What do children say about school social workers?

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1 What do children say about school social workers? Dr. Doris Testa School of Social Work, Victoria University, Melbourne Abstract This research reports on primary school children s experiences of programs facilitated by social work students. This is the first documented research on how Victorian primary school children experience social work students undertaking field education. Data indicated that the student social workers contribution in a particular model of health promotion enhanced the social, emotional, and personal wellbeing of primary school aged children aged between six and eleven. They facilitated social inclusion programs and access to resources otherwise denied children located in economic social and political disadvantaged circumstances. Keywords: children, research, schools, social workers, field placement Introduction The Australian Association of Social Work (AASW), the registering body for Australian social workers, is clear about the centrality of field practicum. Instructing universities to give the field practicum full academic status, the AASW stipulates that students must undertake seven hundred and eighty hours of field placement in two different social work settings over two academic years (AASW, 2008). Field practicums potentially validate the student s choice to pursue a social work career or become the catalyst for the student s decision to abandon the career choice altogether (Beddoe and Maidment, 2009). This article, the only Victorian school social work research that includes data collected from primary school aged children, school staff, parent community, social work students, and field education coordinators, documents students views on the success or otherwise of the field practicum. This is particularly important since it addresses the right of children to make their needs explicit and heard (WHO 2000,2003. While results of the broader research are explored elsewhere, by reporting what primary school students have said about the involvement of social work students in wellbeing being programs, we can see how the field practicum helped offset, or not, the circumstances that distract students from engagement and inclusion in schools. The St Paul s Model (The Model) St Paul s School is located in the low socio economic Western suburbs of Melbourne and populated by children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The aggregated school population over twelve years was 453 representing 308 families. While principal of the school, I, dually qualified in education and social work, designed, and facilitated the Model. The Model developed organically over a twelve-year period, 1994 to 2005, was designed to offset the social, emotional, economic and structural factors that impede primary school aged students ability to attend to teaching and learning programs. Third or fourth year social work students undertaking their filed practicum, were responsible for delivering a number of programs that targeted the spectrum of interventions (i.e., prevention, early intervention, intervention and restoring resilience) identified in health promotion literature as key foci areas for health promotion (Health Promoting Schools Unit 2004). These students were from six Victorian universities (i.e., RMIT, Latrobe, Monash, Deakin, Victoria University and the University of Melbourne). Table 1 below lists the programs that involved social work students.

2 Table 1: Model Components by year introduced Model component and description Program start Lunch Program 1994 Classroom Program 1994 Breakfast Club 1994 Camp Program 1995 Research: Vietnamese Participation in St Paul s School 1996 Submission writing for material aid, crisis support, 1996 community development SEASONS: 1997 Research: Bullying audit 1999 Transition Program: induction programs of year prep, 2000 year six and parents to new school Swimming Program 2000 Welfare committee referrals interdisciplinary committee 2001 Research: Parent/carer experiences of the enrolment 2001 processes School Focused Youth Service committee representation: 2002 Playground Program (social skills program 2003 Homework Club 2004 After School Hours Care Program policy and program 2004 development Community Development Artist in Residence Program 2005 and Jubilee celebrations Research: Breakfast Club report 2005 Research: Bullying audit 2005 Source: Research data Prior to placement students had successfully completed direct practice units of study. While on placement the social work field education practicum emphasised the three characteristics of professionalism: theory, practice and research (Beddoe & Maidment, 2009) and was purposefully structured to guide the social work student through the process of integrating theory and practice. The placement began with a two-week period of orientation to the schools staff, programs, policies and practices which focused students on the goals, values and ethics shared by teachers and social workers, the interdependence of students wellbeing and student wellbeing and classroom observations and meetings with staff members. In week three students developed their learning goals. These learning goals drew on the AASW (2006) Practice standards for social workers in schools and formed the basis of the Universities student competency and skills assessment. During the orientation phase, students had daily contact with the supervisor. Together the student and supervisor discussed the significant points of overlap and difference between teaching and social work skills and knowledge. Following the orientation phase of the placement, social work students, in collaboration with the social work supervisor, were allocated responsibility for particular program areas. Weekly individual and/or group supervision, central to the learning experience, provided a forum for the learning review to ensure that social work students had the educative, supportive and administrative functions of supervision (Beddoe & Maidment, 2009). Throughout their placement, social work students used reflective journals, case notes, group presentations to the teaching staff, peer presentations, and daily updated e-folios as the main teaching and learning tools. Between formal supervision sessions, social work students were required to keep an e-portfolio containing critical reflections, case notes and program, project and policy development notes. The supervisor had daily access to these online files and gave daily feedback, suggesting future actions or readings and noting topics for supervision. Additionally social work students were clear that they could have supervision on an as needed bases, formal and/or informal.

3 Methods In accordance with Chapter 4.2: Children and Young People of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (National and Medical Research Council 2007), consent for the participation of the primary aged students was obtained from a parent or guardian as well as the young person. To ensure that my historical links would not contaminate the research and negatively impact on the validity and trustworthiness of the research, an external experts i.e. two experienced social workers and one teacher, monitored each research stage. Bimonthly meetings were held to review data, data analysis, provide feedback, challenge my assumptions and conclusions, and suggest future analysis considerations. The recruitment of participants and the facilitation of the focus group were delegated to the school based student wellbeing coordinator. Such an approach addressed the internal validity of the data while also returning data on the Model s transferability to other school settings thus addressing the external validity of the data. Data gathered and presented in this article informed the following research question: 1. Are the formal and collaborative professional arrangements employed in the St Paul s Model effective in addressing and promoting student wellbeing? A mixed methods approach to data analysis (Creswell, 2005), was employed. Primary students attended one focus group and completed a simple survey. Focus group notes and surveys were collected at the conclusion of the sessions and provided qualitative and quantitative data for analysis. This data was analysed through a process of reading through for familiarity, followed by a collation and categorisation process in order to address the research questions. Participants Participants were bounded by place, that is, St Paul s school students, school teachers, Parent Partnership Team members, Victoria University social work students and Field Education Coordinators; time, that is, 1994 to 2005, the time that that social work supervisor/principal was employed at the school; and experience, that is, participants who had been involved in or who had knowledge of the St Paul s Model from 1994 to 2005 (Corbin 2005). Table 2 indicates the number of research participants. Table 2: Research Participants by number and cohort (N=72) Teachers Primary school students Parents/ carers Social work students Field Education coordinators Source: Research data The following sections report on the data collected from the primary school students. Results and discussion Primary school students provided qualitative and quantitative data on the Breakfast Club, Homework Club, SEASONS: Grief and Loss Program, Classroom Program, Playground Program and the Anti Bullying Program. The following sections discuss the data. Breakfast Club The Breakfast Club was open to any student. Funding for the Breakfast Club was sourced by the social work students and thus the cost to those attending was nominal (fifty cents per family or free if families were unable to contribute). Table 3: Knowledge of Breakfast Club (N=20) I heard of the Breakfast Club from A teacher 7 A friend 10 Social work students 3

4 Source: Student survey As Table 3 indicates the students were the best advocate of the Breakfast club, followed by the teachers and social workers with students highlighting the role the club played in addressing their ability to attend to teaching and learning: I could think more. (Student 5) Except sometimes you re late for school and you can t come to Breakfast Club or you re late and then you go to class the teachers aren t worried if you re late and you re at Breakfast Club. (Student G) One student also commented that the Breakfast Club influenced his attitudes toward the health benefits of having breakfast: I learnt that Breakfast Club is important it keeps you thinking. (Student N) Other students recognised the how the Breakfast Club responded to family cultural or structural circumstances: I like eating toast, because you don t get it at home, sometimes. (Student N) Your mum and dad go to work early so I don t get breakfast. (Student H) Responses also indicated the contribution the Breakfast Club made to a positive school ethos: It was good; I made friends. (Student 3) Sometimes you were scared but after Breakfast Club it was OK. (Student S2) It s important because you talk to [the social work students] about things. (Student D2) [The] Breakfast Club makes me feel safe. (Student 4) As indicated in Table 4 below, survey results confirmed the positive view of the Breakfast Club. Table 4: Students ranking of Breakfast Club (N=20) I liked the Breakfast Program Total Really, really agree 12 Really agree 8 Source: Student survey Social workers were also responsible for the facilitation of the Homework Club. Homework Club Operating two days a week between the hours of 3 and 4 pm in the school library, along with providing access to technology, the Homework Club aimed to develop positive study habits in senior students and prepare them for the transition to secondary school. As shown in Table 5, data indicated that students highly valued their participation in the Homework Club. Table 5: Student ranking of the Homework Club (N=7) Total I liked the Homework Program Really, really agree 6 Really agree 1 Source: Student survey Students promoted the Homework Club as giving them access to resources not otherwise available to them: I worked in the library, I could use the internet. We don t have the internet at home. (S) Students also viewed the Homework Club as bridging the cultural capital gap created by new curriculum content, families alienation from the school curriculum and their parents inability to understand Australian language schooling processes, level of schooling and their unfamiliarity with the English.. For these students, the Homework Club provided the academic and linguistic support they needed to complete their homework, negotiate schooling tasks and opportunity and space to work towards the standards and measures set by federal and state education policies:

5 I have to do my homework at home my mum doesn t speak English. I could ask people at [the] Homework Club to help me. (Student 2) I like [the] Homework Club because I could learn more because I could get help with my homework. I can t get that at home. (Student E) Some students also participated in the SEASONS program. SEASON Program: program for grief and loss The SEASONS program is a program run for children who have, or are currently experiencing loss and grief. Students self referred or were referred by teachers or parents/carer s to the twelve session, weekly run group program. Focus group data indicated that the SEASONS program was valued by students as being both effective and necessary in addressing wellbeing issues that may otherwise interfere with the students emotional availability to teaching and learning programs. Students stressed the importance of the program in developing their emotional competencies and building their resilience: I think SEASONS is great because we talk about feelings. (Student B) Being part of SEASONS is great because you get to express your feelings, talk about problems and family. (Student M) And saw the program as linking them with other students who had experienced feelings of loss and grief: I learnt that other kids think the same as you and that they have things happen the same as you. (Student E) Students also participated in the Classroom program. Classroom Program In the Classroom Program social work students worked with identified students whose behaviour was not significantly problematic but who needed to improve their classroom participation skills such as listening to directions and completing assignments. As indicated in Table 6, students who participated in the Classroom Program, strongly endorsed the program and the social work students involvement in this program. Table 6: Students ranking of the effectiveness of the Classroom Program (N=20) Social work made my time in the classroom easier Total Really, really agree 8 Really agree 12 Source: Student survey Students stressed that the Classroom program developed helpful relationships between the social work students and themselves and that this relationship had an impact on their engagement with teaching and learning programs: Working in the classroom [the social work students] helped my work. (Student D) It was easier to understand my work with someone helping me; sometimes the teacher hasn t got time. (Student A) Students also had a chance to participate in the Playground Program. Playground Program The Playground Program was focussed on creating a safe school environment and in assisting students to develop the necessary social skills that are required to participate in safe, friendly and sociable playground activities e.g., manage conflict, engender a sense of belonging. As with other programs students could self refer or be referred to the program by teachers and/or parents. Table 7 illustrates the high level of student satisfaction with the Playground Program. Table 7: Students ranking of Playground Program effectiveness (N=20) The social work students made my time in the playground easier Total Really, really agree 15 Really agree 5

6 Source: Student survey Data revealed that the Playground Program had a positive impact on playground interactions and had been successful in teaching them social skills. The students perceived the strength of this program as advancing their social skills and assisting their networking and social capital bridging and building skills: [It] helped me with my problems and helped me make friends. (Student S) [It] was good because sometimes when I didn t know stuff, the social workers helped me to work it out and I didn t have anyone to play with at playtime. (Student 4) Regarding the techniques used to teach social skills, one student commented on the importance of being specifically taught pro social skills: [the social workers] helped me to work it out so that I could play; they made me practice some things like how to play and how to ask to play games. (Student 1) The research activity of social work students contributed to maintaining and developing a safe school environment. Social work students were responsible for conducting research into the effectiveness of school attempts to create a safe environment.. Social work students were responsible for carrying out annual audits to ensure that the a welcoming, safe and inclusive school ethos was maintained and continually developed. These audits included research into the overall safety of the school environment and ethos marked by the values of respect, welcome, safety and mutual respect. From a critical perspective, giving individual students the opportunity to voice their concerns and express victimisation empowered them as individuals, skilled them on how to take action, validated their belief that they could take action on their own behalf and confirmed that people in authority would take their concerns seriously. Finally, as indicated in Table 8, when students were asked if they would recommend the programs that were facilitated by the social worker s, they overwhelmingly in agreed that they would recommend the program. Table 8: Students ranking of social work involvement (N=20) I would tell my friends to go to programs run by the social work students Total Really, really agree 13 Really agree 7 Source: Research data To conclude, the data indicates that the students, when provided an opportunity, were able to articulate how the field practicum contributed positively to their school experience. Moreover students were able to express how field practicum gave them access to resources otherwise denied them because of their economic and social circumstances. This research affirms the importance of listening to students voices while also affirming the field practicum as a positive inclusion in school wellbeing models. References AASW. (2006). Practice standards for social workers in schools. Melbourne: Australian Association of Social Workers. AASW, (2008). Australian social work accreditation standard. Canberra: Australian Association of Social Workers Apple, M. (2000). Can critical pedagogies interrupt rightist policies? Educational Theory, 50(2), Beddoe, L., & Maidment, J. (2009). Mapping knowledge for social work practice: Critical Intersections (1 st ed.). South Melbourne: Cengage Learning. Corbin, J. (2005). Increasing opportunities for school social work practice resulting from comprehensive school reform. Children & Schools, 27(4), Creswell, J. (1994). Research design: qualitative and quantitative approaches. California: Sage Publications. Department of Early Childhood Education and Development. (2011). Summary statistics Victorian schools July 2011, retrieved December 7, 2011, National and Medical Research Council, 2007 NMRC, Canberra, Australia WHO. (2000). Local action: Creating health promoting schools. Geneva: World Health Organisation.

7 WHO. (2003). World Health Report 2003: Shaping the future. Geneva: World Health Organisation. WHO 2004, Promoting Mental Health, Concepts, Emerging Practice and Evidence, World Health Organisation, France. Copyright 2012 Doris Testa The author(s) assign to the Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN Inc.) an educational non-profit institution, a nonexclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction, provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author(s) also grant a nonexclusive licence to the Australian Collaborative Education Network to publish this document on the ACEN website and in other formats for the Proceedings ACEN National Conference Melbourne / Geelong Any other use is prohibited without the express permission of the author(s).

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