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School Social Work FOP: Description & Internships

FOP Handbook

The following content comes directly from Silberman's 2019 Field of Practice (FOP) Handbook (pp 15-17)


What is School Social Work?

School social work is a distinctive field of practice with ties to both social work and education. In keeping with the human rights framework, the School Social Work Field of Practice takes the view that the child or youth is an individual—and a member of a family and community with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development—who must be afforded the necessary protection and assistance to participate fully in family, cultural, and social life. 

The history of provision of social services through the schools goes back to the early years of the 20th century. Under the United States Constitution, every child has the rights to a public education regardless of race, ethnicity, language, religion, gender, or his/her psycho-developmental performance. The school is a natural environment where children can be found. In fact, the school is the only social institution in which virtually every child and family has contact. The school provides a logical organizational setting for providing access to high-risk families and children. Schools are normative, non-stigmatizing settings for children and adolescents to receive social services. Next to the family, school is probably the biggest influence on a child’s life. Social workers are in a key position to help others within the educational system to understand the relationship among poverty, marginalization, racism, and educational outcomes. The school is viewed as a strategic center for social workers to link children and their families with resources, so that learning and growth are not hindered.  Although children, youth, and families are the typical clients of most fields of practice, this field/specialization is defined by its particular service structure, its social and legislative sanctions, the population it serves, its specific policy debates, and its practices. Educational legislation and government funding have continued to play a major role in shaping and expanding school social work services.

For an additional description of SSW see the American Council on School Social Work

Is it for me?

Consider School Social Work Placement if you are: (1) interested in developing a range of skills including how to negotiate complex organizational settings, while working with individuals, groups, and community organizations; (2) interested in interdisciplinary collaboration with other professionals and workers in a school system; (3) committed to improving educational and social services to clients with diverse cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds; (4) flexible, self – directed, able to meet new challenges, and willing to take risks;  (5) interested to be a member of the interdisciplinary Committee on Special Education –responsible to contribute to the students’ Individualized Educational Plan (IEP); (6) interested about social work policies and their impact on service delivery to children in school and impact on school social workers. 

Social work students who elect School Social Work as FOP: School social work FOP prepares social workers who are interested in social work practice with children, adolescents and their families who may be facing critical academic, social, and environmental stresses. After graduation you may wish to work directly for the Department of Education (DOE) or you may work for a community-based agency housed in a school setting providing mental health counseling; or you may work in a chatter school.     

Range of Clientele: Children, Youth, Family members, school as a social organization, community-based centers, etc. 


Field Placement Opportunities in School Settings:

Field practicum settings have a primary orientation towards providing comprehensive social work services to parents, children, youth, and school staff. Additionally, social work students provide crisis intervention, counseling, and case management with pupils and their families, under professional MSW supervision. Work with children and families from diverse cultures (e.g., immigrant or refugee families; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families).  The purpose of school social work is to allow each child and or adolescent to have an equal education opportunity, by addressing issues they might have, e.g., depression, homelessness, family issues, AD/HD, or drugs/alcohol.   

In addition, school social workers use a range of practice interventions such as conflict resolution, group work, and community organizing. Social work intern: (1) May collaborate with teachers and other school personnel and participate in faculty and staff meetings to promote children’s social and academic development; (2) address issues such as homelessness, discrimination, immigration, substance abuse, violence, bullying, and death;  (3) work with parents’ organization and advisory 
groups; (4) work with health and other human service personnel in school or in community; (5) participate and develop school/community programs and resources for students and their families. 

The purpose of school social work is to allow each child and or adolescent to have an equal education opportunity, by addressing issues they might have, e.g., depression, homelessness, family issues, AD/HD, or drugs/alcohol.  Social work students complete their field instruction in approved field settings that specialize in working with children, youth, and families in school settings and or school – based programs, or specialize in working with individuals, families, and groups; community-based centers; child guidance clinics; preventive services programs (early child focused, e.g., pre-k and day care programs); health/mental health (medical/psychiatric) centers; or neighborhood service centers.