Methods: This study utilized data collected from school social workers (n = 1,639) in the National School Social Work Survey 2008. Using a subset of questions directed at how school social workers partner with teachers, this study reported on the most common collaborative practices and used a created scale to assess overall levels of collaboration. Latent class analysis examined underlying subtypes of school social work practitioners to assess collaborative practice models. Bivariate analysis examined what factors predict collaboration and class membership.
Results: Respondents reported (44%) teachers as their primary referral source and the majority saw their role as helping teachers by working directly with disruptive students (94%) and students with emotional problems (93%). The scale of collaborative practice (a = .73) revealed 25% of school social workers helped teachers in all seven activities listed, and almost 50% helped teachers in six of the seven ways. However, when considering practice choices, less than 40% reported spending at least some of their time doing classroom groups or organizing teacher-student meetings, instead preferring individual interventions. Latent class analysis showed school social workers group in four distinct profiles with regard to collaborative practice: 1) extensive collaboration (n = 509); 2) clinical orientation, viewed collaboration mainly in regards to how individual clinical work serves teachers (n =722); 3) system-orientation, viewed collaboration with teachers more heavily related to school-wide initiatives, including teacher professional development, improving school culture, and community enhancement (n = 301); and 4) little collaboration (n = 107). Having an MSW degree or clinical social work license predicted higher levels of collaboration and increased the likelihood of membership in class 1 or 2. Workers contracted as outside providers were more likely to be in class 2, focusing on individual intervention rather than collaborating through the broader school agenda. Working in fewer schools and having more experience were related to higher levels of collaboration.
Conclusions and Implications: Although teachers are school social workers' primary referral source, school social workers did not report engaging directly with teachers as a primary method of service delivery. The MSW degree, experience, and clinical licensure all promoted this individually-focused view of work with students and the collaborative relationship. Despite increased calls in the literature for more prevention, system-oriented practice, teacher collaboration, and classroom-based work, a majority of school social workers see their role primarily through a clinical lens that appears to not include working directly in the classroom or working on the broader school agenda. Future research and training innovation is needed to rethink what mechanisms can be used to support this collaborative relationship.