Exploring the Competences of Early Career SCHOOL SOCIAL WORKERS in Advancing SCHOOL MENTAL HEALTH

Selçuk O., Phillippo K.

2022 Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health: The Three Rs: Reflect, Recover, Renew, Maryland, United States Of America, 13 - 14 October 2022, pp.1-2

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Maryland
  • Country: United States Of America
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-2
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University Affiliated: Yes


Background and Purpose: Early career school social workers (SSWs) are in a critical position to support school mental health (SMH) initiatives. They are trained to provide direct services to students and families and to collaborate with other school staff and families to promote positive social and emotional development for all students. Thus, the school community needs effective SSWs and best social work practice to achieve the best possible outcomes for students in need. However, research on the competencies of early career school social workers needed for effective SMH practice with children and youth is sparse. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceived competencies of early career school social workers in promoting SMH. 

Methods: We used a phenomenological approach to explore the competencies of early career school social workers. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 school social workers who are in their first three years of employment in the state of Illinois. Data were analyzed using the interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) method developed by Smith et al. to provide a detailed examination of personal lived experiences. The method consists of six phases: (1) read, re-read, (2) initial coding, (3) development of emergent themes, (4) looking for connections between emergent themes, (5) repeating the same process for the next case, (6) looking for patterns in all cases. Data obtained from the interviews were analyzed using Nvivo12 software. 

Results: The analysis revealed three themes: (1) position within the school community, (2) multiple roles and responsibilities, (3) gaps, solutions, and expectations related to the profession. The research findings indicated that there are mutual responsibilities for newly qualified SSWs and school administrators to provide quality services and sound professional judgment. On the one hand, school personnel should recognize the roles and functions of SSWs, and the school district should provide opportunities for supervision. On the other hand, at the beginning of their careers, SSWs may not yet be considered fully trained professionals just because of their training and practice. Therefore, it is necessary for them to receive continued professional development in order to better serve in the school. 

Conclusion and Implications: The findings suggest that the first three years in professional practice are of utmost importance, so it is crucial to plan and manage this period well. It is critical that SSWs at the beginning of their careers make a smooth transition from education to the profession in order to become competent SMH professionals. Early career school social workers are in a unique position to support the mental health needs of students. Through their professional training and experience, early career school social workers bring a wealth of knowledge and skills that they can use to effectively meet student needs. Given the importance of early intervention in promoting positive student outcomes, it is critical that school social workers be supported in their efforts to promote student mental health at the beginning of their careers.