School social workers see ‘overwhelming’ student need ahead

Districts need additional funding and a way to share effective support strategies, survey finds
By: | July 17, 2020
School social workers told UCLA researchers that many low--income and minority students and their families are struggling with food, housing, healthcare and transportation. (GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages)School social workers told UCLA researchers that many low--income and minority students and their families are struggling with food, housing, healthcare and transportation. (GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages)

School social workers in low-income and minority communities are sounding the alarm that districts will not be able to meet students’ basic needs this fall without more funding.

What’s required is a nationwide, rapid-response initiative that also provides schools with guidance in reopening during the latest surge in COVID cases, according to a University of California, Los Angeles survey of 1,275 social workers.

The social workers told researchers that “an overwhelming number” of students and their families are struggling with food, housing, healthcare and transportation, said the study’s co-author, Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“The national dialogue on reopening schools is not focused on this right now, but the social workers are telling us loud and clear that meeting basic human needs for a large number of students is the big issue schools face in the fall,” Astor said.


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The report calls for additional state and federal funding that would allow schools to hire “a massive number” of social workers, nurses and psychologists to go to work in the hardest-hit schools, many of which serve low-income and minority students.

These social workers and other staff are also needed to reconnect their schools with the approximately 30% of students who did participate regularly in online learning.

The report also envisions a national technical assistance center that would help school leaders share effective strategies.  “The reality around this virus is changing day to day,” Astor said. “We can’t just have one plan at the beginning of the year and wait until the end of the next year to find out it didn’t work.


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The recommendations are aimed at avoiding a “lost generation” of students, Astor said.

In a more in-depth report accompanying the survey, school social workers said they were able to shift services online, though more than two-thirds did not believe virtual counseling could work long-term.

And many social workers said they were unable to connect with some of their students.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.