An investigation of school social worker perceptions towards school security personnel.

Author:Cuellar, Matthew J.

School social workers provide a number of student- and system-focused interventions designed to address the needs of students using a person-in-environment perspective. They are a critical component to the school-home-community relationship, facilitating student success through resourcefulness (Allen-Meares, 2015; Dupper, 2002; Frey, et al., 2013; Kelly, et al., 2010). In response to recent federal legislation and a push to implement evidence-based mental health services in United States schools, school social work has seen tremendous growth over the past two decades (Franklin, Kim, & Tripodi, 2009). The subspecialty of social work is expected to see continued growth in the coming years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

Another growing trend in United States schools is the deployment of school police or other security personnel assigned to patrol schools. Although such programs have existed for more than fifty years, federal incentives offered in the aftermath of several high-profile incidences of lethal school violence during the past twenty years have led to unprecedented growth in the number of school police officers (Addington, 2009; Weiler & Cray, 2011, White House, 2013). These investments have led approximately 20,000 school police officers being deployed in American schools now compared to about 13,000 officers in 1997 (Childress, 2016).

Despite an increase in the use of school social workers and school security personnel in United States schools, current research on school social work fails to paint a picture of how school social workers interact with and perceive school security personnel within their schools. This study aims to contribute to filling this gap in the literature by exploring survey responses from a statewide sample of school social workers. The purpose of this paper is to provide timely implications for school social work and offer recommendations for school social work as the practice of school policing becomes more prevalent in today's schools.


School Social Work Today

Traditionally, school social workers have been utilized in the educational setting to complete a number of functions that aim at positively impacting student academic and behavioral outcomes. Trained with an ecological framework as diagnosticians, assessors, group facilitators, along with performing as a systems change agent, an agent for bridging home and school environment, an individual and family counselors, a school social worker is equipped to fulfill these roles (Lee, 2007; Kelly, Frey, et al., 2010; Blitz, 2013; Joseph-Goldfarb, 2014; Pardeck, 2015). Based on research by Usaj et al. (2012), depending on the school district expectations and funding sources, many social workers assist with the following activities: early intervention programming; ongoing progress monitoring; comprehensive formal and informal ecological assessments including academic functioning, social/emotional and mental health functioning, adaptive functioning, and family and community interactions; development of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS); development and monitoring of Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIP); comprehensive family services; individual counseling and small group counseling; community liaison work; assisting students to develop and maintain personal, social and academic competencies; consultation to and with educators to ensure understanding and support of struggling learners; crisis response for students in critical need.

Based on NASW Standards for School Social Work Services (2012) school social workers also have a responsibility to participate in promoting and improving positive school climate. School social workers are trained to work with the entire educational constellation of teachers, students, parents, and related others. The concept of interdisciplinary collaboration is at the heart of effective school social work practice, but one such collaboration that is often lacking is the collaborations with school-based safety personnel. Historically, SROs have been directly linked to school administrators, and have taken on a liaison role between school social workers and school counselors for referrals, but very rarely are interdisciplinary collaborations seen among these professionals (Thurau & Wald, 2010).

In recent years, researchers and the media at large have paid closer attention to violence and maladaptive school behaviors within the U.S. schools. The increased attention is in part attributed to perceived increases in incidents of school violence and severe student disobedience. Researchers have indicated that severe misbehavior negatively impacts the well-being of students who display maladaptive behavior and student bystanders - students exposed to the violence and maladaptive behaviors, but are unable to respond in ways to stop the violence (Loukas, 2007). Maladaptive student behaviors also affect attendance rates, graduation rates, overall academic outcomes, and the perception of safety by students, staff, parents, and community (Loukas, 2007; Milam, Furr-Holden, & Leaf, 2010; Patton, Woolley, & Hong, 2011). As a result, school districts and policy makers have attempted to address the issue of school safety in a number of ways.

Research has shown that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, and/or guards in schools are not effective methods in preventing school violence (Addington, 2009; Borum, Cornell, Modzeleski, & Jimerson, 2010; Casella, 2006; Garcia, 2003). In fact, the research has indicated the contrary. Research has shown that the presence of metal detectors, cameras, and even "guards" in school settings negatively impacts students' perceptions of safety and tends to increase perceived fear among some students, staff, and parents (Bachman, Randolph, & Brown, 2011; Schreck & Miller, 2003). In addition, studies suggest that restrictive school security measures have the potential to harm school learning environments because of the perceived climate it projects (Beger, 2003; Bachman, Randolph, & Brown, 2011; Schreck & Miller, 2003). It has been noted that school personnel can earn the cooperation of students when they use relationship building practices and work collaboratively as a team to solve student needs (Nickerson & Spears, 2007; Gregory & Ripski, 2008).

Research supports this collaborative approach to discipline, is indicated in student perceptions of staff as trustworthy authority figures and correlates with increased cooperative behaviors and decreased maladaptive behaviors (Gregory & Ripski, 2008). From violence prevention programs and increased security presence on campus to zero tolerance policies, districts attempt to choose strategies and processes that will improve school safety, climate, and overall academic outcomes. Recent research suggests that a focus on more proactive approaches to student behavior, and utilizing interdisciplinary supportive programming on campuses result in better results for all students (Bradshaw, Mitchell, & Leaf, 2011).

The guiding principles of the School Social Work standards (NASW, 2012) outlines how school social workers are responsible for not only providing direct services to children, but also taking a leadership role in prevention efforts aimed at supporting families, school staff, and community agencies in order to promote a collaborative effort that facilitates student success. In addition, "interdisciplinary leadership and collaboration" is included as a key standard for practice as social workers are tasked with the responsibility of promoting a positive school climate. While school social workers are charged to assist in improving school safety and climate, it only makes sense that there be an interdisciplinary collaboration between school safety personnel and school social workers. Effective school social workers are able to collaborate with general and special educators, administrators, and other school personnel to develop comprehensive behavioral interventions for students with behavioral needs (Frey & George-Nichols, 2003; Casey et al., 2011; Pardeck, 2015;). A collaborative relationship with school security personnel would be right in line with best-practices in education.

School Security Personnel

One of the most prominent strategies used by school districts in recent years is the incorporation of law enforcement officers within schools (Coon & Travis, 2012). Since the inception of law enforcement being present on campuses, they have taken on a variety of roles and duties that differ based on school expectations and title (Clark, 2011; Coon & Travis, 2012). There are many types of school security and safety personnel available to schools. Some of the titles include School Resource Officers, School-Based Law Enforcement (sworn and non-sworn), and School Security Personnel, just to name a few. For the very reason that there are so many types and differing roles and expectations, researchers Rich and Finn (2001) urge schools to institute a clear differentiation between official SROs and other sworn officers within the school building.

School resource officers (SRO), also indicated as school police officers or school liaison officers, are most often employed by a local law enforcement agency, and assigned to work in schools. These SROs typically perform traditional law enforcement functions which can include, but are not limited to, the following: patrolling school buildings, investigating...

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