Systematic Reviews On School-Based Social Work Interventions: Synthesizing Evidence to Inform Practice
Social workers are called upon to address a myriad of problems and needs of at-risk students. The demand to use evidence to address these problems has been increasing; however, practitioners have limited time and resources to conduct comprehensive and rigorous reviews of evidence. Systematic reviews aim to comprehensively locate and synthesize research using organized, transparent, and replicable procedures in ways that reduce error and bias to summarize the best evidence for use by practitioners and policymakers. This symposium aims to present the results of three systematic reviews that quantitatively synthesize evidence of effectiveness of school-based interventions for at-risk youth to inform practice, policy, and research.
The first systematic review examines the effects of after-school programs on socio-emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes with at-risk youth. Over the past two decades, a marked increase in the number and types of after-school programs (ASP) has risen sharply; however, ASPs are not necessarily based on strong empirical evidence. Despite the popularity and promise of ASP’s, the programs' effects remain ambiguous. While prior reviews of ASP outcomes exist, they are limited by their synthesis methods and have not fully examined moderating effects related to study, participant, and intervention characteristics. This review used systematic review procedures to search, retrieve, select, and analyze included studies. Findings from the meta-analysis of 44 studies reveal mostly small and insignificant effects across studies. Moderator analysis suggests differential effects related to study and intervention characteristics that can inform practice and research.
The second systematic review synthesizes evidence of interventions to improve attendance and reduce anxiety for students exhibiting school refusal behavior. School refusal behavior is characterized by severe emotional distress and anxiety at the prospect of going to school, leading to difficulties in attending school. A comprehensive search strategy produced eight experimental and quasi-experimental studies for inclusion. Findings suggest that students with school refusal behavior benefit from both cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and non-CBT interventions. School social workers thus have a range of interventions from which to choose when intervening with students who exhibit school refusal behavior. Implications for practice and policy will be discussed.
The final systematic review examines the effects of school-based interventions with military-connected students. Over 1.2 million pre-K-12 students are dependents of military service members and face unique stresses related to military life, which can negatively impact academic and behavioral functioning in school. To date, no known systematic review has been conducted examining the effects of school-based interventions with military-connected students. Findings reveal a paucity of research in this area. The results support the need for the development of evidence-based interventions that address the needs of military-connected students.
The three systematic reviews presented in this symposium offer social work practitioners, researchers, and policymakers pertinent evidence to guide practice and research to improve academic and socio-behavioral outcomes with at-risk youth.