Abstract: WITHDRAWN School Social Workers during COVID-19 School Closures: Meet Basic Needs and Increase Capacity (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN School Social Workers during COVID-19 School Closures: Meet Basic Needs and Increase Capacity

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Gordon Capp, PhD, Assistant professor, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA
Kate Watson, MSW, Doctoral Student, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Kelly, PhD, Professor, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL
Ron Avi Astor, PhD, Professor, UCLA, Woodland Hills, CA
Rami Benbenishty, PhD, Professor Emritus, Hebrew university of Jerusalem, Jerualem, Israel
Background and Purpose: As school districts develop and modify plans for reopening schools, school leaders are struggling to balance the safety of students and staff and the need for academic and social emotional progress during a global pandemic. School social workers (SSWs) have a unique understanding of school environments and the relationship between student well-being, academic progress, and impacts of the pandemic. This study presents data from a national survey of SSWs that aimed to understand their experiences supporting students, families, and other staff members as schools shifted to remote instruction and planned for a new school year. One critical and distinguishing aspect of SSW is a focus on ecological experiences of students. A child’s school functioning must be understood in the context of biological/physiological issues, social influences (e.g. families and neighborhoods), and psychological levels. COVID-19 created unprecedented impacts on our schools and society, requiring SSWs to attend to the complex and cascading effects for K-12 students and their families.

Methods: Data comes from a national study of SSWs (n = 1275) administered in June and July of 2020. This study presents qualitative results from approximately 450 SSWs who responded to multiple open-ended questions that accompanied a quantitative survey. Participants shared 1) comments/suggestions/thoughts that could help us better understand their current experiences as a school social worker or supervisor, and any practice suggestions that could benefit other social workers, professional leaders, or relevant policy-makers; and 2) their recommendations (including policies and procedures) for reopening schools and districts.

Results: Several themes emerged from qualitative responses. Concerns about basic needs were paramount. SSWs reported a high need for food and housing among their students and families, one noting simply that, “Maslow’s needs need to be met.” SSWs also highlighted difficulty contacting or maintaining connections with students during the pandemic. This concern was compounded by worries about trauma, abuse, and domestic violence among families. SSWs also reported a need for access to computers/tablets and internet so students could participate in virtual learning. While SSWs primarily expressed concern for their students, they also shared needs and concerns related to their practice, including a need for best practices related to the provision of telehealth and asynchronous lessons, for additional communication and support from school and district leadership, and concern about already tight resources and the increased workload. SSWs also expressed concern for their personal safety and well-being, including difficulties providing services while caring for their own families, and about their families contracting COVID-19.

Conclusion: Findings from SSWs can lead to several recommendations for school leaders and policymakers going forward. Resources including food, housing and mental health services must be targeted to schools and communities in the most need. The capacity of social workers to intervene effectively also must be improved. This includes the number of SSWs in school communities, increased awareness of school social work roles, and tools for their use — including technology, curriculum, and professional supports. Finally, the safety and well-being of SSWs must be prioritized through policy and funding.