By Jennifer Hawley
Disability is rising among children. According to the Census Bureau, 4.3% of the under-18 population had a disability in 2020, up 0.5% on previous studies. What’s more, as science continues to expand and further understanding of the various conditions that children are diagnosed with, care is arguably becoming a more complex and nuanced process. School Social Workers play a key role in supporting children with disabilities in school; regardless of their condition, they can provide that vital link between the child and the classroom that can help them to go on to achieve more. Understanding this, and continuously improving skills in the area, will create long-term benefits.
A key section of children requiring support are those diagnosed with learning disabilities. The move to digital learning has created a situation in which new forms of learning disability have been brought to the fore, and children with learning disabilities have undoubtedly, as the Washington Post assert, been subjected to a lesser standard of support. The correct approach to this is a collaborative effort between parents, teachers and School Social Workers – with the latter on hand to play a greater role in the classroom. Children with learning disabilities need carefully constructed and well executed learning plans that take into account their individual needs. The work of School Social Workers in helping to bridge this gap through e-learning, and provide stability, is crucial.
Making use of resources
These difficulties are not without resources. In early July, the Department of Education announced it would release $3bn in funding for children with disabilities; this money will filter down to states, and schools, and ultimately the functions that help children to find success – like their School Social Workers. In-school and online, this can help to provide money for new tools. Using professional organizations and their ties with schools, School Social Workers should push for the use of new tools and new schemes to help them rebuild bridges with children living with disability. Money can help to provide peace of mind and the technology needed to make long-term change.
Changing home life
Children with disabilities and their families have been disproportionately impacted by the ‘new normal’. A report concerning British children, published by The Independent newspaper, found an 80% rise in families accessing support websites. This changing home life is hard for families and their children to parse, and is somewhere that School Social Workers can help to step in. The expert knowledge that School Social Workers have of the children, and how even minor changes can be bridged to enable them to feel comfortable and safe, can certainly be deployed at home. With lockdown restrictions peeling back, it’s a great opportunity for School Social Workers to get into the home and start building new relationships with the families.
Bringing these principles together will help children living with disability to once again have confidence in their education. This is something that has, arguably, not been present over the past year. Restoring that trust will help these children, often the most in need, to reach new heights.
Jennifer Hawley is a children's therapist turned freelance writer. She is passionate about children's health and rights topics and enjoys working in this field. Outside of work she loves visiting Europe and spending time with her wider family.