Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17287 School Social Work and Role Ambiguity

Friday, January 13, 2012: 3:30 PM
Penn Quarter A (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Leticia Villarreal Sosa, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dominican University, River Forest, IL
Purpose: The role of school social workers has continually been fragmented and determined by the context in which they work (Kelly, 2008). This fragmentation and contextual practice has changed over the past 100 years, but the role of a school social worker has never been consistent. Historically, the role has been modified based on policy changes at the federal level. The lack of knowledge that schools and school districts possess about what tasks a social worker performs in a school setting has also created a variety of role definitions prescribed by individual school districts and even individual schools. The purpose of the present study is to establish a defined role for school social workers in Louisiana based on results of a statewide survey. Specifically, the differences in roles will be viewed across regions of the state as well as the perception of Louisiana school social workers on their ability to perform the duties required of them. It is expected that a consistent role definition is needed to provide the platform for school social workers to advocate for their positions and to provide the accountability needed to support this advocacy.

Methods: Using a statewide survey of school social workers (n=383), we determined the current roles of school social workers in Louisiana. The population from each type of school social work practice district was obtained through consultation with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), direct contact with school districts, and information received from interested parties. Based on the national and state descriptions of school social work practice and school districts' social work job descriptions, a 46-item instrument was developed to survey school social workers in Louisiana. The items were designed to obtain demographic information from respondents and to ascertain their role in the particular school district they serve. The survey was distributed through email using a Survey Monkey link. The data in the survey were analyzed using descriptive and bivariate statistics to look at the relationship among practice in the different types of settings in which school social workers practice in Louisiana and regions of the state in which school social workers practice.

Results: Outcome data suggested distinct differences in the roles undertaken by school social workers in Louisiana. Based on results of the survey, three distinct roles were identified as being practiced most often—evaluation and coordination of special education evaluations, school-wide prevention and consultation, and mental health service provision.

Implications: By establishing a set of standard roles, training and policies can be put in place to reinforce the role of the school social worker and to provide a solid foundation for advocacy of school social work in an era of budget cuts and accountability requirements. Linking the Louisiana state survey and role definitions to other state and national surveys can also lead to a national role definition increasing the marketability of school social work as a means for improving student outcomes in the school setting.

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