Updated: Apr 5
By: Dr. Carolyn A. Curtis, LCSW
As more Americans are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and schools are re-opening, many people want to put this past year behind us looking forward to a return to “normal”. Yet, the reality is, the detrimental impacts of the pandemic will have a lasting impact on students, schools, and society. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to short term and long term psychosocial and mental health implications for children and adolescents, particularly the most vulnerable students, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, those who have experienced social inequality, and/ or come from economically underprivileged families (Singh et. al., 2020).
For school social workers, the statistics concerning the mental health of students are alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that emergency departments have recently seen an increase of a quarter to a third more mental health related visits of children ages 5 to 17 (Leeb et al., 2020). Child psychiatrists have warned of an uptake in suicide risks for students (Chatterjee, 2021). The American Psychological Association (2021) expressed concern around a new wave of pandemic health concerns, that of a mental health crisis.
This mental health crisis comes amidst a continuing concern for equity. Structural racism, including vast health and social inequities, have resulted in people from racial and ethnic minority groups being at higher risk for becoming sick and dying from COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the nationwide protests in response to centuries of racial injustices, has highlighted the disparate mental health needs of people of color and need for schools to respond (Quirk, 2020). Students of color were less likely than their white peers to report that they could reach out to an adult at school for mental health support (Croft et al., 2020).
To address these growing mental health concerns of students and maintain a lens of equity, school social workers need a quick and easy to use tool to assess the well-being of students. Based on the BioPsychoSocial, the traditional go-to assessment for Social Workers, the BioEdSocial includes a section on educational risk and protective factors of students, making this tool more relevant and application than the BioPsychoSocial to school social workers. The BioEdSocial is separated into three sections, biological, educational, and social factors. The two left columns of the BioEdSocial contain common risk factors, while the column on the right, in italics, include common protective factors for each section to provide a quick look at the experiences of the whole student to assess student well-being and help guide interventions.
Bio (Biological Factors)
The Bio section looks at the biological factors of a student. Biological factors include genetic and hormonal aspects as well as nutrition and identity. As students’ identities can impact their learning and experiences within school, it is important to examine aspects of identity when assessing student well-being. Researchers (Jamal et al., 2013; Ulman, 2017) have shown that potentially marginalized identities and systemic inequalities can impact students’ experiences and connections at school. Examining the biological risk and protective factors, helps school social workers better understand how physiological processes and identity experiences may impact students.
Ed (Educational Factors)
Educational factors include academic and learning-based characteristics as well as behaviors in the classroom. Experiences and behaviors at school can impact student well-being. While academic engagement can foster student well-being, student behaviors that result in discipline infractions, such as suspensions, can negatively impact well-being (Pyne, 2018). Students of color experience exclusionary discipline actions at much higher rates than their white peers (Riddle & Sinclair, 2019), contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline. Gaining a better understanding of educational risk and protective factors helps school social workers develop plans to aid in student success.
Social (Social Factors)
Social factors focus on interactions with others and involvement in social activities. Experiences and emotions related to social interactions with others impacts student well-being. The experiences of social pain can lead to reduction in academic success (Lieberman, 2013) and loneliness negatively impacts mental health and well-being (Matthews et al. 2015). Students from minority ethnic groups reported experiencing more racist experiences than the majority group students and these experiences of racism were related to higher levels of loneliness and depressive symptoms (Priest et al. 2014). Taking an inventory of social risk and protective factors provides a helpful context for school social workers to better support students.
Completing the BioEdSocial will help school social workers assess a students’ well- being and provide a better understanding of their risk and protective factors while maintaining a lens of equity. This tool can then be used to help identify potential interventions and supports students may need. During a time of heightened concerns around student mental health and a continued urgency for schools to promote racial equity, the BioEdSocial can help school social workers gain a better understanding of the whole student and assess for well-being.
SSWAA is excited to host an upcoming webinar with Dr. Carolyn Curtis, LCSW, Tynisha Jointer LCSW,M.Ed and Andrew Brake. Please join us to continue this important conversation. Registration can be found here. This webinar addresses school social workers’ critical commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 schools to successfully guide their own schools in embracing anti-racist policies and practices. We highlight the unique positionality, training, mission, and mandates of social workers within a school’s specific ecosystem that make us well-positioned to lead in this effort. We provide strategies on how to conduct a cultural assessment and how school social workers can embrace the continuous process of advancing and embedding anti-racist policies and practices into the core fabric of our work in schools. Using multi-tier systems of support (MTSS) framework with case examples from our own practice experiences at each tier, we provide concrete tools and a simple six step process to guide school social workers in advancing anti-racist policies and practices in their own schools. This webinar is eligible for 1 CEU.
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