As we enter the beginnings of the new school year, I often reflect on the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a school social worker, I find this to be especially true.
Oftentimes the question is, “Who are school social workers and what do they do?”
School social workers make a difference in kids' lives. When a student has an issue with being bullied or their parents are facing divorce, we are there.
When a student experiences homelessness, hunger, or violence, we are there. When a student is too anxious to take an exam or too depressed and can barely get out of bed, we are there. When your little one is sad because they’re having a hard time making friends, we are the ones that they talk to. When your child experiences loss, were are trained to help them cope.
School social workers are mental health providers who serve students and families and connect them with community resources. We are professionally trained to provide needed social emotional and mental health services.
At the school level, we also partner with school psychologists and school counselors in order to ensure that the needs of the whole student are met. We are instrumental in helping young minds prepare for the outside world and become well-adjusted young adults.
With mental illness, violence, and suicide rates on the rise among our nation’s youth, our schools need school social workers more than ever. Mental illness isn’t just an issue that effects adults. Suicide also directly and traumatically touches the lives of our youth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens nationwide. School social workers are especially trained in identifying and addressing risk factors and warning signs of violent and suicidal behaviors. We assist teachers and other school personnel in identifying concerning behaviors of students and the most appropriate ways in which to intervene in those behaviors.
It can be a tough job, but most of us wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. Ask any one of us, and we all agree that we have a highly rewarding job. We see our students grow up into productive young adults. We love the high fives and big smiles that we get from the students we helped overcome barriers and difficult life challenges.
We are rewarded by the gratitude we get from the families we help. Students never forget the people who help them.
If you see or know a school social worker, please give them your thanks and a high-five too.
Lauri Pagano, LMSW
School Social Work Association of Arizona