School Support Staff: Nurses and Social Workers

momTo successfully navigate public school, parents need to know who works in schools and what they do.  This is true in most institutional, bureaucratic settings – you have to know who to call, who can get something done, and who has the information you need.

We’ve previously discussed the administrative team at the building level: principal, assistant principal, lead teacher/instructional coach.  Last time we looked at school psychologists and school guidance counselors, both members of the student support staff.  We’ll end our discussion of student support staff with a look at school nurses and school social workers.

School nurses are primarily responsible for health care planning and management in the school setting.  These days, most school nurses travel between schools, so they are not available on a daily basis to deal with sick or injured children.  Instead, school nurses work with health plans, train school staff, monitor and administer immunizations, oversee medications dispensed at school, complete various health screenings, and educate students about health issues.

Health plan management has become a major role for school nurses.  Students with chronic conditions (for example, asthma, allergies, diabetes, seizure disorders) have written health plans, and students with disabilities frequently have health issues covered in their IEPs.  Nurses are also responsible for administering flu shots at school; organizing vision, hearing, and dental screenings; and putting on programs related to health topics such as obesity, puberty, and sex education.

The National Association of School Nurses recommends that school nurses have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and hold a state license as a registered nurse.

An excellent school nurse has skills and knowledge in pediatric, public health, and mental health nursing.  Just as school psychologists and guidance counselors often refer children to outside agencies and specialists, so do school nurses.  In addition, school nurses have a good working knowledge of the laws related to health care and disabilities in the public schools.

School social workers are responsible for helping students with the social and psychological issues that are significant barriers to academic progress, and they often serve as the link among home, community, and school.  Some of these social/psychological issues include poverty, substance abuse, violence, family dysfunction, abuse and neglect, mental illness, homelessness, truancy, and sexuality.
School social workers are responsible for the psychosocial assessments and social histories that are often required to determine eligibility for special services.  They also complete mental health assessments.  In both of these roles, the school social worker is operating as a member of an interdisciplinary school team.

Crisis management frequently involves the school social worker.  When children and families end up in crisis, it’s the school social worker who collaborates with the department of social services and other outside agencies to keep children safe.  Case management – the ongoing work with children and families to find services and solve problems – is also part of school social work.  This involves collaboration with other community agencies, referrals, assessments, and home visits.

School social workers generally serve several schools and travel among those schools.  They hold an MSW, and have specific training in school social work.  In many states, social workers are required to be licensed.

An excellent school social worker is a team player who maintains strong professional relationships with agencies in the community that serve children and families.  She must be able to handle crisis situations with patience and common sense, and she must feel comfortable with all kinds of families in all kinds of circumstances.

School nurses and school social workers are important members of the student support staff.  They work closely with parents and teachers as well as with students.  They are most closely involved with the outside circumstances that pose significant barriers to a child’s school attendance and academic progress.
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