Accordingly, this paper examines the ways school social workers (SSWs) support racial identity development within a school context. It also examines the extent to which and how school social workers are supporting the racial identity of students within the roles and responsibilities they currently hold.
Methods: Eleven, semi-structured interviews were conducted with SSWs. The sample was predominantly female (91% female; 9% male), White (55% White; 36% Black/African American; 9% Multiracial/Multiethnic), and predominantly master’s level practitioners (91% masters; 9% doctoral degree). Six SSWs were employed in one Northeastern city, while the other six worked in Midwestern/Southern cities. Participants were recruited through e-mails sent to school social work associations around the country, a university-affiliated field advisor, and SSWs were referred directly to the researcher by email. Interviews with SSWs allowed for the comparison of experiences, while also facilitating the spontaneous exploration of subjects pertinent to that individual participant. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematically coded using Nvivo software, guided by grounded theory concepts and an inductive approach to qualitative analysis.
Results: Thematic analysis revealed three major themes: 1) few SSWs acknowledged clear attempts to help Black learners' racial identity development, despite the fact that most indicated supporting identity formation and self-development as an important role of SSWs, 2) factors related to training and education both enabled and constrained SSWs’ efforts to support racial identity development, and 3) factors related to roles and responsibilities played a part in SSWs’ capacity to support racial identity development for Black and Latinx youth. Despite receiving no training about racial identity development, two of the eleven SSWs indicated a clear commitment and methods for promoting students’ racial identity development.
Conclusions/Implications: Findings highlight the importance of having culturally responsive, anti-oppressive, and anti-racist components within school social work education and curriculum. Participants also highlighted an urgent need to develop a rubric and measurement of anti-racist practice behaviors. Finally identifying where and how current SSWs obtain knowledge about students’ racial identity development, as well as the implementation of specific strategies to convert these ideas into practice, would promote tangible anti-racist and culturally responsive actions for both active and future school social workers.