Abstract: Who's Providing Social Work Services in Charter Schools? a Glimpse of Practitioners from a National Sample (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Who's Providing Social Work Services in Charter Schools? a Glimpse of Practitioners from a National Sample

Friday, January 17, 2020
Capitol, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Annahita Ball, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Kate Phillippo, PhD, Associate Professor, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL
Jandel Crutchfield, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background and Purpose: Even though charter schools enroll nearly 3.2 million children, little is known about school mental health (SMH) practice in charter schools. To date, no surveys or databases describe charter school social worker professional characteristics. This study was the first step in a line of inquiry exploring SMH and school social work practice in charter schools. Two research questions guided our work: To what extent are social workers present in charter schools? And, what training do charter school social workers possess?

Methods: Using cross-sectional survey research methods, we conducted brief one-time phone surveys with charter school social workers and counselors whom we identified using a stratified random sampling strategy with national charter school lists. U.S. states were placed within one of five strata based on the number of charter schools (ranging from 20 to 1,125) within the state in 2013-2014. States with fewer than 20 charter schools were eliminated to avoid oversampling. We randomly selected 300 schools (approximately 20%) from each stratum. We then called each selected school and asked to speak with the school’s counselor or school social worker. If we were connected, we gathered data on the respondent’s: job title, employer (e.g., school district, charter management organization), and highest degree earned. Responses were analyzed using SPSS descriptive statistics. Our sampling strategy included replacement until we reached a sample of near 20% for each stratum.

Results: We spoke with individuals from 995 charter schools (66% response rate). We were unable to determine if 518 (52.1%) of the schools had a school social worker or counselor. Common causes for a non-determination were that:  the respondent did not know, declined to reveal that information, or indicated a “yes” but the school social worker or counselor did not respond to our outreach. We removed these schools from analysis, leaving the final sample at 473 schools. Of these, 44.4% (n = 210) had a school social worker or counselor present at least one day per week, of whom 67 (30.5%) were  school social workers. The school social work sample reported a number of job titles, including “school social worker” (67%) and many (13.4%) that were a variation of counselor (e.g., “behavioral counselor,” “social emotional counselor”). Half were employed by their school, 5 were employed by an outside organization contracted with the school and 8 were employed by the school’s chartering organization. Over three-quarters (83%) had a Masters degree in social work as their highest degree.

Conclusions and Implications: Our findings provide a snapshot of the SMH and school social work workforce within the emerging practice setting of charter schools. Results indicate that SMH providers may be in short supply within charter schools nationally, calling into question charter schools’ ability to meet students’ mental health needs. Our findings suggest that the SMH workforce may be professionally similar to those in traditional public schools, but with far fewer practitioners in the schools. We plan to conduct subsequent mixed methods research with survey respondents about the dimensions of their work within charter schools.