Practice Guidelines for Delivery of School Social Work Services

Practice Guidelines for Delivery of School Social Work Services


These guidelines have been developed to assist school social workers in identifying their scope of services; developing and implementing programs and interventions to assist students in meeting their academic goals; and guiding the decision making necessary to meaningfully assess circumstances and prepare supports addressing needs within the school community. It is suggested that the reader make themselves aware of the contents of this guide, as well as the appendices, as there are several important concepts discussed that are relatively new in their application to school-based services. Response to Intervention and the collaborative model of a coordinated approach to school health both rely deeply on the skills and services provided by school social workers, but also require comprehensive collaboration with other school professionals. Through the use of this guide, it is intended that each school social worker will be able to plan, manage and monitor their own professional growth to the extent that their work environment allows. 

Schools have long been a practice site for social workers across the country, with New York, Boston and Hartford being among the first to institute social work services in schools during the 1906-07 school year. Jane Colbert, at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in 1916, defined school social work as “supplementing the teacher’s knowledge of the child, assisting the school, and interpreting to the parents the demands of the school and the needs of the children.” (Constable, et al., 2006). Then known as “Visiting Teachers,” school social workers were hired to facilitate communication between home and school in an effort to promote the successful integration of disadvantaged children into the school community and the daily activities of learning. Later with the passage of compulsory attendance laws, the mission of and need for school social workers expanded as more children were entering schools with significant social, emotional and academic barriers to learning. 

In April 2010, the Connecticut State Board of Education (CSBE) issued its Position Statement on Student Support Services that includes, among other practice activities, the importance of comprehensive and coordinated behavioral health services for all students. School social workers, by nature of their professional training, are uniquely qualified and empowered to provide significant contributions to the ongoing development of social and behavioral self-management among students. This statement and the included guidance for implementing student support services can be found in appendix A. While the individual contributions of school social workers provide significant impact upon the readiness of students to meet the academic challenges confronting them, these services should be provided within a holistic framework consistent with a coordinated school health approach, using scientific research-based interventions. The CSBE Position Statement on a Coordinated Approach to School Health, along with its associated guidelines, can be found in appendix B of this publication.

Due to statutory changes resulting from the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as reauthorized by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), all children, including those with disabilities and other barriers to learning, are entitled to a free, appropriate public education and may be eligible for accommodations to meet their learning needs. School social workers, using an ecological perspective while serving on multidisciplinary teams “bring unique knowledge and skills to the school system and the student services team and are hired by school districts to enhance the district’s ability to meet its academic mission, especially where home, school and community collaboration is key to achieving its mission” (School Social Work Association of America, 2003).

This dual focus of linking schools, families and communities, as well as of implementing interventions to remove nonacademic barriers to learning, remains the central mission of school social workers to this day. This document is intended to provide school social workers situated in local education agencies with guidance, resources and references to inform their practice and provide assistance in communicating to allied professionals the complex duties associated with school social work.