School social worker roles and responsibilities vary and are determined by a number of factors including federal and state mandates and decisions about how school divisions allocate their resources. The primary purpose of this study was to examine the variation among Virginia school social workers’ roles, responsibilities, and perceptions of evidence-informed practice efficacy.
Data were collected during the 2019-2020 school year using a cross-sectional survey design. School social workers were recruited from the Virginia Association of School Social Workers' membership. 164 participants (32% response rate) completed the Google questionnaire. 92% identified as female, 67% percent identified as White, 27% as Black, 1.8% as Latino, and 1.2% as Asian or Pacific Islander. 72% were licensed by the state department of education and 35% were also licensed clinical social workers.
In addition to univariate analyses, bivariate and multivariate statistical procedures were used to identify and explain statistically significant relationships between several knowledge and evidence-informed practice criterion measures and five demographic variables: (1) years of school social work practice experience, (2) description of the school district (e.g. mostly urban), (3) total population of students enrolled in the district, (4) social worker to student ratio, and (5) the school district’s funding status.
Participants reported higher levels of knowledge efficacy than practice efficacy. For example, 82.3% were knowledgeable or very knowledgeable of family –level interventions that support students’ well-being, but only 49.4% of those surveyed believed that their evidence-informed efforts to increase parents’ capacity to improve their child’s educational outcomes were effective. Notably, participants who consulted more often with school administrators about students’ concerns or completed more student-level clinical assessment interviews reported higher levels of practice efficacy.
Tasks identified as most effective in addressing students’ academic, behavioral or social-emotional concerns were home visits (85.4%), parent interviews (96.3%), and referrals to outside agencies (95.1%). Attendance and discipline records, teacher reports, and grades were used more often than rating scales or classroom observations to monitor students’ progress. Even though 68% acknowledged having limited or no experience using standardized measures for progress monitoring, 63.1% rated their treatment fidelity skills as adequate or very adequate.
Multivariate regression methods examined the relationships between criterion measures and the demographic variables. In one model, years of school social work experience predicted their knowledge of evidence-informed practices that remove barriers to learning for traumatized youth (b = -0.17, t(5) = -2.60, p = .01). As years of experience increased, their knowledge decreased. In another model, as total student enrollment increased (b = .135, t(5) = 3.77, p < .001) participants’ knowledge of social emotional clinical interventions increased and when worker to student ratio decreased (b = -0.117, t(5) = -2.65, p = .009) participants’ knowledge of social- emotional clinical interventions increased.
Conclusions and Implications:
The finding that certain demographic variables were associated with participants’ knowledge and practice efficacy was anticipated. Other findings illuminate a gap in evidence-informed knowledge and skills and support the need for targeted state-wide training opportunities to address school social workers’ professional development needs.