Abstract: School Social Workers as Practitioners: What Is the Approach to Mental Health Outcomes of Students? (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13157 School Social Workers as Practitioners: What Is the Approach to Mental Health Outcomes of Students?

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 10:30 AM
Pacific Concourse A (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Kimberly H. McManama O'Brien, MSW , Boston College, Research Assistant, Chestnut Hill, MA
Stephanie Berzin, PhD , Boston College, Assistant Professor, Chestnut Hill, MA
Michael S. Kelly, PhD , Loyola University, Chicago, Assistant Professor, Chicago, IL
Andy Frey, PhD , University of Louisville, Associate Professor, Louisville, KY
Michelle E. Alvarez, MSW, EdD , Minnesota State University Mankato, Assistant Professor, Mankato, MN
Gary L. Shaffer, PhD , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Associate Professor, Chapel Hill, NC
Background and Purpose: Growing numbers of children and adolescents demonstrate emotional and behavioral problems in the classroom setting, with school social workers frequently serving as the main mental health provider for these youth. While various conceptual models for mental health delivery in the field of school social work have been developed, few have been tested at the national level. School social work scholars suggest that effective work with students with mental health problems requires engagement at the child, family, teacher, school, and community levels. This study examines whether school social work practice in the United States is aligned with the multi-systemic framework supported by the literature and predictors of engagement in each of the domains.

Methods: Using a subset of respondents from the National School Social Work Survey 2008, who work primarily with students with emotional problems, (N=868), this study examined frequencies to determine the practices most commonly utilized. Scales were created to measure the teacher and school levels of practice, while a single variable was used to measure the family, child, and community practice domains. Bivariate analysis explored associations between the five levels of practice, while multivariate analysis examined predictors of practice in each of the five domains.

Results: Practices most commonly utilized by school social workers that work with students with emotional problems include individual counseling with students (67%), increasing parental involvement and engagement (56%), and facilitating small groups as prevention activities (44%). Results suggest school social workers are primarily oriented in practice at the child (67%) level, followed by the community (30%), and family (22%) levels. For the scale variables, findings show that 41% of school social workers engage in five of the seven for the teacher domain and 37% engage in five of the seven for school. Bivariate analyses demonstrate work in each domain is not necessarily correlated. Spearman's rho correlations show the strongest relationships are between the teacher and school (.469) and family and community (.344) domains. Multivariate analyses demonstrate that the proportion of students with an IEP is a significant predictor of practice in all domains except for school, and students receiving government services are only a predictor of engagement in the family practice domain.

Conclusions and Implications: Results suggest that while school social workers are practicing within the multi-systemic framework suggested by school social work scholars, their time is not equally spent across the five domains. School social workers appear to be most strongly committed to practice at the child level. Further, an exclusionary relationship suggests school social workers who practice at one level are less likely to practice at other levels. An increase in mental health difficulties in the school is likely placing a greater demand on time spent with individual students, leaving less time for practice with schools, teachers, families, or communities. Further implications surrounding the need for future studies to be conducted that test the impact of engagement in multi-systemic school social work practice on mental health outcomes of students are discussed.