2006 Jordan Institute
11, No. 4
What Child Welfare Workers Need to Know to Work Effectively with Schools
by Aileen Hays, MSW, School Social Worker, Asheville City School System
In my work as a school social worker and counselor here in North Carolina I have had lots of contact with child welfare workers. Sometimes this contact has been positive and collaborative, producing really great results for everyone involved. Other times it has felt more like the clashing of two huge systems that do not understand each other and cannot get along.
If you’re an experienced child welfare worker, I bet you’ve had similar experiences. After all, nearly all child welfare workers eventually come in contact with public schools and the many people who work there. In my opinion a lot of the friction that arises when our two systems meet could be avoided if we understood a few basic things about each other. In that spirit—and in an effort to increase the number of effective, mutually productive partnerships we can form on behalf of children and families—I would like to share the following thoughts and suggestions with you.
How Teachers Think
When working with a child’s school, remember that the teacher sees the child in the context of the classroom. Every day the teacher observes how that child compares with her peer group. This perspective shows very clearly how the child’s life circumstances affect her chances for success in school and, by extension, in life. This is why teachers are so frustrated with truancy, untreated ADHD, lice, and other issues that the child welfare system may see as minor concerns that simply do not rise to the legal definition of neglect. Teachers often try many times to contact the child’s family, without success. Imagine their frustration and growing concern as they watch the child fall further and further behind his or her peer group.
No Child Left Behind
The goals of the Act are laudable; however, the high stakes testing that is part of No Child Left Behind has significantly affected the atmosphere in public schools. (To learn more about No Child Left Behind go to <www.ncpublicschools.org/nclb>. You can also read the National Association of Social Worker’s views concerning this legislation at <www.sswaa.org/Joint_Statement_on_ NCLB_306.pdf>.)
As you work with school personnel, you need to know that stress and anxiety among adults in public schools is at an all-time high. Teachers and administrators feel a huge amount of pressure to ensure students perform well on end-of-grade tests. Life circumstances or disabilities of students are not taken into account when teachers, administrators, and schools are judged by their test scores. Chances are you will encounter this stress and anxiety when you interact with teachers and administrators. Don’t take it personally. Schools are becoming increasingly difficult places to work, and sometimes it shows.
Suggestions for Success
Don’t overlook schools or write them off in frustration—reach out to us. One of the very best ways to help a child who is in foster care or involved with CPS is to create a strong partnership between our two systems. In fact, it is one of the only ways to ensure that child’s success and well-being both today and on into the future.