Methods: Data for this study came from a national survey of SSWs about their experiences providing services during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study sample (N=1,275) was taken from a population of SSWs in the United States who are members of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Network, American Council for School Social Work, School Social Work Association of America, Society for Social Work and Research, and other state-level professional organizations. Responses were collected through an anonymous, online questionnaire that asked about demographics, family and student needs, situations compounding the pandemic, student participation and response to SSW services, and school staff collaboration and performance.
Results: The most common needs for students and their families were for mental health services (75.7% of SSWs reporting), food (62.4%), tutoring support (62.3%), and health services (61.6%). SSWs indicated that family poverty and mental health were critical compounding factors of students’ and families’ pandemic experiences. Families in poorer schools had more basic needs (r = .63, p < .001) and were more affected by compounding circumstances related to family adversity (r = .54, p < .001). Schools with more Black and Latinx students were identified as having more basic (r = .49, p < .001) and support needs (r = .41, p < .001), and were more affected by family (r = .48, p < .001) and immigration-related (r = .52, p < .001) issues. SSWs indicated a strong belief that school staff were doing their best, that their schools were making a strong effort to care for students.
Conclusion: Several policy and practice implications arise from our findings, specifically in relation to the need for more basic and supportive services for students and families. Strategies for reopening that only focus on academics and social-emotional learning will not suffice when large numbers of students and families lack food or fear the loss of their housing. In addition, supportive efforts should be strategically implemented; not all schools have the same needs. Schools with high numbers of low-income and Black and Latinx students need more concrete supports for meeting needs and re-engaging in school. Large-scale national and regional efforts are required to provide much-needed resources to support families. Furthermore, it is clear that no one profession or stakeholder, particularly at the local level or even at state levels, can address all of these needs.