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School Social Worker's Role
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"I cannot teach the head when the heart is broken or the mind is troubled"

Parkway School District Teacher of the Year, St. Louis, MO

The best teachers with the biggest teaching "bag of tricks", recognize that numerous factors interfere with their ability to reach many of their students.  Children today are increasingly victims of many social forces that negatively affect their role as students.  Many families are in a state of change and until it becomes stabilized, in whatever form, children's unmet physical and emotional needs will continue to interfere with their ability to learn and adjust in school.

"We need to get in there and do the work. We may do our work in a classroom, at a table, under a table, outside of a home on the front porch or through a screened door. We may do our work with puppets and clay or graffiti and spoken word, before school or during lunch...nonetheless, we do the work."  Heather Alden, 2012  National School Social Worker of the Year

  • School social work is a specialized area of practice within the broad field of the social work profession.
  • School social workers bring unique knowledge and skills to the school system and the student services team.
  • School Social Workers are trained mental health professionals who can assist with mental health concerns, behavioral concerns, positive behavioral support, academic and classroom support, consultation with teachers, parents and administrators as well as provide individual and group counseling/therapy.  
  • School social workers are instrumental in furthering the mission of the schools which is to provide a setting for teaching, learning, and for the attainment of competence and confidence.
  • School social workers are hired by school districts to enhance the district's ability to meet its academic mission, especially where home, school and community collaboration is the key to achieving student success. 


WHY do today's schools need School Social Workers?     

Children today are increasingly victims of many social forces that negatively affect their role as students. The family is in a state of change and until it becomes stabilized, in whatever form, children's unmet physical and emotional needs will continue to interfere with their ability to learn and adjust in school.

WHO are School Social Workers?

School Social Workers are trained  mental health professionals with a degree in social work who provide services related to a person's social, emotional and life adjustment to school and/or society.  School Social Workers  are the link between the home, school and community in providing direct as well as indirect services to students, families and school personnel to promote and support students' academic and social success. 

WHAT are some of the specific services that School Social Workers provide?


  • Participating in special education assessment meetings as well as individual Educational Planning Meetings
  • Working with those problems in a child's living situation that affect the child’s adjustment in school. (home, school, and community)
  • Preparing a social or developmental history on a child with a disability.
  • Counseling (group, individual and/or family)
  • Mobilizing family, school, and community resources to enable the child to learn as effectively as possible in his or her educational program
  • Assisting in developing positive behavioral intervention strategies.


  • Providing crisis intervention.
  • Developing intervention strategies to increase academic success.
  • Assisting with conflict resolution and anger management.
  • Helping the child develop appropriate social interaction skills.
  • Assisting the child in understanding and accepting self and others.


  • Working with parents to facilitate their support in their children's school adjustment.
  • Alleviating family stress to enable the child to function more effectively in school &community.
  • Assisting parents to access programs available to students with special needs.
  • Assisting parents in accessing and utilizing school and community resources.


  • Providing staff with essential information to  better understand factors (cultural, societal, economic, familial, health, etc.) affecting a student’s performance and behavior.
  • Assessing students with mental health concerns.
  • Developing staff in-service training programs.
  • Assisting teachers with behavior management.
  • Providing direct support to staff.


  • Obtaining and coordinating community resources to meet students' needs.
  • Helping school districts receive adequate support from social and mental health agencies.
  • Advocating for new and improved community/school service to meet the needs of students and families.
  • Helping the system respond effectively to each child's needs.


  • Assist in developing and implementing educational programs for children for exceptional children
  • Developing alternative programs for drop-outs, truants, delinquents, etc.
  • Identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect.
  • Providing consultation regarding school law and school policy including IDEA and Section 504.
  • Providing case management for students and families requiring multiple resources.

Used with permission from Dot Kontak, LCSW, SSWS (2003, Rev. 2012).   
Director of Communications, School Social Work Association of America
© 2003,2012

(Click here to download PDF Version.)

See Additional Resources Regarding the Role of School Social Workers

Please feel free to download and use the following documents to assist with understanding the many services that School Social Workers are uniquely trained to provide.


School Social Workers' Role in Addressing Students' Mental Health Needs and Increasing Academic Achievement  SSWAA Document. (2 pages)

Elements of School Social Work:   Learn some of the elements of School Social Work Services.   One page bulleted quick glance regarding the role and services areas School Social Workers address.  (1 page)


Frameworks of School Social Work.  Systems level framework for School Social Work Services.  (1 page)

In April, 2013 SSWAA joined the National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of School Psychologists, American School Counselor's Association, National Association of School Resource Officers to develop  A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools    This document outlines the various roles that we each play in schools. (16 pages)

National Standards for School Social Work Services (2002) Developed by the National Association of Social Workers.

Overlapping and Unique Roles of OH Specialized Pupil Services Personnel--Venn Diagram of SSW, School Psych and School Counseling Roles 

Overview of School Based Mental Health Services  Joint document regarding School Based Mental Health by the School Social Work Association of America, the American School Counselors Association and the National Association of School Psychologists

School Social Work Services:   A quick, resource outlining School Social Work services.  (1 page)



See additional Resources to Promote School Social Workers

See Collection of School Social Work Related Videos

A Box of Crayons:  What School Social Work is All About  By Heather Alden, 2012 School Social Worker of the Year

A Day in the Life of a School Social Worker  DVD available for purchase.

School Social Work flyers.   Click here.  Developed by SSWAA for School Social Work publicity.

School Social Work Within the Schools: Learn some of the frameworks of School Social Work Services

School Social Work as a Career:  Interested in becoming a School Social Worker?  

Who are We to Our Students?   Poem by Hope Pacheco

Who Provides Mental Health Services in Schools?     Describes the various roles of  pupil service (Specialized Instructional Support Personnel)  Source:  Kids Mental Health Info

School Based Supports and Services

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