Sophie from Aotea College explains…
Asking a school social worker what a day in the life is like is an impossible question; no day is ever the same. Some days can be filled with mundane back to back meetings, sorting students uniforms and delivering food parcels. Other days can be hearing students disclose abuse at home, seeing your clients be involved in fights or creating intensive safety plans for students at risk of self harm. Overall, it can be a very intense environment to work in and is sometimes chaotic.
The general and overly simplistic summary of social work in schools is that we attempt to remove barriers that impede students ability to succeed at school. These barriers are varied, but we tend to support students who may be unsafe at home, they may live in poverty, be homeless, have disabilities, behavioural challenges and experiencing other circumstances that make attending and engaging in school difficult.
Our engagement first begins with a referral from worried school staff members, self-referral or sometimes even the students’ friends bring them in to see me. After this, I will meet with the young person and start the relationship-building process.
My Master of Social Work research on relationship-based practice and boundaries informs my practice and means I put the young person at the centre of my interventions. I believe relationship based practice is really fundamental to good social work practice as it helps to make the students feel safe and comfortable to share really difficult and personal challenges they may be facing. This creates the foundations to start working on some goals and the intervention process. We aim to give the young people a voice, to set goals to enhance their well being though te whare tapa wha, and to help remove some of those barriers to education they may be facing.
Overall, the work is really varied and no day is ever the same. Each day begins with a well intentioned to-do list. But is often thrown out the window when a crisis arises. It can really be chaotic, but I wouldn’t change anything. Helping the students through the chaos and being a person to guide them is a real privilege and is what gets me through the challenges of the job.
Sophie Jennings is a Challenge 2000 MASSiSS social worker at Aotea College.