Incorporating Multiple Influences Into the Practice of School Social Work
Most school social work research focuses on interventions with various student populations rather than on how practitioners acquire the knowledge and skills required to practice effectively in educational settings. Also, while there is increasing emphasis on the need for school social workers to implement evidence-based or evidence-informed interventions (the majority of which are macro-level interventions), little attention has been paid to the reasons some practitioners regularly implement such interventions, whereas the majority (Frey & Dupper, 2005; Kelly, 2008) rely primarily on traditional methods of working with individual students, families, and small groups of students.
Methods: Heuristic inquiry, one of several approaches in qualitative research, provided the framework for this study. This approach was suitable because of the researcher’s extensive experience with the topics under study. Twenty-five school social workers from five urban school districts in two southwestern states participated in extended in-depth semi-structured interviews with follow-up contacts by telephone or email. The sample was purposive, with all participants having practiced for at least ten years in K-12 educational settings. The face-to-face or telephone interviews and follow-up contacts were tape-recorded, transcribed, coded, and analyzed. The one interview that was conducted totally by email and the multiple email follow-up contacts with the research participants were similarly coded and analyzed.
Results: Analysis of the data revealed: 1) the uniqueness of each participant’s practice and work environment, 2) the forms of learning experiences the participants valued most, 3) the influence on practice of critical events, prior experiences, and outside-of-work and on-the-job learning experiences, and 4) factors such as personal qualities, number of assigned schools, and sources of funding that influenced the level of practice interventions (micro or macro) the participants were able to conduct.
Conclusions and Implications: This study provides a perspective on school social work practice that is rarely addressed: the influence of various professional and personal development experiences on practice behaviors, as well as the inclination of some practitioners to implement more macro-level interventions than others. The findings shed light on supports and barriers school social workers encounter when attempting to incorporate evidence-based and -informed interventions into their practice in educational settings. The findings also highlight factors contributing to the uniqueness of practice behaviors among individual school social workers, as well as the uniqueness of each setting in which school social workers practice. These differences in practices and settings may account for some of the difficulties the school social work profession has had developing a model of practice that is relatively uniform across the country compared with other educational support professions such as psychologists, counselors, and nurses (ASCA, 2013; Committee on School Health, 2001; Frey & Dupper, 2005; Kelly, 2008; NASP, 2013).