1 This article was downloaded by: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] On: 10 March 2011 Access details: Access Details: [subscription number ] Publisher Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: Registered office: Mortimer House, Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK European Journal of Social Work Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Building collaboration between school and parents: issues for school social workers and parents whose young children exhibit violent behaviour at school Marie Drolet; Maryse Paquin; Magnolia Soutyrine To cite this Article Drolet, Marie, Paquin, Maryse and Soutyrine, Magnolia(2006) 'Building collaboration between school and parents: issues for school social workers and parents whose young children exhibit violent behaviour at school', European Journal of Social Work, 9: 2, To link to this Article: DOI: / URL: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
2 European Journal of Social Work Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2006, pp Building collaboration between school and parents: issues for school social workers and parents whose young children exhibit violent behaviour at school Mettre en place une collaboration entre les écoles et les parents: des enjeux pour le travail social scolaire et les parents de jeunes enfants présentant des conduites violentes à l école Marie Drolet, Maryse Paquin & Magnolia Soutyrine This research explores the perceptions of 60 parents whose children, aged from three to nine, had been involved in bullying, as defined under the Safe Schools Act and the Code of Conduct. Some of these children had been suspended from school, while others were potential candidates for suspension. These parents were recruited from Ottawa s two French-language school boards to participate in qualitative interviews between June 2000 and June The aim of this research was to cast new light on the perceptions of parents and schools with regard to their relationships, and on the role of school social workers in maintaining and enhancing collaborative partnerships. The desire of some parents to be involved in the decisions concerning remedial action taken to address their child s aggressive behaviour touched a raw nerve in some schools. Nonetheless, when schools and parents ultimately recognize the daily challenges that both Correspondence to: Dr Marie Drolet, School of Social Work, University of Ottawa, 43 Templeton Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada. Tel: (613) , Ext. 6397; Fax: (613) ; ISSN (print)/issn (online) # 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: /
3 202 M. Drolet et al. parties face, and a shared plan of action develops therein, the path to effective collaboration becomes clear. Early intervention on the part of school social workers gives them an edge in their efforts as mediators. They seize every opportunity to initiate different collaborative approaches between schools and parents, so that the issue of bullying can be handled in a more respectful way for everyone. Keywords: School Social Work; Collaboration between Schools and Parents; Relationships between Schools and Parents; Partnership between Schools and Parents; Bullying Cette étude explore les perceptions de 60 parents d enfants de 3 à 9 ans qui présentent des conduites d intimidation à l égard de leurs pairs aux termes de la Loi sur la sécurité dans les écoles et du Code de conduite provincial. Ces enfants font l objet d une suspension scolaire ou d une possibilité de suspension. Ces parents recrutés auprès des deux conseils scolaires de langue française d Ottawa ont participé à des entrevues qualitatives menées entre juin 2000 et juin Cette recherche vise à mieux cerner leurs perceptions en ce qui a trait à leurs relations avec l école, ainsi que concernant l apport des travailleuses sociales scolaires pour mettre en place et solidifier une collaboration entre ces deux milieux. Le désir qu ont certains parents de participer aux décisions relatives aux mesures à prendre pour remédier aux conduites violentes de leur enfant est nettement apparu comme le point névralgique avec certaines écoles. La reconnaissance mutuelle des enjeux quotidiens qu affrontent les écoles et les parents, ainsi qu un plan d action concerté soulèvent des pistes en faveur d une collaboration efficace entre ces deux milieux. L intervention précoce des travailleuses sociales scolaires, en tant que médiatrices, soutient aussi un tel processus de collaboration. Ces intervenantes profitent alors de chaque opportunité pour initier différentes approches de collaboration entre les écoles et les parents. Les enjeux concernant l intimidation à l école pourront donc être mieux affrontés, et ce dans le respect de chaque partie. Mots-clé: Travail Social Scolaire; Collaboration entre les Écoles et les Parents; Relations entre les Écoles et les Parents; Partenariat entre les Écoles et les Parents; Intimidation Efforts aimed at controlling violence in schools have been receiving more attention in recent years because of problems experienced by victims of bullying (Bullis et al., 2001; Charlot & Émin, 2001; Hayden & Blaya, 2001; NCPS, 2002; Verlinden et al., 2000). Although incidents of physical aggression and the number of aggressors remain proportionally low compared to the overall student population (Debarbieux et al., 2000; Debarbieux, 2001; Hayden & Blaya, 2001), there has been an increase in physical threats and, therefore, in feelings of insecurity on the part of students and staff. To introduce solutions to this problem, one focus of the stakeholders centres upon early intervention (Lœber & Farrington, 2000; NCPS, 2002). Using early
4 European Journal of Social Work 203 intervention strategies, school social workers endeavour to maximize the opportunities for schools to work together with the parents of young children who are physically or verbally aggressive at school, with a view to controlling this behaviour as soon as possible. Schoolparent collaboration is recognized as a key element in children s overall development. Parents direct involvement in the learning environment of their children (particularly at a young age) increases their children s motivation to perform well (Bowen, 1999; Broussard, 2003; Epstein, 2001; Grolnick et al., 2002; Marcon, 1999; Peña, 2000; Vincent & Tomlinson, 1997) and increases their attendance (Keith et al., 1998; Teasley, 2004; Zelman & Waterman, 1998 ). Schoolparent collaboration is also known to have a beneficial effect on children s social skills (Kohl et al., 2000) by reducing problem behaviours (Burke et al., 2002; Reid et al., 1999; Webster- Stratton et al., 2001). Achieving positive outcomes such as these therefore calls for greater focus to be placed on early intervention and on the schoolparent partnership (Algozzine & Pam, 2002; Reid et al., 1999; Reynolds, 1999; Webster- Stratton, 1998; Webster-Stratton et al., 2001). To control bullying in schools, the Ontario government has enacted a framework of laws to deal with violent acts committed by children, including those between the ages of three and nine. By 1994, the province had introduced a zero tolerance policy. Under the terms of the Violence-Free Schools Policy (Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, 1994), each school was required to develop and implement a code of conduct addressing student violence. In 2001, the Ontario government proclaimed the Safe Schools Act (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2000) and the Code of Conduct (OME, 2001). This legislative framework introduced what was essentially a get tough approach, which was designed to set a more uniform and systematic application of remedial measures in place and to ensure parents cooperation. 1 Under this legislative framework, however, there lies the possibility for increased conflict between the parents of aggressive young children and the schools *a situation that may call for mediation by social workers who have specialized in school and family issues. Accordingly, it is important that the role of school social workers be well understood. As well, these professionals need to have a clear grasp of the perceptions that parents and schools have of their own relationship, thereby ensuring that the best form of intervention is adopted. The new legal implications have also raised some questions about the nature of collaborative frameworks and how school social workers maintain and enhance partnerships. This paper sets out to build on major publications addressing both the role of the school social worker as well as the schoolparent relationship. It will highlight the points that parents consider to be crucial in their partnership with schools, and will examine the role of the school social worker in cooperative initiatives within the context of controlling bullying involving youngsters aged from three to nine.
5 204 M. Drolet et al. The role of school-based social work: working together to help children and parents In Ontario, as in other Canadian jurisdictions (CASW, 2002; OASW, n.d.), the role of school social workers differs from that of school attendance officers (Link, 1991; Pritchard et al., 1998) even though they remain closely connected. Employed by school boards, these social workers provide their services on a voluntary basis directly to children, parents, educators and school administrators (OASW, n.d.). Although they respond most often to appeals from school staff faced with students truancy, learning difficulties or aggressive behaviour (CASW, 2002), school social workers analyse the child s personal strengths and milieux (Bernard, 1997). As such, school social work functions from an ecological perspective (Allen-Meares et al., 2000; Constable et al., 1996; Diehl, 2003; Dupper, 2003; Freeman et al., 1998; Germain, 2000). The role of school social workers typically involves counselling children, providing direct support to parents, sometimes even in the home (Allen & Tracy, 2004), facilitating schoolparent interactions, and referring children and families to appropriate community resources (Agresta, 2004; CASW, 2002; OASW, n.d.). Given school social workers expanding role as consultants to teachers (Lynn et al., 2003; Viggiani et al., 2002), Dupper (2003) stresses the value of more proactive practices, namely, defending the rights of children and their families, empowering parents, and working in partnership with the entire school and community to set up prevention services and programmes adapted to the changing needs of children and their families. Areas to which school social workers pay special attention include the control of bullying (NASW in Agresta, 2004; Dupper, 2003), the development of children s social skills, and the support of parents in the application of effective childrearing practices (Bonnaffon, 2001). School social workers are in the best position to promote effective schoolparent communication and to foster multi-level collaborative interventions (Dupper, 2003). They have long been recognized for their promotion of parental involvement in children s school life (Bowen, 1999; Kurtz & Barth, 1989). Collaboration, when applied specifically to the schoolparent connection, has been defined as a dynamic framework that endorses collegial, interdependent and coequal styles of interaction between families and educators who work together to achieve common goals (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). Three elements that support this partnership are regular two-way communication, mutual support and shared decision making (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). However, the key to making this partnership work is to view parents as genuine partners entitled to share in any decision making (Dupper, 2003). Intervention by social workers encompasses five levels of collaboration that the former can initiate for the benefit of children, their families, and the relationship between parents and schools (Lawson et al. in Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Lawson & Barkdull, 2001).
6 European Journal of Social Work Family-centred collaboration is based on the view that parents are experts in addressing their own situation, and on taking concrete steps to involve them more actively in their children s school life. 2. Intra-organizational collaboration solidifies the interdependence of existing school services. Social workers, for example, support teachers by developing individualized behaviour-management and positive-reinforcement plans. 3. Inter-professional collaboration refers to all forms of joint initiatives addressing specific children s problems. 4. Inter-agency collaboration entails referring families to appropriate community resources. 5. Community collaboration involves planning and coordinating resources and services in conjunction with community agencies, to the benefit of children and their families. With respect to children demonstrating aggressive behaviours, family-centred practices are essential (Fraser, 1998). They refer to programmes aimed at helping parents learn how to manage their children s behaviour and empowering parents in their relationships with their young children (Markward & Bride, 2001). According to these authors, such programmes are the most appropriate in these cases, and social workers recognized expertise and experience in intervening with parents play an important part in this type of collaborative endeavour. Given the legal context vis-à-vis youngsters aggressive behaviour at school, social workers can play a key role as mediators between the home and school. They are ideally placed to advocate for early intervention and to encourage school staff and parents to pay more attention to each other s viewpoints and daily-living situations. Opportunities are thereby provided for maintaining and enhancing frameworks for parentschool collaboration. This leads to the following two research questions: in the context of the day-to-day experiences of parents with children ranging in age from three to nine who demonstrate aggressive behaviour at school, what are the elements that foster a positive relationship with the school? How can school social workers help nurture a positive relationship between the home and the school under these circumstances? Methodology To find answers to these questions, we conducted qualitative telephone interviews with 60 French-speaking parents with children between the ages of three and nine who had engaged in violent behaviour at school. The interviews centred on how they perceived their collaborative relationship with the school. These parents were either recruited from the two French-language school boards in Ottawa, Ontario, or referred to us by community groups offering outreach services to children and their parents. The interviews were open only to parents whose children had committed aggressive acts against their peers at school. These children had been suspended or were
7 206 M. Drolet et al. considered potential candidates for suspension, under Ontario s Safe Schools Act (OME, 2000) and Code of Conduct (OME, 2001). The sample group consisted solely of volunteers (Mayer et al., 2000). The interviews were conducted with one parent from each of the 60 households. The interview grid sought to identify each parent s perceptions about a range of issues with the aim of gaining a clear picture of the context surrounding their child s aggressive behaviour. The grid also served to elicit how they had collaborated with the school in dealing with their child s behaviour, and the extent to which they may or may not have felt empowered throughout the process. The results concerning the contributions of school social workers derive from a secondary analysis of the parents perceptions about the elements that either supported or hindered their collaborative relationship with the school. The interviews took place between June 2000 and June They lasted from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the parents availability, and consisted of both structured and unstructured formats. The transcripts were sorted with NVivo 1.3 and codified by means of a classic content-analysis method (Mayer et al., 2000). Results were analysed deductively and inductively (L Écuyer, 1985). Both horizontal and vertical analyses were carried out. The full set of findings and the respondent profiles stem from inductive reasoning (Huberman & Miles, 1991). As is generally the case for qualitative research, the results obtained are representative of a limited number of participants. These were volunteer subjects, hence our sample group consisted exclusively of parents who were willing to discuss their perceptions. Characteristics of the sample group The group of 60 parents included 55 women and five men. Boys accounted for 90% of the 60 children who had been involved in some form of bullying at school. Of these children, 23 were between the ages of three and six, while 37 were between the ages of seven and nine. Three children out of four (45/60) hit their schoolmates; the others were verbally abusive. According to what the parents had to say, the vast majority of these children (51/60) had great difficulty following instructions. Twelve of the children in our sample group had been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), potentially requiring the use of Ritalin. 2 More than two thirds (42/60) of the children were receiving some form of help from social services. The following describes the families socio-demographic profiles. Of the 60 families, 23 lived below the poverty line for Ottawa ($24,999), as determined by the National Council of Welfare (NCW, 2002). 3 A total of 12 families had household incomes ranging from $25,000 to $49,999 per year; 25 families had annual incomes of $50,000 or more. For the purposes of this study, the families in the last two income brackets were grouped together as middle class. Of the 23 families living below the poverty line, 18 were single-parent households, closely mirroring the proportion cited in the NCW s research study on poverty. Single-parent households accounted for almost 50% of our sample (29/60), while two-parent families made up 26% of the
8 European Journal of Social Work 207 group, and stepfamilies, 5%. The parents had relatively high education levels: 34 had some post-secondary education (16 of them at the university level) and 24 had completed high school. The vast majority (50/60) of the parents interviewed were either working or studying. French was spoken in all the homes, and only seven families spoke languages other than French or English. Three parents out of five reported that stressful family events had amplified their children s violent behaviour. Half of the parents (29/60) admitted that conjugal discord was one of the elements that had an impact on their families, whether in the form of arguments or actual separation. Seven of the situations involved conjugal violence. Shared decision making: exposing a raw nerve In its Code of Conduct (OME, 2001), which frames violent behaviour at school, the Ontario Ministry of Education emphasizes the importance of active parental involvement. Parents are invited to meet with school staff to develop a joint intervention plan and to support the disciplinary measures taken by the school. However, because a key to successful collaboration with parents implies involving them in important decisions (Dupper, 2003), four questions on the grid (see Table 1 below) sought to identify the parents degree of involvement in the school s decisions concerning their children and their violent behaviours. Table 1 Parental involvement in decision making Question 38: Question 39: Question 40: Question 51: Has the school ever invited you to be part of the search for solutions? Yes $25,000 $49,999/$50K/ ($CAN) 20/37 Below poverty line 13/23 Total 33/60 Has the school actually involved you in making decisions concerning your child? Yes $25,000 $49,999/$50K/ 16/37 Below poverty line 9/23 Total 25/60 Have you been able to influence the decisions affecting your child? Yes $25,000 $49,999/$50K/ 14/37 Below poverty line 6/23 Total 20/60 Do you feel that you have any power of influence in the school? Yes $25,000 $49,999/$50K/ 18/37 Below poverty line 9/23 Total 27/60
9 208 M. Drolet et al. A slight majority of 55% (33/60) stated they had been asked to participate in the attempt to find solutions (Q38). And 42.5% (25/60) answered that the school actually involved them in making decisions concerning their child (Q39). However, 53% (32/60) said they had never taken part in any decisions regarding their child s aggressive behaviour (Q39). Their main complaint concerned the type of remedial action taken by the school: 14 parents were opposed to temporary suspension; five were against permanent expulsion; four opposed transfer to a special education class; and five opposed prescribing Ritalin. To question 51, Do you feel that you have any power of influence in the school?, once again almost half (45%; 27/60) responded in the affirmative with respect to their overall influence. On the other hand, question 40, Have you been able to influence the decisions affecting your child?, yielded three nearly equal sets of responses, the last third (19/60) of which included ambivalent responses, that is, they were neither affirmative nor negative. Parents whose answers fell into this grey area believed that the school had made the major decisions and involved them in more minor decisions about the intervention strategies tailored to their child. The answers to those four questions provided in the previous table and throughout the transcript of the 60 interviews form two respondent profiles (Huberman & Miles, 1991): willing collaborator (i.e. the 25 who answered yes to the four questions) or passive presence (i.e. the 19 who answered no to all four questions). Even though almost three quarters of the parents (44/60) fit into one of the above two profiles, the other 16 respondents were excluded because their answers were either not relevant or not conclusive enough to clearly indicate which profile applied. Moreover, there were not enough common threads connecting their perceptions to substantiate the establishment of a third profile. All the same, these 16 interviews served to confirm the very complex nature of the schoolhome relationship. It is the quality of the relationship between the parent and one staff member that is a determining factor in building effective parentschool partnerships. Moreover, that quality is more important than the actual frequency of contact between the two parties (Adams & Christenson, 2000). As seen in the following excerpt, the various levels of contact maintained between parents and the school is an issue of some importance. The complexity of the relationship is a key element on which the social worker may build a collaborative framework. A single mother, aged 30, who has an eight-year-old son, a high-school diploma and a full-time job, describes the complex nature of the school situation: The principal makes time for him. She gets him to talk about his feelings. She helps him see his way out of problems and encourages him to talk more about his feelings with us. She remembers me each time I phone her... And last year s teacher too, she tried to give him responsibilities. He liked the fish in the class aquarium, so she said, You can be the one that feeds him. That was good for him and we all got along...but this year s teacher, she sent me a letter saying my son is a troubled kid, that he s a kind of sad soul with learning problems and needs to see a psychiatrist.
10 European Journal of Social Work 209 We have to put aside all the good progress made and get some expert to pick up the pieces...it s like the teacher s saying, OK, you did your best, now let s pass the boy on to an expert. The principal is considering referring the mother to the school social worker for support.  Since one level of contact that becomes derailed may evolve into a major roadblock to collaboration between the school and parents, what are the elements for parents that foster a cooperative relationship? Moreover, how can school social workers help to pave the way for a smooth relationship between parents and the school? The following section describes how the perceptions of various parents in the two profiles differ. The willing collaborator profile: when both sides work together This first profile includes 25 of the 60 respondents (13 from the middle class and 12 below the poverty line). It basically reflects active collaboration between the school and parents, as defined by Christenson and Sheridan (2001). Although the parents in this profile considered that they had taken part in the decisions affecting their children (Dupper, 2003), some of them mentioned that nobody had asked for their opinions concerning the application of the Ontario Code of Conduct (OME, 2001). They stated, however, that the legal framework governing the decisions to be taken by the school did not interfere with their positive relationship with the school because they supported the mandated intervention to counter violent behaviour in that setting. These 25 parents trust in the school s expertise: They know best how to get my child to behave . In their eyes, the school has the major responsibility for helping children solve the problems they encounter therein. According to those parents, the effectiveness of a team approach is based, in part, on these three elements: 1. a shared understanding of the difficulties and constraints faced by each party; 2. mutual respect for each other s expertise and role in the child s life; and 3. a sense that, whatever one party s plan of action may entail, the overarching goal is the welfare of the child. In the view of these parents, regular two-way communication is the blueprint for cooperative problem solving and mutual support. With their children s well-being in mind, parents are able to talk about classroom issues with their youngsters and show their support for any necessary intervention. They can work with the school by implementing measures at home that address the child s aggressive conduct at school. This type of home-based plan of action ensures that these children hear the same message in the two main spheres of their lives. That process falls under a framework of overlapping influence (Epstein, 1992, 1995, 2001): a dynamic process complementing the efforts made by two institutions (i.e. school and family).
11 210 M. Drolet et al. The next excerpt illustrates the importance of that mutual support, whereby social workers will have a grasp of what direct school and parent collaboration involves. A mother, aged 40, with an eight-year-old son diagnosed with ADHD. She lives with her husband and another child. Both parents are in low-paying jobs. She reports: As soon as any problem happens, I am ready to discuss ways of finding a solution together. I asked the teacher at the beginning if she d mind filling out the comments box in my child s school agenda every day, because sometimes I don t find out until Thursday what happened on Monday. It was me who decided that every Friday I d check to see how he did during the week, and if he had problems, he d lose one privilege the next week...some of the teachers have even asked me for ideas about how they can improve the way they deal with my son in certain classroom situations. The school understands I don t always find it easy to handle my son. They know if they suggest something, I m going to take it seriously. They know that in our family, we always try to work for what s best for our boy.  When schools and parents work together as partners, parents develop a more supportive attitude towards the educational institution and a greater willingness to work towards positive change (Deslandes, 2001). This collaboration becomes a dynamic process built on constructive interactions. The passive presence profile: when tension permeates the decision-making process The 19 parents belonging to the non-collaborative, or passive presence, profile (11 from the middle class and eight living below the poverty line) clearly stand out from those in the collaborative profile. These 19 harbour real doubts about their influence in the school. In their opinion, the school has never truly involved them in the major decisions affecting their children (Dupper, 2003). They believe that the school forces them to maintain a passive role, imposes its choices and applies its rules rigidly. Their main complaint concerns the type of remedial action taken: temporary suspension, permanent expulsion, transfer to a special-education class, and exerting pressure on the parents to use Ritalin. Their perception of having being sidelined when major decisions were made is the key obstacle to their working collaboratively with the school, and lies at the root of this conflict. This couple are both recent university graduates and have a five-year-old son. The interviewed parent asserted, as an example of how tension can underlie the decisionmaking process: The principal was most professional and tactful, and we set up an appointment with her to draw up an intervention plan. The teaching assistant was also present, as were the vice-principal, the junior kindergarten teacher and the two of us...but they didn t follow this plan. They had their own plan, and it had nothing to do with an in-school solution. It made an argument for requesting the school board s permission to send him away. They didn t want to address anything at his school. The principal was determined to send him to a different one. And she avoided yet
12 European Journal of Social Work 211 one more problem for her own school... So my son was at home for two weeks, until they phoned me to say yes, he could start at a special school. We were lucky to get a spot because it can take up to a year, with him at home or in daycare the whole time. A social worker is following this family in the new school.  Some of the respondents in the non-collaborative profile react vehemently to the unilateral decisions made by the school system: They told us they didn t have the right to do what they did, but that s just how things were . Others go so far as to say that they had no influence whatsoever in any of the major decisions: It s a military regime. They give the orders, you obey . Still others contend that despite making an effort to cooperate more fully with the school, they ran into institutional barriers, such as the school s daily schedule or the staff s particular work assignments. In their view, the choice of solution (e.g. suspension, special-education class or Ritalin) proposed to deal with their children s difficulties corresponded to standard measures designed strictly to control the child s behaviour but which did not adequately address their children s specific needs and learning styles. These parents gave in to the school because they wanted to help their children and they wanted them to remain in school. Despite subtle differences in these parents responses, their impression that they had no power to influence an institutional decision lies at the heart of this conflict. They feel that there is a power asymmetry favouring the school and not the parents (Dubet & Martuccelli, 1996; Gareau & Sawatzky, 1995; Lazar & Slostad, 1999; Marcon, 1999; Montandon & Perrenoud, 1994; Vincent & Tomlinson, 1997). Montandon and Perrenoud (1994) add that the school doesn t always know its own strength (p. 14). The power of this institution is truly rooted in its array of resources that children and their parents need on a daily basis. The school s strength is also anchored in its powers of persuasion and in its vested authority as an organizational structure (Crozier & Friedberg, 1977; Dubet, 1994; Dubet & Martuccelli, 1996). The Ontario legislation framing the decisions concerning children s violent behaviour at school (OME, 2000, 2001) therefore increases this imbalance and predetermines the interaction between the two parties. In fact, it mentions that parents are required to support the disciplinary measures taken by the school (OME, 2001). This can lead to mutual fingerpointing (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001) and to each party accusing the other of being responsible for children s education and problems (Montandon, 1994). This is precisely where school social workers can step in and contribute their expertise to prevent the tension from escalating, and where they can maintain (and even enhance) the collaborative relationships between schools and parents. School social work: collaboration in its various forms School-based social workers occupy a strategic position (Link, 1991) enabling them to work within the school system, while maintaining ties with outside networks. By
13 212 M. Drolet et al. regularly interacting with the different milieux (Allen-Meares et al., 2000; CASW, 2002; Dupper, 2003; OASW, n.d.), school social workers are able to pinpoint certain institutional obstacles. Their ecological analysis of the situation enables them to put into perspective each side s views, responsibilities and constraints. In short, they are able to put into context the issues perceived to be associated with children, their parents and school staff. However, the current legislation governing violent behaviour in schools interferes with school social workers role by introducing a context that resembles mandated intervention. This can adversely affect how parents relate to them, given that parents identify social workers with the school and, as a result, with the school s pressuring their children to adapt to the behaviour rules prescribed by the Code of Conduct (2001) and the Safe Schools Act (2000). Social workers rich network of contacts acts as a springboard for raising people s awareness, mobilizing them and encouraging them to work cooperatively with the common goal of helping the children with their problems (Allen-Meares et al., 2000; Freeman et al., 1998; Germain, 2000). In another respect, social workers are acutely aware of parents living conditions and daily realities. This knowledge allows them to speak out on parents behalf, sometimes even to the point of defending their rights (Dupper, 2003). Their actions are geared towards providing direct support to parents and helping schools adapt to children s specific needs. They also help parents become aware of the issues facing schools. In this way, they help both sides work together and generate a process of constructive interaction. To identify how school social workers can best stimulate this process, we will consider the different forms of collaboration they can initiate (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Lawson & Barkdull, 2001). Family-centred collaboration We will begin with family-centred collaboration (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004), since getting parents directly involved in the school is an intrinsic part of the school s social services (Bowen, 1999; Kurtz & Barth, 1989). In this regard, social workers intervene in order that the school will view parents as experts and partners in the decision-making process (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004). As witnessed in the following situation, social workers help open the door so that parents become more involved and take action as a way of restoring some of the balance of power in their favour: A 25-year-old mother with a five-year-old daughter who hits her schoolmates in the school yard admits that she was rude to the school. Their first few contacts were rather stormy. During her daughter s kindergarten year, she was in college and under great stress owing to all her obligations, the constant phone calls from the school and her daughter s suspensions. She says: Because I am young, and a single mother, and since I m black too, well you know, I don t think they had much respect for me. You could see it in some of the teachers, and even in the principal. At first, they thought I didn t know very much, that it was my fault my girl was turning out like she was. You could see it
14 European Journal of Social Work 213 in the way they spoke to me. They had no respect... I didn t want anybody judging me. I was someone they were suspicious about. That s why I was so happy that the social worker started to come with me to those meetings. I usually felt more comfortable when she was there. She was older, and she s white. They respected her, and they couldn t very well not respect me when she was around. In her role as a mediator, the social worker was able to explain the mother s situation to the school. She asked the mother to establish an after-school routine at home better adapted to the needs of this child. At this point, the grandmother decided to get involved, which created a measure of stability. The situation improved little by little.  As mediators between the two sides, social workers must also take into account issues that go beyond (Dupper, 2003) the definition put forward by Christenson and Sheridan (2001) and described by the parents in the collaborative profile. On the one hand, parents with less education and living in poverty regularly feel inept at school. They may have had negative experiences of their own at school and they may also perceive teachers as being above them in the hierarchy (Dubet & Martuccelli, 1996; Grolnick et al., 1997; Kohl et al., 2000; Marcon, 1999). On the other hand, middleclass families who are aware of the importance of supporting their children at school may be more critical of the education system (de Singly, 2000; Dubet & Martuccelli, 1996; Pourtois & Desmet, 1997; Vincent & Tomlinson, 1997). These different perceptions create obstacles blocking communication between parents and the school. Social workers can speak out on their behalf and place their reactions to the school in the proper context. Working with community resources All resources within the community s support network to which school social workers can refer families are important within the framework set up by those professionals. This proactive establishment of a safety net for families defines the inter-agency collaboration (Anderson-Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Lawson & Barkdull, 2001). This is one of school social workers more recognized roles (Allen-Meares et al., 2000; CASW, 2002; Constable et al., 1996; Dupper, 2003; Freeman et al., 1998; Germain, 2000; OASW, n.d.). In common with the woman in the next situation, three out of five parents in our sample state that stressful family events amplified their child s violent behaviour at school, such situations sometimes requiring referrals to different community agencies: A mother, aged 37, describes Sandra, her nine-year-old daughter, as a wonderful child but bossy wherever she goes. The mother has mental-health problems, is a psychiatric outpatient, and receives state support. The child s father was violent with both of them until finally, two years previously, the mother took him to court to have him forced out of their home. Sandra was referred to the school social worker when she was in senior kindergarten and mistreating her classmates. The social worker supported the mother throughout her legal proceedings to have her husband
15 214 M. Drolet et al. evicted as well as throughout her custody and visitation proceedings. Although the father was back to living with his own mother, he started bullying his daughter again. The social worker persuaded the mother to take him back to court. While the mother was hospitalized because of her own problems, Sandra lived in a foster home under the care of the Children s Aid Society. The social worker kept in touch with Sandra so she could stay in contact with her school and her neighbourhood. Now, the mother is proud of working regularly in Sandra s class: at the social s worker suggestion, she volunteers her services to the school twice a week.  By solving certain family problems, parents are able to take back control over their own daily lives, and regain a degree of empowerment and a sense of self-competence (Drolet & Charpentier, 1999). This feeling of overall competence is an important factor affecting parents collaboration with the school (Deslandes, 1999; Eccles & Harold, 1993; Grolnick et al., 1997; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 1992). When parents believe that they are effective, they are more willing to collaborate (Grolnick et al., 1997). Additionally, when parents have more time and less stress, they are able to devote their energy to collaborative initiatives that specifically target their child s violent behaviour. The teacher as key person: intra-organizational collaboration The parents we interviewed identified their child s teacher as a key person in their interactions with the school. The quality of the relationship and the trust built between younger children and their teachers play a major role in the quality of the schoolparent interaction. When such relationships are positive, they clearly foster children s social and academic integration (Deslandes & Jacques, 2004). With respect to intra-organizational collaboration within schools (Anderson- Butcher & Ashton, 2004; Lawson & Barkdull, 2001), the social worker s role is to provide direct support to the teachers (Dupper, 2003; Lynn et al., 2003; Viggiani et al., 2002). This support takes concrete shape in behaviour management and positive reinforcement plans designed to help the children learn new skills. The parents in our sample group value teachers who tailor their interventions to individual children and use positive reinforcement mechanisms to support them. This direct support to teachers in turn alleviates their workloads (Bronstein & Abramson, 2003) and reduces their fear that their teaching practices are being called into question, a fear that can contribute to teachers keeping their distance from parents (Cifali, 1997; Montandon, 1994; Pourtois & Desmet, 1997). As shown in the following situation, the social worker can help pave the way for a more positive schoolparent relationship: A single mother, aged 35, who is a university graduate and works full-time, describes the situation of Stephen, her four-year-old son, before a social worker got involved. This mother was told, He s the most annoying kid of all four kindergarten classes. When he was sick for two days, everyone said that it was the best couple of days they d had so far. Prompted by the principal, the social
16 European Journal of Social Work 215 worker set up a meeting with Stephen s mother. The social workers offered to observe him during and after class to see how his teacher and the after-school educators interacted with him. After a few observation periods, the social workers met with Stephen s mother, teacher and educators to discuss some possible solutions. It was decided that the key action to take would be to offer specific positive reinforcement over a short period of time to increase Stephen s chances for success. Everything was written in Stephen s school agenda so that everyone involved with him could follow him and encourage him to try again the next day. The mother was proud to admit: It s a lot of work. But it s also pretty special to see how far he s changed even without the social worker being there with him.  The principal as decision maker: inter-professional collaboration Social workers also play an active role in organizing and coordinating teamwork. Inter-professional collaboration, another of the forms of collaboration described by Anderson-Butcher and Ashton (2004) and Lawson and Barkdull (2001), corresponds to any joint initiative undertaken at school that centres on individual children and their specific difficulties. The school administration, the decision maker in such cases, supervises these initiatives. Social workers act as a catalyst by making the principal aware of the particular needs of a certain child and that child s parents. The parents we interviewed regard the school principal as their reference point and consider him or her to be the chief representative of the educational institution. A number of parents expressed their appreciation when the principal individualized the process by clearly stating the school s regulations and by applying the school s code of conduct in a way that was both flexible and reflective of positive reinforcement (Bronstein & Abramson, 2003). The following is an example of inter-professional collaboration initiated and coordinated by the school social worker, and in which a member of the support staff and the principal play positive roles. A mother, aged 27, has five children between the ages of 10 years and 16 months and seldom leaves the house. Her partner works long hours in a low-paying job. Martin, her seven-year-old son, had his new trousers stolen in school just before Christmas. His mother made 15 calls in January to ask if they had found them, yet received no response. A while later, just as she was about to buy Martin a new pair of running shoes, his teacher phoned to point out the sorry state of the shoes he was wearing that day. Martin s mother was afraid that school staff would view her as a negligent parent. Then in the following week, Martin told his classmates that he had dreamt that his stepfather had stuck a knife in his mother s neck. The school reported this to the Children s Aid Society, which carried out an investigation and referred the mother to a parenting group. There she learned about time-outs but didn t think they were working especially well within the family. Martin then started hitting his classmates. That was when a social worker was called in. Martin s mother could no longer pick him up after school because her younger children were starting to act up. The social worker thought that Martin should be given some responsibilities. When he left school, the secretary would call his mother to tell her that he was on the way home. His mother waited for him by the
17 216 M. Drolet et al. front window and gave him encouragement for his positive action. Seeing changes in Martin, the principal agreed to the social worker s suggestion of adapting their meetings after he had misbehaved. The social worker met with the mother and then they all sat down together. The principal said, What you did wasn t very nice, you know. Why did you do that? Martin answered, It was the other kid who started it, then he told me to do it, too. The principal replied: Don t copy the other students. Just do what you have to do. Because Martin s mother trusted the school social worker, she admitted that her partner was sometimes rough with the children. Work was begun with the partner, who was told that he could be reported to the Children s Aid Society. Martin s behaviour at school calmed down.  Intervention at the level of parental practice Finally, school social workers interventions also include helping parents learn new child-rearing skills. In dealing with children who have behavioural problems at school, it is critical to initiate family-centred practices aimed at helping parents manage their children s behaviour (Fraser, 1998; Markward & Bride, 2001). A very large majority of the parents we interviewed (51/60) admit that it is difficult for them to get their children to obey them. They feel that they have lost control over their children. They complain of a lack of clear signs pointing out the way to effective parenting, which ultimately affects them: I was the one who d suffer when my child didn t want to go to school. It s often hard on my nerves . This feeling of helplessness can spark a need for them to re-evaluate how they are raising their children. School social workers can help families solve their child s behaviour problems and be effective allies to parents wishing to improve their children s life in general (Sharry, 2002). The school social worker collaborates with the parents to improve their routines and the way they handle their children. All the same, this type of intervention is possible only if the family recognizes there is a problem and that the school social worker is an expert in this area. As mentioned previously, all the other forms of collaboration initiated by the school social worker can serve to build bridges between parents and the school and help them establish a trusting relationship. Once this foundation is solidly in place, parents are usually more open to reflecting on their home life and parenting skills. This trust must come first, however, because any intervention that targets parenting is initially viewed with distrust by parents who interpret this help as interference, triggering some defence strategies (Dubet & Martuccelli, 1996). The interviews we held say it loudly and clearly: any work to be done with parents must not begin with a discussion of their child-rearing practices. Overview and repercussions: giving parents their say Most of the parents (49/60) from the entire study group stated that they were deeply affected by the issue of bullying at school. All 25 from the willing collaborator profile
18 European Journal of Social Work 217 mentioned that their child s aggressive behaviour had caused disruptions to their daily routines; the remaining 24 (most of whom belong to the passive presence profile) felt powerless in the face of their children s situation at school. These 49 parents found themselves in the position of needing short- or medium-term solutions based on their having perceived a need or a problem (Gross & McMullen, 1983). Their recognition that a problem did exist led them to being open to change and willing to accept the help offered by the social worker. This in turn encouraged them to choose to actively work toward a solution (Gross & McMullen, 1983). The key to initiating early intervention rooted in empowerment is to recognize both the challenges that parents face in their daily lives and the signs that they are open to help. It would seem, however, that the young age of these children (from three to nine years old) is a support factor in parentschool collaboration. Leading research indicates that stronger ties can be forged between the two parties when children are just starting school (Deslandes & Jacques, 2004; Eccles & Harold, 1993; Epstein, 1995; Grolnick et al., 2002): Lots of potential; he s four years old, that s still very young. He s not fifteen yet and doesn t have a ten-year history of problems behind him . Most of these parents are also aware of a related issue: aggressive behaviour in early childhood can set the stage for more serious violent behaviour later on (Burke et al., 2002; Farrington, 2000; Kosterman et al., 2001). The fear that this situation may eventually degenerate encourages parents to take the necessary preventive steps when their children are still young. This awareness can inspire them to translate their newfound sense of empowerment into a cooperative force working hand in hand with the school: I m doing my best to make sure he doesn t join a gang when he gets older ; I m going to help out so my girl ends up with a good job and turns into a responsible adult . It is comments such as these that can help social workers understand how parents perceive their situations. Although often difficult to take root, collaborative parentschool relationships can prove to be beneficial in reining in a child s inclination to bullying, particularly if this bond is created at an early stage. In turn, this forum becomes much more effective when: (1) parents acknowledge that they need help in dealing with their child s dayto-day reality; (2) the school and the parents recognize that they each face stressful challenges in their daily lives with aggressive young children; (3) there is a dynamic teaching staff working as a team; (4) the school staff and the parents are able to develop a shared plan of action; and (5) child-rearing practices are rooted in empowerment. It is important that school social workers use the daily realities described by parents, teachers and principals as the springboard for client-centred intervention and for addressing the issue of bullying. With this knowledge, school social workers can seize every opportunity to initiate different forms of collaboration between the school and parents. As mediators, they can set the stage for parents to speak their minds and discover a sense of personal empowerment, and they can help the school adopt individualized approaches to problems and adapt to the extra work these
19 218 M. Drolet et al. entail. Reaching out to parents at an early stage can make inroads to breaking down the doors of isolation and social exclusion. Moreover, it will help parentschool communication problems that can arise later should the issue of aggression be ignored over several years and the symptoms worsen. This is the very essence of collaborative early intervention that is solidly grounded in positive interactions between the school and parents within the scope of their respective day-to-day living experiences. Acknowledgements The authors wish to acknowledge the financial assistance made available by Justice Canada (through the Crime Prevention Partnership Program of the National Crime Prevention Centre), as well as the Community and University Partnership in Social Sciences fund and the Interfaculty Collaborative Research Initiatives fund of the University of Ottawa. We also extend our appreciation to the School of Social Work and the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa, for supporting our work. Notes  In its Code of Conduct (OME, 2001), the Ontario Ministry of Education emphasizes the importance of active parental involvement. Parents are invited to meet with teaching staff with the aim of shaping a joint intervention plan and to support the efforts of school staff in maintaining a safe and respectful learning environment for all students.  Ritalin is the commercial trade name for methylphenidate hydrochloride, a mild central nervous system stimulant. It is used extensively to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and is also prescribed for narcolepsy.  The poverty level is based on Statistics Canada data covering annual pre-tax income; it takes into account the number of family members per household and the location of the home in Canada. For example, in an urban centre of 500,000 or more inhabitants, a three-person household with an income of $25K is considered to be living in poverty. A two-person household with the same revenue would not be classed as such. References Adams, K. & Christenson, S. (2000) Trust and the family school relationship: examination of parent teacher differences in elementary and secondary grades, Journal of School Psychology, vol. 38, no. 5, pp Agresta, J. (2004) Professional role perceptions of school social workers, psychologists, and counsellors, Children & Schools, vol. 26, no. 3, pp Algozzine, B. & Pam, K. (eds) (2002) Preventing Problem Behaviors: A Handbook of Successful Prevention Strategies, pp , XVI, 247 p. Allen, S. F. & Tracy, E. M. (2004) Revitalizing the role of home visiting by school social workers, Children & School, vol. 26, no. 4, pp Allen-Meares, P., Washington, R. O. & Welsh, B. L. (2000) Social Work Services in Schools, Allyn and Bacon, Needham Heights, MA. Anderson-Butcher, D. & Ashton, D. (2004) Innovative models of collaboration to serve children, youths, families, and communities, Children & Schools, vol. 26, no. 1, pp
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