Practice Guidelines for Delivery of School Social Work Services

Practice Guidelines for Delivery of School Social Work Services

Supports and Opportunities

In this section

District Supports

Administrative Structure and Support

Previous sections of this document delineate the school social worker's responsibilities to the school systems in which they work. This section delineates the school district's responsibilities to the social workers they employ. NASW's "Standards for School Social Work Services" (NASW, 2002) identifies guidelines that local education agencies should follow in creating and maintaining their school social work programs. An overarching theme in both documents is that "school social work services are aligned with educational goals and integrated with other school support services" (NASW, Standard 31).

School social workers are integral members of the student support network within each school and within each district. Thus, it is imperative that their roles, expertise and professional responsibilities are fully incorporated into the comprehensive framework of the school system.

To meet the standards for administrative structure and support of its social work program, each LEA should ensure that:

  1. Realistic job descriptions, working conditions and workload standards are available to assist the school social worker in understanding and explaining the nature of their work in their particular school and are commensurate with their advanced education, training, experience and duties.
  2. Supervision is provided on a regular basis (weekly, if possible) by experienced masters of social work and includes administrative, clinical and profession-specific supervision. In addition, evaluation of school social workers should be systematic, appropriate to meet the individual needs of staff members and consistent with discipline-specific standards of practice. Only a supervisor with credentials and expertise in school social work should evaluate clinical practice. School social workers should have a job-specific evaluation form that reflects the scope of their practice.
  3. The necessary material and organizational supports are available to help school social workers perform their duties. Such a work setting would include basic resources that ensure privacy and confidentiality for students and support the social worker's daily activities in the performance of their jobs. Basic resources include an office; computer; ongoing professional development; and an appropriate space for meeting with students and their families. In addition, school social workers should be afforded the opportunity to attend both regularly scheduled building-level and department meetings.
  4. Profession-specific professional development opportunities that support school social work practice are available. A range of relevant and timely professional development activities should include those that assist social workers in broadening their clinical and educational knowledge. Not only does professional development apply to social workers receiving training to strengthen their own skills, but also to their providing training to other school personnel in areas such as child development, children's mental health, crisis intervention, and behavior management.
  5. The goals, objectives and tasks of a school social work program are clearly and directly related to the mission of the local education agency. Social workers, as members of a student support team, must assist districts in addressing nonacademic barriers to academic achievement and providing supports and interventions assisting students in developing the necessary skills for social and emotional competency.
  6. That the level of need for social-emotional and developmental support within the student population is adequately addressed through appropriate staff to student ratios. Appropriate ratios for school social work staff to students should be based upon the unique characteristics and needs of the student population, as well as the available mental health services in the larger community.
  7. The school social work program's annual budget is sufficient to support department and school district priorities. The annual budget process should provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary planning to promote cost-effective administration and delivery of services.

School districts should also ensure that their own policies and procedures do not jeopardize school social workers' standards of professional practice. School social work programs should have:

  1. Vision and mission statements that maintain consistency with those of the NASW and relate to all students, not special education students alone and complement the vision and mission statements of the school district. These statements should be the guide from which departmental goals and measurable objectives are derived.
  2. Policies and procedures that are consistent with the NASW Code of Ethics. These policies and procedures should reflect current professional standards of practice and legal mandates. School social workers should collaborate, as appropriate, to develop, review and revise department policies and procedures. Policies and procedures should allow school social workers to exercise appropriate professional judgment and autonomy in delivering services and ensure effective response to individual and schoolwide crisis situations.
  3. Practices that are monitored to ensure that they are consistent with, and serve the intended purposes of, school district confidentiality policies and procedures. Practices for obtaining informed consent to share student and family information with outside parties are consistent with legal and professional standards. Student and family information used by school social workers is shared among school personnel only as needed for the benefit of the student. Resources to assist with confidentiality issues (e.g., supervisors, outside experts, written guidelines) are available to, and appropriately accessed by, school social work staff.
  4. School social workers who provide services only within the limits of their individual preparation and expertise. In order to provide services in other areas, they acquire the requisite competencies through additional education (e.g., coursework, in-service training and supervised practice).
  5. Similar provisions for contracted school social work services. A contractual agreement for such requires compliance with district policies and procedures, and the district should monitor these services to ensure such compliance. Contracted school social work services encompass the same continuum of services as those provided by regularly employed school social work staff and should not be used to decrease the amount and quality of school social work services provided by the district.

The school social work program should have written procedures for evaluating its effectiveness. The results of program evaluations should be documented and, when indicated, result in changes or modifications.


Data, Record Keeping and Personal Notes

School social workers should maintain data that assists the school administration in recognizing the need for and contributions of social work services. Such data may be used to determine resource deployment, staffing assignments and the development of policies and procedures that streamline services for students. Data may include:

  • number of sessions held with students;
  • number of individual students seen, including:
    • length of treatment, e.g., number of sessions and frequency; and
    • examples or evidence of problem resolution;
  • types of issues identified for services;
  • classroom observations;
  • staff consultations;
  • team participation (number, type and frequency);
  • listing of administrative responsibilities;
  • parent consultations;
  • home visits;
  • parent training sessions;
  • any professional development provided within or outside the district that is related to district responsibilities; and
  • any special education-related activities, including time for paperwork.

All student records associated with mental health services provided by school social work staff should be kept in a locked cabinet, away from routine student information, should be clearly marked "Confidential" and cannot be shared with district teaching, support or administrative staff without written consent. Best practice would be for the district to identify secured storage and that access is obtained to these records only by the person who generated them or, in the case of signed releases, to the individuals specifically so named.

Personal notes are not records but to meet the standard of being personal notes, the following requirements apply:

  • are developed to prompt memory about previous discussion with the individual;
  • do not include diagnostic or verbatim information;
  • have not been previously released or transmitted to a receiving agency, as in the case of outside referral;
  • are only for the personal use of the individual making the notes (and a designated temporary substitute, such as in the case of illness); and
  • are in the sole possession of the individual who generated them and are not typically accessible to others.

Personal notes generally are not subject to subpoena, however the material can be demanded under a bench order (court order) issued by a presiding judge. Most records can be obtained by subpoena and these include:

  • any record made available to other staff;
  • diagnostic data or information from which a diagnosis might reasonably be made; and
  • content that has been used to substantiate referral to other services.


Requirements for Professional Development

Providing meaningful and effective services for students requires school social workers to maintain and update their knowledge of best practices and emerging trends in treatment and collaboration. It is necessary that school social workers obtain regular and formal training, in addition to ongoing consultation and supervision. This training must be discipline specific to ensure that the individual school social worker is able to provide optimal service within the job expectations that the school and community hold for such a position. School social workers should also receive ongoing training in collaborative models of service delivery. Certification regulations require the completion of 9.0 continuing education units (CEUs) (90 contact hours) every five-year period that a professional educator certificate holder is employed (full-time or part-time) in a Connecticut public school, serving under a professional educator certificate. If you are not serving under a professional educator certificate in a Connecticut public school, then you are not required to complete CEUs to apply for continuation of a professional educator certificate.

It is additionally important that the school social worker be appropriately informed in current educational practices such as data-driven decision making, common formative assessments, improving school climate and school improvement planning. The aforementioned examples are part of the Connecticut Accountability for Learning Initiative and contribute to school districts' improvement plans. Because of their integration with other school staff in addressing the barriers that students must overcome to succeed in school, school social workers must participate in any macro effort within the school and district to address student learning needs.

School social workers should strive to maintain within their district, centralized information related to the physical, communication, psychological and social-emotional development of children and youth. This resource should be used to help all social workers within the district 1) to inform best practice; 2) to provide the means and motivation for sharing success stories related to best practices and to assist in providing background information to non-social-work staff; and 3) to help them understand how school social work services can contribute to the other supports provided to students who are struggling academically, socially, behaviorally or emotionally.

The contributions of SRBI and evidence-based practices to professional efficacy require that social workers continue to develop their knowledge and understanding of the variety of tools available for intervention. The expansion of Internet resources has provided a vast number of opportunities to receive training in various modalities from the comfort of office or home. School social workers should consider using these available resources only when research of the material is adequate and legitimate. An example of straightforward and legitimate introductory material that can be reviewed on line is the trauma-focused cognitive-behavior therapy training found at


Evaluating School Social Workers

School social workers are committed to the delivery of quality professional services to students and school systems in which they work. School social workers function in different capacities based on the needs of the district and client populations they serve. School social workers are assigned a variety of administrative, prevention and intervention tasks. The principal or the principal's designee evaluates school social workers, like most other employees within the school. However, these individuals typically do not have clinical and social services training that can inform their assessment of the school social workers' skills. School social workers should seek professional supervision and consultation that enables them to expand existing skills and develop new areas of knowledge.

For administrative oversight, a fully comprehensive evaluation should be adapted to the specific responsibilities that the school social worker has assigned to them. Several areas of performance should be considered during an annual evaluation. Administrative supervisors should consider the school social workers' professional and ethical responsibilities; knowledge of the theory and practice of school social work, human growth and development, and related policies and practices; ability to accurately and effectively assess student needs and progress and help students develop positive self-concept and independence; effective implementation of programs and interventions; ability to meet the needs of students with disabilities; effective communication with students, families and other school personnel; development of appropriate plans with meaningful goals and objectives, clear timelines and meaningful methodology; organization of time, space, materials and equipment and effective use of available resources; adherence to policies, procedures and practices, as defined within the LEA; and promotion of a positive learning environment to meet student needs, including responsibility and respect within the school environment and advocacy for students and families.

The following expanded competencies and indicators of school social work practice should be considered when evaluating staff members. A straightforward rubric identifying that the staff member "has not met," "has met," "exceeds expectations," or has had "no opportunity to practice," will facilitate constructive feedback while assisting the staff member to develop future professional development goals.

  1. The school social worker meets or exceeds professional and ethical responsibilities.
    1. Demonstrates responsibility for self-growth, professional improvement and ongoing self-evaluation.
    2. Works cooperatively with colleagues and administrators.
    3. Follows the policies and procedures of the school district or works to change those policies and procedures when necessary for the benefit of students and families.
    4. Adheres to and demonstrates a commitment to, the values and ethics of the social work profession.
    5. Protects the confidentiality of student and family information to the greatest extent possible while complying with local, state and federal mandates.
    6. Obtains informed consent to disclose confidential information or to provide services in accordance with professional and ethical standards and legal mandates.
  2. The school social worker demonstrates knowledge of various school systems and learning modalities of various cultures, including the Connecticut system of public school education.
    1. Demonstrates knowledge and understanding of the governance of school systems at the local, state and federal levels.
    2. Demonstrates understanding of special services available to students and families.
    3. Demonstrates understanding of mental health diagnoses and the IDEA and its categories of disability to optimize planning and programming for student success in the school setting.
    4. Demonstrates how organization of the district and its initiatives affects the school community.
  3. The school social worker effectively assesses student needs and progress.
    1. Systematically conducts record reviews, observations of the student in multiple settings, clinical interviews with students and appropriate family members and consultations with school staff and staff from community agencies, when appropriate, to gather data.
    2. Demonstrates the ability to administer, score and interpret formal and informal inventories and evaluations.
    3. Assesses and identifies the social-emotional needs of students and makes recommendations to enhance the overall learning environment of the school.
    4. Develops measurable treatment goals to address students' educational needs.
    5. Evaluates progress toward the achievement of treatment goals and the need for additional or alternative strategies.
  4. The school social worker as counselor.
    1. Helps students develop positive self-concept.
      1. Recognizes and understands the strengths of each student and the opportunities presented in the diversity of the school environment.
      2. Maintains to the greatest extent possible the confidentiality of student information within the counseling relationship.
      3. Demonstrates sensitivity to, and respect for, the needs and feelings of all students and families.
      4. Demonstrates patience, empathy and enthusiasm with students.
      5. Helps students develop problem-solving, decision-making and social interaction skills.
      6. Assists staff to implement strategies to foster pro-social skills.
    2. Facilitates the development of student independence.
      1. Recognizes and encourages students to identify their strengths and interests.
      2. Provides opportunities for students to use their personal strengths to advocate for themselves.
      3. Engages students in selecting their own learning and counseling objectives and activities.
      4. Provides opportunities that assist students in developing thinking, problem solving and self-evaluation skills.
      5. Promotes students' ability to communicate effectively with others about ideas, concerns and emotions.
      6. Assists students in evaluating their own progress toward achieving treatment and educational goals.
  5. The school social worker as consultant.
    1. Provides information and consultation to school personnel, school board members and community representatives to promote understanding and effective use of school social work services.
      1. Makes use of a range of treatment interventions, such as consultation, casework, group work, family counseling, crisis intervention and school/community organization skills.
      2. Assists parents, staff, administration and the school community to better understand the factors affecting children's educational experiences.
      3. Assists students, families, school staff, administration and community representatives to understand and participate in the process of problem resolution.
      4. Demonstrates an ability to engage parent and community representatives in school planning to facilitate children's learning and improve the school environment.
    2. Effectively meets the needs of students with disabilities.
      1. Obtains and uses information concerning student and family history from available records.
      2. Demonstrates understanding of the behaviors resulting from mental, physical, emotional, sensory, speech or other disabilities.
      3. Assists staff, administration, parents and community representatives to better understand special needs and how they affect student learning.
      4. Discusses the provision of school social work services as a related service addressing students with disability.
      5. Provides consultation to school staff, parents, administration and community representatives to help meet a student's special needs.
  6. The school social worker as community liaison.
    1. Effectively communicates with students, family members, school personnel and members of the community.
      1. Understands and articulates the purposes and values of social work interventions to school and community.
      2. Clearly communicates key information (e.g., social work assessment, treatment goals and objectives, intervention strategies) to family members and community providers.
      3. Facilitates communication between home and school.
      4. Initiates and maintains a liaison role, as appropriate, with community service providers and school personnel.
      5. Develops and communicates clearly the IEP component when social work is to be provided as a related service.
    2. Facilitates the cooperative involvement of parents and the community in the educational process.
      1. Assists staff to achieve communication with parents based upon mutual respect.
      2. Assists staff in conducting effective parent-teacher conferences.
      3. Informs parents of community resources and services and assists them in developing independent access to resources and services.
      4. Assists parents to communicate their needs and concerns effectively to school and community agency staff.
      5. Assists in identifying unmet needs in the community that adversely affect student learning and advocates for necessary services.
      6. Provides outreach to parents who experience barriers to their involvement in school experiences.
  7. The school social worker as manager.
    1. Plans programs and interventions to achieve established goals and objectives.
      1. Organizes case data to develop psychosocial treatment plans for enhancing student learning.
      2. Develops action plans that include initial assessment, treatment goals, interventions and, when appropriate, exit criteria when providing services to students referred for social work supports.
      3. Evaluates programs and services for effectiveness and develops alternative strategies when existing supports do not meet student needs.
    2. Effectively organizes time, space, materials and equipment.
      1. Establishes and maintains service schedules, routines and procedures.
      2. Uses treatment time effectively, paces interventions appropriately and maximizes students' time on task.
      3. Provides a treatment environment that is inviting and adequate for planned use.
      4. Meets deadlines for documentation and related reports.
    3. Understands the organization, its policies and the impact on student needs.
      1. Incorporates knowledge of the organization, its structure and local policies when planning programs and services for students and their families.
  8. The school social worker as advocate.
    1. Promotes a positive learning environment.
      1. Promotes appropriate and universal standards for behavior for all persons in the learning environment and enhances positive interpersonal relations based upon mutual respect.
      2. Promotes an atmosphere fostering self-discipline based on self- concept and self-worth and accountability to others.
      3. Supports fair, respectful and consistent practices that promote understanding of personal responsibility and personal choice.
    2. Promotes understanding of school system policies and procedures, and of the legal rights and responsibilities of students, staff, families and the community.
      1. Promotes students' understanding of school policies and procedures and student, staff and family roles and responsibilities in the school environment.
      2. Promotes parents' understanding of rights and responsibilities under the law and in their child's school setting.
      3. Helps students and parents understand the roles and responsibilities of various staff members within the school setting to facilitate cooperative efforts to meet student needs.
    3. Advocates for students and families regarding equitable access to services.
      1. Advocates for students' and parents' rights and responsibilities regarding the best interests of the student.
      2. Ensures that students and families are provided services within the context of multicultural understanding and competence to optimize family and student learning.
      3. Assists the students and family to appropriately advocate for the student's educational needs.
      4. Works for increased understanding of problems facing students and families and strives to obtain, leverage or create needed services.
      5. Advocates, when appropriate, for exceptions to rules, policies and practices on behalf of students and families.
      6. Works to change regulations, rules, policies and practices that are barriers to the provision of best services to students.