Using Data to Determine Criteria for School Social Work Services
Editor’s Note: Based on our recent research and ongoing contact with professionals in the field, there appears to be an urgent need to develop models of clear and consistent criteria for school mental health services. Having clear entrance and exit criteria for school mental health services (based on data) can enable school mental health professionals to be more effective and to (hopefully) have a more manageable case load over time. These ideas form the basis of Megan Tracy’s Loyola SMHAPP project, “Using Data to Determine Criteria for School Social Work Services.” Here she shares the initial stages of developing the project and building support from key stakeholders.
As a member of the Loyola Chicago School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) I was tasked with undertaking a 2-year “school-change” project that would be beneficial to not only me and the students that I work with, but also to my place of employment as a whole. After a great deal of deliberation, I narrowed it down to two possible options. One was to develop a parent support group to assist families in the rural community that I practice and the other was to develop guidelines for Social Work services that could be used by all of the School Social Workers at my educational cooperative. After discussing the possible options with my employer, co-workers, and classmates, I decided that the project that would be most beneficial was creating consistent guidelines for School Social Work services. In the Summer of 2018, I did a brief interview about my goals for the project at the 13th Annual Loyola Chicago Family and School Partnership Program Summer Institute:
Guidelines & Criteria For School Social Work Services: My Project
The overall goal of this project is to create a set of clear guidelines for entrance and exit criteria for services that can be used throughout the 12 school districts served by the cooperative. These criteria should be specific enough that they can be used across multiple settings by different school teams, but allow for flexibility as needed. The idea for the project came after multiple meetings with my fellow school social workers in which they said they were feeling overwhelmed by ballooning caseloads. They were experiencing pressure from their school teams to provide services for students and, once those services were in place, there were no guidelines for exiting at least some of those students from services. It felt like a ‘life sentence’ for the students and it was becoming frustrating and disheartening.
What was clear from our class discussions and my consultation with the research literature was that there wasn’t much research at all on how school social workers had tackled this workload/caseload issue as it related to having guidelines and criteria for services. It was a problem that every school social worker I knew struggled with, but one that lacked accepted models for me to base my project on. I was going to be starting something new for my cooperative and for my own school social work practice.
Finding The Key Stakeholders & Building Support For My Project
In order to develop these referral and service guidelines, I was going to need a lot of support from several different stakeholders. First, I needed support from the administrators at the cooperative. This was relatively easy to obtain, as they were excited about the idea of one set of common guidelines that could be referred to throughout the school districts. Next, I needed the support of administrators in the buildings that I serve. This was a little more difficult given my position in the buildings. While I have been in the same buildings for a number of years, I only work directly with students with IEP’s. The administrators tend to follow the philosophy of, “Out of sight, out of mind,” when thinking about the majority of the students that I work with. They do not seem to fully understand the need for these guidelines, as they do not have a detailed understanding of the work that I do with students. This is something that has been improving in recent months, as I have begun to put more of an emphasis on communication with building administrators. The good news is that, while the administrators may not be excited about creating guidelines, they aren’t against them either.
The next group of stakeholders that I needed support from were my fellow school social workers. Like my cooperative administrators, they were excited about the idea of having more clear guidelines, but they were also concerned about how this would actually be implemented in their buildings.
The final two groups of stakeholders are the other related service providers at the cooperative and the building teachers. The related service providers (Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Speech/Language Pathologists) are important resources, as they already have a somewhat clear set of guidelines for entrance and exit criteria for their services. (For an interesting video summarizing how these other related service providers have been doing this, click here.) . Getting insight into how they are able to use data to make these decisions will be helpful in developing our own guidelines. Unfortunately, I did not get as much information from them as I would have liked. I sent out a questionnaire that was only filled out by a few people. While this was frustrating, it was also understandable as I know that we are all spread thin.
(Lack of consistent criteria for SSW services) was a problem that every school social worker I knew struggled with, but one that lacked accepted models for me to base my project on. I was going to be starting something new for my cooperative and for my own school social work practice.
Finally, the importance of getting teachers to buy into these proposed changes cannot be overlooked. This will be a big change in procedure in the majority of the buildings that we serve. I feel that teachers will need to understand the benefit of having a clear set of guidelines rather than just being able to ask us to meet with students. My goal is to discuss this with teachers throughout the school year during special education team meetings, which I regularly attend with each of my teams.
Next Steps For My Project
The next steps in creating the guidelines involve creating a referral form and data tracking sheet, identifying a free/low cost screening tool, and choosing a team to pilot the guidelines. I have created a tracking form that includes grades, attendance, GPA, office referrals, and nurse visits. I also made the decision to use the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as a screening tool and created a referral form based on several forms that I found that I liked. I sent that form out to my co-workers for feedback. After a couple of minor changes, I feel like it is ready to use. Currently, it is an actual form that will need to be filled out by hand. Eventually, I would like to create a Google Form that can be filled out electronically. I was concerned that it would be difficult to find a group to pilot this project, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was actually very easy. I take part in a mentoring program for the newly employed social workers. When I discussed this with them, they were eager to take part in it.
The plan was to put these guidelines into place during the Spring 2019 Semester but, as they do, things came up at the end of the semester that made it difficult to pull all of the pieces (and people) together to make this happen. Despite this setback, I feel strongly that we will be able to get the guidelines in place soon (fingers crossed for 4th quarter!). When we do, we will use the SDQ to get baseline data in regards to social emotional functioning. We will also use the tracking sheet to track office referrals, attendance data, GPA, and nurse visits. Additionally, we will need access to school-wide data to compare to our students. This availability of this information will depend on the district, but it will be helpful to have it to compare to the students we are working with.
Conclusion: Exploring How Data & Guidelines Can Also Improve SSW Job Satisfaction
As I get closer to implementing this project, I have become more thoughtful about why I am doing it. As mentioned above, it started out after hearing the frustration of my fellow social workers in meeting after meeting. It will clearly be helpful to have guidelines to refer to when making decisions about social work as a related service, but I think that it may also improve feelings of job satisfaction among my fellow social workers. If we are able to use clear, data based decision making to determine services, we can begin to feel more confident in our roles in our buildings. If we feel more confident, we can reduce our feelings of stress and increase our overall job satisfaction. Wish us luck!