What is School social work? Explained


  1. Introduction
  2. History
  3.  School social work values
  4. Theoretical framework and services
  5. Functions 
  6. Associations & professional journals  


School social work is a specialized area of social work concerned with the psychosocial functioning of students to promote and maintain their health and well-being. The School Social Work Association of America defines school social workers as "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.”

Psychosocial assessment and intervention, student and family counselling, adaptive behaviour assessment, recreational therapies, health education, assessing social and developmental histories of students with disabilities, identifying students at-risk, integrating community resources into schools, advocacy, case management for identifying students in need of help, and promoting systematic change within a school system are just a few of the roles of school social workers.


United Kingdom

Margaret Frere, who ran a poor school in inner London, realised in 1898 that despite volunteers distributing dinners, clothing, and shoes, poor children were still undernourished and ill-dressed. She realised that there would be no lasting improvement unless the homes were visited and assisted.

Margaret Frere, who ran a poor school in inner London, realised in 1898 that despite volunteers distributing dinners, clothing, and shoes, poor children were still undernourished and ill-dressed. She realised that there would be no lasting improvement unless the homes were visited and assisted.

Every elementary school in London was serviced by 158 paid employees and 5,000 volunteers in 1939.

United States

In the United States, school social work began during the school year 1907–08 in New York City, Boston, Chicago, and New Haven, Connecticut. School social workers were known as advocates for new immigrants and welfare workers of equity and fairness for people of lower socioeconomic status, as well as home visitors, when it first began. With the community's support, these unheralded and extensive processes led to the expansion of school social work services.

By 1900, more than two-thirds of the states had passed compulsory attendance laws, and by 1918, every state had passed compulsory attendance laws based on the philosophy of inclusion, making school attendance a right and a privilege for those with individual differences (including differences in rate of learning). By the 1920s, visiting teachers had replaced these pupil personnel or attendance workers, who were later referred to as school-based caseworkers. In their work, they used various emphases and methods. Special schools, psychosocial assessments and referrals, and family-based intervention are examples of such services.

In a 1917 study of truancy in Chicago, "findings that the need for school attendance officers who understood the social ills of the community" were supported, and school social workers were best equipped for the job. In her 1922 book What Is Social Casework?, Mary Richmond, one of the founding figures of social work, devoted an entire chapter to the visiting teacher. The testing movement influenced the development of school social work as well. Educators gained knowledge about individual differences through the testing movement, emphasising the importance of some children attending school, children whose social circumstances were linked to their test scores. Finally, leaders in the field, such as Sophonisba Breckinridge, expressed concerns about how school and education would relate to future success and happiness, and the need to connect school and home in order to relate to children's needs.

Later in the 1920s, as part of the mental hygiene movement, school social workers were tasked with treating nervous disorders and behavioural problems in difficult children, as well as preventing social maladjustment; this marked the beginning of their therapeutic role. School social work, like school counselling, declined during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed in 1938 as part of a progressive movement, saw social work efforts in schools and community settlement programmes, both of which contributed to its growth. 

Casework and group work in schools became established specialties in the 1940s and 1960s. Pupil-personnel laws mandated that school social workers focus more on the development of school policies and reforms in 1960. Government reforms and educational research had an impact on school social workers. Social workers, like school counsellors, were now expected to address both student needs and the sources of student problems within the school. By that time, the school social worker was regarded as an expert who could assist schools with a variety of psychosocial issues.

School social work in the 1970s placed a greater emphasis on family, community, and collaboration with teachers and other school personnel. The Education of All Handicapped Children Act was passed in 1975 in the United States (EAHC, P.L. 94-142). It emphasised the importance of school social work services. In 1990, the law was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Inflation was rising at an alarming rate in the late 1970s, and budget cuts threatened the school social work profession, especially because many social workers were being replaced by other school personnel claiming similar roles. To raise awareness of the issue and solicit feedback from practitioners, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) published a newsletter. As a result of this, the National Association of School Social Workers (NASW) conducted research and replicated the findings of other studies on the roles of school social workers and practise models, and school social work continued to grow.

Many pieces of legislation in the 1980s included school social workers as "qualified personnel," particularly the Elementary and Secondary School Improvement Amendments of 1988. As a result, NASW has increased its focus on the profession and provided more services to meet the needs of the category. Because of NASW's active participation in the profession, a school social worker credential with exams was established in 1992. Since then, integrative collaborative services have become increasingly popular. The American Education Act of 1994 included school social workers. The School Social Work Association of America was founded in Edwardsville, Illinois in July 1994 by 64 school social workers from across the United States. They drafted the organization's first constitution and bylaws. After reviewing the direction of the profession and concluding that a stronger, enhanced national voice would benefit the profession, the American Council for School Social Work was founded in June 2009.


In Germany, school social work began in the 1970s. Schulsozialarbeit is the German term for school social work. It was focused on assisting students with social skills, interpersonal relationships, and personal development. Initially, it was an institutionalised form of both school and youth welfare aimed at assisting underprivileged children with healthy socialisation and adjustment in school in order to help them rise above the demands of school environments. German school social workers help students solve problems in the classroom and in their personal lives. The German Youth Institute was the first to offer social work training with a focus on school social work. Apart from that, the importance of school social work in German pedagogy is growing due to the changing social and economic paradigms of the twenty-first century, which affect the lives of families as well as children.


In the twenty-first century, the Indian government officially recognised school social work. Since the 1970s, school social workers have been prominent in elite schools, adopting the American model of school counselling, which is based on Carl Rogers' and others' client or person-centered approach. The main goal was to ensure the child's overall well-being. The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) requires a School Social Worker and School Counselor, while the Central Board of Secondary Education refers to school social workers as Health Wellness Teachers. The psycho-social service scheme established under ICPS in Kerala, with the help of a child development centre (CDC), has hired social workers to provide professional services to 800 schools. Only teenage girls are eligible for the services, and boys are denied equal access to the programme.

School social work values 

A school social worker, according to Florence Poole in 1949, is a skilled worker who is responsible for determining which needs within the school can be met through school social work services. A school social worker must devise a method of providing services that is compatible with the school's overall organisation and structure and can be identified as utilising social work knowledge and skills. They must define the service and their contribution so that school personnel accept it as a service that supports the school's main goal.

The values that school social work upholds are:
  • Each pupil is valued as an individual regardless of any unique characteristic. 
  • Each pupil should be allowed to be participate in the learning process. 
  • Individual differences should be recognized; intervention should be aimed at guiding pupils' goals with educational support to train them to the life to which they look forward. 
  • Each child, regardless of race and socioeconomic characteristics, has a right to equal treatment in the school. 
The National Association of Social Workers in the U.S. provides a code of ethics for school social work professional

Theoretical framework and services

School social work is structured around a range of practice models.

Traditional-clinical model 

John Alderson was the first to describe the traditional clinical models that existed at the time. The social change model, which emphasised the school's dysfunctional conditions, the community school model, which urged school social workers to use community organisation methods, and the social interaction model, which de-emphasized a specific methodology and required the worker to intervene with the systems interacting with the target system, were all used in most schools. Traditional models were referred to as such. Federal and state legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 94-142) and the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) in the United States of America, define students with disabilities as exceptional children.

In the clinical model, school social workers work primarily through casework methods supplemented by group methods with students and family members; A greater emphasis is placed on evidence-based practice and promising intervention methods that is supported empirically.

Home-school-community relations model 

Later, school social workers used a model called the Social Interaction Model, which focuses on working with students with social and emotional difficulties, as well as their problems in their families (parents) and schools, using a flexible and dynamic reciprocal interaction. This model is based on systems theory and the perspective of transactional systems. Rather than limiting change to individuals or systems, this model was created to organise the methodological diversity inherent in the role.

School-community-pupil relations model

In 1973, leading social worker Lela B. Costin developed this model, which focuses on the school, community, and student, as well as their interactions. In this model, school social workers listen to student grievances and act as mediators, negotiators, consultants, and advocates for students and school personnel. They also formed informal groups for students, teachers, and other members of the school community. This model also emphasises a school social worker's assessment of student, school, and community characteristics, as well as their impact on the availability and quality of educational opportunities for specific target groups (students with chemical dependency, disabilities, and so on). They're based on social learning and systems theories.

Clinical and environmental interaction model

The ecological systems theory underpins this model. Frey and Dupper (2005) and Germain (2005) developed this (2006). The model encourages people and their environments to be seen as a single, interconnected system in which each is constantly influencing and shaping the other. By engaging progressive forces in people and situational assets, and impinging on the removal of environmental obstacles for growth and adaptive functioning, this model attends to the complexities of the person as well as the environment. This model causes a dynamic change to occur.

As the knowledge base and level of student need grows, or as opportunities to address student need are recognised, the role of school social workers continues to expand. Functional behaviour assessment, an efficient, empirically supported, and amenable approach to undesirable school behaviour that can be accomplished in a classroom collaboration model with teachers (Waller, 2008), and a leadership role in helping schools become foundational in promoting the mental health of children and adolescents, similar to the role that schools already play in promoting physical health, are two examples of this role expansion. Indeed, the role of School Social Workers has grown significantly as a direct result of student needs, consultation, education, and collaboration with other school personnel (e.g. Waller, 2008), and it is a practise that is only destined to grow as a means of maximising limited resources.


A survey published in 1989 by school social work experts categorized five job function dimensions.
  • Relationships with and services to children and families. 
  • Relationships with and services to teachers and school staff. 
  • Administrative and professional tasks. 
  • Services to other school personnel. 
  • Community services
Other important areas that are frequently addressed, according to further research on these roles, are consultation and teamwork, needs assessment and programme evaluation, social work interventions with systems, and developmental programme management. Administering diagnostic psychological tests is one area where school social work falls short.

Associations & professional journals

School social workers help students achieve their full potential by promoting student learning and well-being, addressing academic and nonacademic barriers to learning, developing comprehensive and cohesive academic and social supports, and understanding and applying various frameworks for evidence-based practise and programme development.

The School Social Work Association of America, the American Council for School Social Work, and the Canadian Association of School Social Workers and Attendance Counsellors are all major associations in North America.

School social work journals have been published all over the world, including the Illinois Association of School Social Workers' School Social Work Journal, the Journal of School Social Work (JSSW) from Chennai, India, and SAGE Publications' Canadian Journal of School Psychology.

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