UCLA Researchers Share Voices of School Social Workers from National Study
A co-written paper on “School Social Worker Voice during COVID-19 School Disruptions: A National Qualitative Analysis,” has been recently published in Children & Schools by Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies and the Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Kate Watson, a doctoral student in the UCLA Luskin Department of Social Welfare. Their study of school social workers’ challenges and working conditions in the pandemic is based on qualitative data from a national survey of school social workers about their personal and professional lives as schools shifted to remote instruction. The study was conducted in collaboration with UCLA, CSU Fullerton, Loyola University Chicago, and Hebrew University at Jerusalem.
“The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created unprecedented impacts on our schools and society, requiring school social workers (SSWs) to attend to layered and cascading effects for students and their families,” wrote Astor, Watson, and their co-authors. “SSWs often struggled to meet the needs of students and families given the complications of COVID-19 and the restrictions placed on their typical, in-person modes of service delivery. One SSW explained, ‘As a school social worker for many years, the COVID virus brought into perspective how important our position is to be in person.'”
Watson, Astor, and their co-authors presented their findings on school social work practice during the start of the pandemic and as schools reopened remotely. Their study explored unequal access to the resources needed to continue students’ education and well being, including technology and dependable internet connectivity; basic needs of food, health care, housing, and mental health in a crisis; and services for special education and students with disabilities. They also discussed systemic factors such as community poverty and inequitable funding patterns; the disengagement of students lacking resources and mental health supports; SSWs’ capacity to meet needs despite professional isolation and disconnection; and the effects of personal experiences and concerns upon SSWs’ professional outcomes.
Among the co-authors’ recommendations are more targeted support for food, housing, and mental health care in schools with the greatest need; provision of sufficient equipment and internet access for students to engage in school work; expansion and reallocation of the SSW workforce to schools with the highest need; improving best practices; professional development; and support for SSWs in a rapidly-changing pandemic environment.
“One participant said, ‘The primary barrier to practice is the lack of understanding from school administrators about school social work practice and the nature of our job,’” Astor, Watson, and their co-authors noted. “These comments suggested that it is not individual SSW ability that requires intervention; rather, it is the capacity of schools and districts that needs reform.
“…Our findings demonstrate that SSWs are committed to delivering ethical and high-quality services to their schools, students, and communities even as resources and capacity have not kept pace with the evolving needs driven by the pandemic. Based on the responses from SSWs across the nation, we highlight several areas in which shifts in policy and practice are recommended to further support SSWs and the field of school social work.”
To read, “School Social Worker Voice during COVID-19 School Disruptions: A National Qualitative Analysis,” visit the Oxford Academic website.
Above: Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies and the Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Courtesy of Ron Avi Astor