School-Based Social Work Interventions: A Global Systematic Review
School-based social workers are a growing international presence, with an estimated 50,000 practitioners serving in approximately 43 countries. Over the past decade, multiple countries have come to regard school-based social workers as a necessity in effectively meeting the psychosocial needs of students. To date, however, no synthesis of the literature exists examining global school-based social work interventions. Therefore, the purpose of this systematic review is twofold: 1) to identify school-based interventions that involve social workers and 2) to examine the extent to which the interventions are efficacious with school-based youth.
A computerized search through several databases (CINHAL, ERIC, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO) was conducted using the following keyword search terms: “school,” “social work*,” and “effectiveness” or “outcome” or “evaluation.” The initial search yielded 1457 articles. The following inclusion criteria were utilized: articles had to have 1) been randomized controlled trial (RCT), quasi-experimental, or pretest/posttest design; 2) specifically identified the inclusion of a social worker in the intervention process; 3) the intervention delivered primarily during the school day; 4) been published before February of 2012; 5) been published in a peer-reviewed journal article. Eighteen studies met final inclusion criteria. Effect sizes (Hedges’ g) were calculated for all outcome measures using Comprehensive Meta-Analysis 2.0 software when not reported in the articles.
Most (n=14) studies were conducted in the United States, with remaining studies from Canada (n=2), United Kingdom (n=1), and Israel (n=1). Results revealed that most (n=15) studies were conducted in the twenty-first century. Social workers served as group facilitators, class presenters, or trained teachers to implement the intervention. Researchers primarily utilized pretest/posttest (n=8) or quasi-experimental (n=6) designs. A variety of outcomes were targeted including sexually risky behavior, aggression, “at-risk” behavior, depression, stress management, and body image. Effect sizes ranged from small to very large, depending upon the intervention. For example, a grief and loss intervention revealed to have very large effects on severity of grief symptoms (g=1.80) and behavioral problems (g=1.16); while, conversely, very small effects (g=0.12) were observed with aggression outcomes from a program designed to reduce aggression and bullying. Most outcomes, however, offered medium to large effect sizes. Each of these interventions, outcomes, and corresponding effect sizes will be discussed.
Findings offer a first step toward understanding the impact of school-based social workers across the globe. School social work practitioners across the world are increasingly being expected to operate from an evidence-based practice framework, implementing interventions that offer the best evidence to intervene with a particular problem. This review highlights substantial gains toward offering practitioners potentially efficacious interventions; however, work is still needed. Because countries substantially differ regarding the cultural and political contexts that influence the education system, it is unknown the extent to which interventions from the United States are efficacious across the globe. Attempts to translate and study the impact of existing social work inventions into other countries should be made.