What Do School Social Workers Do?

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Social Work

Social worker reading to a child outside on a wooden bench.

School social workers play an essential role in today’s educational system. As indispensable advocates for students and families, they serve as helpful third parties linking homes, schools, and their communities together.

According to the American Council for School Social Work, “School social workers provide an ecological approach to ensuring student success. They assist children and families by examining those factors in the home, school, and/or community that are impacting a student’s educational success and then assist in reducing those barriers to learning.”

What school social workers do can help young people navigate the difficulties and pressures of childhood and adolescence and prepare them for the future. Earning an online Master of Social Work (MSW) can provide the foundation to pursue a challenging and rewarding career in the school system.

School Social Worker Job Description

Children may deal with the same mental health issues, disabilities, and socioeconomic disadvantages that adults face every day. Because they are in their formative stages and have little life experience, children and adolescents benefit from having social workers in their academic environment who can support them as they cope with life and school difficulties.

Social workers in American schools provide a wide variety of services. The School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) provides an extensive list, which it divides into several categories.

  1. Services to Students: Dealing with crisis intervention, conflict resolution, anger management, and teaching social interaction skills
  2. Services to Parents/Families: Assisting parents to alleviate stress, helping them access needed social programs and community resources and helping families support their child’s school adjustment
  3. Services to School Personnel: Helping staff better understand the social/economic factors that affect students and helping teachers with behavior management and assessing mental health concerns
  4. School-Community Liaison: Coordinating community resources to help students, advocating for improved services, and navigating the system to effectively respond to children’s needs
  5. Services to Districts: Developing alternative programs for dropouts and delinquents, reporting child abuse/neglect, and managing cases
  6. Related Services: Counseling children and families, developing positive intervention strategies, preparing developmental histories on disabled/special needs children, and participating in assessment and planning meetings

Depending on their position, a social worker’s job description may include managing other social workers and multidisciplinary teams. Others may conduct home visits. And many will find themselves expertly juggling dozens of functions.

What school social workers do goes far beyond counseling. They can help students navigate their lives both within and outside of school, and assist them with implementing positive habits that allow them to reach their goals. With proper training, school social workers can equip students with the skills and knowledge to cope with current challenges or prepare for the future, using resources such as referrals to other professionals who can meet a student’s needs.

The challenges from one student to the next are ever-changing and evolving, making an advanced degree that provides real-world experience an essential part of becoming a school social worker. By pursuing a program that understands the varying techniques and resources that institutions offer, graduates can provide their students with the assistance they need to build a solid foundation for success.

Role of School Social Worker

The role of a school social worker can have a positive, life-changing effect on the lives of students, their families, the school’s staff, and even their community. Those who combine their professionalism with ingenuity, compassion, and hard work may touch the lives of countless people throughout their careers.

Social workers’ potential is limited only by their imagination. The International Journal of School Social Work offers several examples of how social work can make a difference.

  • Helping facilitate racial equality and becoming influencers in addressing racial inequalities
  • Tailoring support programs to youth in schools by focusing on the intersections where racial, gender, language, and socioeconomic status meet
  • Taking advantage of data analytics to better inform social workers and promote evidence-based decision-making
  • Championing research surveys within schools to help future social workers better understand the needs of vulnerable populations
  • Studying teen depression and other common adolescent issues to identify strategies that students can take advantage of to improve their mental health

School Social Worker Salary

As of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 715,600 social workers are working in the United States. Of those, more than 335,300 are child, family, and school social workers. The BLS predicts jobs for child, family, and school social workers to grow 13%  from 2020 to 2030.

The average school social worker’s salary is about $49,541 per year, according to the compensation website PayScale. The lowest 10% of workers in this field make about $39,000 a year. Those at the upper end of the spectrum (90th percentile) can expect to earn around $68,000. Salary varies depending on various factors including region and experience level.

Striving to change children’s lives for the better can make for a rewarding career. Social workers who continue learning and innovating will be able to thrive in a dynamic academic environment as they advocate for vulnerable children and their families.

Invest in Your Future as a School Social Worker

School social workers play an invaluable role in the lives of students and their families, providing support and the necessary resources to navigate academic learning and life. From pursuing higher education to entering the military or workforce, school social workers can help students put together a plan that allows them to reach their goals.

Because social workers may help vulnerable populations with challenges that require marriage and family therapy, foster care counseling, crisis counseling, and human resources, they may need to navigate sensitive situations. What school social workers do requires specialized training and education to build the skills and knowledge to succeed. Pursuing an advanced education, such as the Ohio University online Master of Social Work degree program (MSW) can prepare graduates for those many challenges.

The Master of Social Work program at Ohio University is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and is designed to provide students with the real-world skills they need to find success in social work.

Discover how you can make a positive difference as a school social worker.

Recommended Readings

Mental Health Social Worker Career Overview: Salary, Job Description & More

Social Worker Safety: Tips and Training for Social Workers

Understanding and Coping with Compassion Fatigue in Social Work


American Council for School Social Work, About School Social Work

The Colorado Sun, “One School Social Worker Quelled a Girl’s Suicidal Thoughts. Colorado Hopes A Lot More of Them Can Provide a Lasting Solution.”

International Journal of School Social Work, “School Social Work: Now More Than Ever”

PayScale, Average School Social Worker Salary

School Social Work Association of America, Role of School Social Worker

U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers