are also available for holders of M.S.W. degrees who are interested in continuing education opportunities. To learn more about an M.S.W. program, visit our partner MSW@USC.