The Importance of Social Workers in Schools

More social workers are needed in Australian schools, says Adjunct Professor in Education, Dr James White. This month Dr White hosted a forum at UNE, discussing the urgent need for more Social Support Officers to address an ongoing climate of poor mental health following the Covid-19 pandemic.

At UNE, social worker students have had the opportunity to undertake placement in schools, providing this much-needed support, since 2010 as part of the Social Workers in Schools project (SWiS). Established by Social Work at UNE in partnership with the UNE School of Education,  in 2021 SWiS won the Excellence Australia Award for Excellence in Student Engagement – and the work didn’t stop there.

The recent forum held in Armidale saw school representatives, Department of Education staff, community agencies, and current UNE students and staff gather together to discuss the needs of children and young people. In talking to Tune, Dr White notes that while there are currently social worker positions in secondary schools, there aren’t any in primary schools, but in the future he’d like to see positions like this funded and included in schools.

As someone who works closely with schools, Dr White has seen a massive increase in mental health issues in schools, and not just at a secondary level. More and more, he says, we’re hearing it from teachers in primary schools. Student support officers have only been formally put into NSW schools in recent years, and while schools are incredibly keen for the placement position, there just isn’t enough students to fill the demand.

Dr White’s hope is that encouraging students to think of social work as a viable career option will see more students undertaking this degree, and these placements. SWiS provides scholarship opportunities to support the costs, and the recent news that the Federal Government will be addressing placement poverty will no doubt help as well.

Ultimately, this is a role that students need. As we’re seeing an increase in mental health challenges faced by children and young people, we need to provide them with the necessary support to overcome those challenges.

“The earlier you can provide the right sort of help and advice and tools to deal with the challenges that these young people have, the better.”

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