How to Become a School Social Worker

If you get excited about helping people and want to positively impact younger generations, a career as a school social worker may interest you. Use this guide to learn more about this fulfilling career, including how to become a school social worker, what they do and how much money they make.

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Steps to Become a School Social Worker

  1. Know Your State’s Licensure And Practice Requirements
  2. Obtain The Necessary Education And Licensure
  3. Earn A Certification (If Necessary)

1. Know your State’s Licensure and Practice Requirements

The first step is to look into your state’s social work license requirements. You can usually find regulation information at the website of your state education department or local board of education. Another useful resource may be the school social worker association in your state.

2. Obtain the Necessary Education and Licensure

bachelor’s degree in social work may help you begin a career as a school social worker. However, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) Standards for School Social Work Services (PDF, 113 KB) recommends entry-level school social workers earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. If a state employs BSW-level school social workers, in the NASW Standards for School Social Work Services, the association recommends they be supervised by a MSW-level social worker.

The Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) directory of accredited schools currently doesn’t list bachelor’s in school social work programs. Generally, you should check with your state’s social work licensing board for more information.

3. Earn a Certification (If Necessary)

Some school social worker roles may require additional credentials, such as a Certified School Social Work Specialist (C-SSWS) credential. This credential, offered by the NASW, designates experienced professionals who are qualified to work in diverse school settings.

Different states have different credential requirements and recommendations. California has Pupil Personnel Services Credentials (PPSC), which are issued by the State of California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). Additional credentials may help you get jobs in public schools.

Additional Information on School Social Workers

What is a School Social Worker?

A school social worker is a social worker who advocates on behalf of students. They work directly with students, parents and teachers to set students up for success in the classroom and at home. Their ultimate goal is to provide services that help students and families thrive and contribute to communities.

They are the link between school families and community resources. For example, they might collaborate with administrators to work on school policies that develop mental health intervention, support services and crisis management. They may also facilitate community involvement in schools.

What do school social workers do?

School social workers help students, educators, families and others identify issues that are inhibiting student learning. They work with the school community and students to resolve social, emotional and behavioral problems so students can have a successful education. They may also act as a community liaison for the school.

According to the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA), school social workers provide a variety of services to students, families, staff, school districts and the community. Here are examples of the services provided to each of these groups:

Student Services

  • Help children develop social interaction skills.
  • Develop positive behavioral intervention strategies.
  • Assist with anger management and conflict resolution.
  • Provide mediation therapy for students in conflict with other students or teachers.
  • Prepare social or developmental histories for children with special needs.
  • Develop educational programs for exceptional children and alternative programs for challenged kids.
  • Participate in special education assessment and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.

Family Services

  • Provide group, individual or family therapy to students and their loved ones.
  • Relieve family stress for student success.
  • Conduct home visits to understand how a family’s environment may be affecting a student.
  • Connect families with school and community resources.

School Staff and District Services

  • Develop training programs for school administration.
  • Inform administration of cultural, economic, familial, health and societal issues affecting student behavior.
  • Lead behavior management training for teachers.
  • Identify and report child abuse and neglect.
  • Provide case management and related services.

Community Services

  • Obtain support from mental health and social agencies for schools.
  • Refer students and families to community resources, such as food banks, medical care services or shelters.

Where do school social workers work?

While most work in schools, some may not. They can also work in offices or private practices to help students and families referred by schools. In schools, social workers focus on bridging the gap between students, families and school workers. Some may choose to work outside the school setting to make broader, policy-level change to affect many students instead of individuals.

In schools, social workers may work in offices and counsel students, families and teachers. Students may be referred for therapeutic services because of school-related problems like frequent absences, tardiness, underachievement, bullying or aggressive behavior.

In a school setting, social workers can help students cope with issues like:

  • Stress
  • Family struggles related to divorce, domestic violence, parenting and financial hardship
  • Grief and loss
  • Medical concerns
  • Mental health
  • Neglect and abuse
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexuality and relationships
  • Substance abuse

Sometimes they will have to refer a student or family to an outside agency.

Outside of Schools

Outside of school, school social workers may research issues and develop policies to help local, state and national education systems. They may work with lobbyists or for state and local governments.

They can also be hired by school districts to help a district achieve an academic mission. These social workers often make recommendations for district policies regarding home-school-community collaboration.

Experienced professionals may also open up their own private practices, focusing on issues affecting the academic performance of kids and teens. They may be contracted by schools to provide their services.

School Social Worker Salary

The 2020 mean annual wage for child, family and school social workers was $52,370, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Child, family and school social workers in the 90th percentile earned $80,290.

The top-paying employers, based on 2020 annual mean wage data from the BLS, were:

  • Business, Professional, Labor, Political, and Similar Organizations: $78,280
  • Junior colleges: $66,380
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools: $65,080
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly: $62,940

Employment of social workers is projected to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029, according to the BLS, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.