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.