School social workers play a important role in schools and educational institutions. Social workers working within school systems provide services to students to enhance their emotional well-being and improve their academic performance.

School social workers are usually employed by the school district or an agency that is contracted with the school district to provide services. School social workers are often called on to help students, families, and teachers address problems such as truancy, social withdrawal, overaggressive behaviors, rebelliousness, and the effects of special physical, emotional, or economic problems (Barker, 2003). School social workers often also address issues such as substance abuse and sexuality issues in the higher grade levels

Functions of Social Worker in School

School social workers have a wide range of job functions. Their title is typically “school social worker.” Qualifications for this position are often decided by the school district or employing agency and requirements can range from a bachelors degree to a clinical license from the state in which they practice. Below is a list of possible job functions within a school setting.

■ Conducting bio-psychosocial assessments and social histories;

■ Assessing students for substance use, support systems, physical and emotional functioning, barriers to academic performance, peer issues, suicidal/homicidal ideation, and similar issues;

■ Developing and implementing treatment plans and discharge plans that support student self-determination;

■ Providing direct therapeutic services such as individual, family or group therapy regarding specific issues;

■ Providing crisis management services, including assessing for safety;

■ Advocating for student services and students’ best interests;

■ Providing case management services including, but not limited to, referrals to community resources, collaboration with other professionals;

■ Providing trainings and workshops to teachers, school staff and parents;

■ Conducting home visits;

■ Identifying and resolving ethical issues;

■ Managing and supervising staff; and

■ Contributing to a multidisciplinary treatment team

Benefits and Challenges of Working as a School Social Worker

School social workers play a vital role in addressing the various needs of students in an educational setting. Through the roles social workers assume, they have the opportunity to collaborate in the improvement of the lives of those they serve. Social workers who provide mental health services are required to be licensed by the state in which they practice. Their roles can vary from student to student, providing a variety of experiences on a daily basis.

However, like many social workers, the caseloads of school social workers are often high. School social workers can be assigned to more than one school, requiring time to travel between locations. Often the school social worker performs in isolation and may not have access to consistent supervision. There also may be limited resources to support service delivery such as a lack of confidential and private space, supplies, and training


Barker, R. (2003). The Social Work Dictionary. (5th Edition). Washington, DC: NASW Press. Data referenced in this profile are based upon results from the 2009 NASW Salary & Compensation Study (see Notes)