• Article
  • November 6, 2019

School-Based Social Worker Partnership Creates a Proactive Approach to Improve Behavioral Health

Recognizing a need for on-site services in schools, Children’s Mercy Kansas City launched a project to address behavioral health needs in school so kids can get the resources they need and avoid a hospital visit.

Headlines and studies were pointing to problems among school-aged children, and Children’s Mercy Kansas City knew it was time to act. Teen suicides were reaching record highs, and trial programs showed that school-based partnerships with health care providers could benefit students and the community.

At the 2019 Annual Leadership Conference, Carey Spain, M.S.W., MBA, LCSW, ACM-SW, director, Social Work Continuum at Children’s Mercy, explained how the hospital partnered with an area school district to provide social workers and their expertise. The goal of the program was to promote social, emotional, behavioral and academic success through collaboration with students, families, staff and community partners.

“We wanted to stop having a reactive approach to helping kids with behavioral health problems,” Spain says. “When they come to the hospital, we work to stabilize them and hold them until there’s a bed in the community. We want to prevent them from getting to the hospital.”

Spain says social workers within the school community can help detect problems sooner. When a child is acting out or showing other unusual behavior, the social worker sees that as the tip of the iceberg and can try to determine the root of the problem.

Of the types of interventions, the social workers provide, more than 50% assists with coping strategies and skill building. The next most commonly provided are behavioral intervention and relationship building. In the first two years of the partnership, Spain says the district and the social worker partnership have established successful outcomes.

Initial results:

  • 38% drop in suspensions at the elementary school level.
  • 100% approval rating from the 35 principals in the district.

Overall results after two years:

  • 35% decrease in discipline-related events.
  • 73% reduction in kids with 10 or more events.
  • Zero long-term suspensions.

The program was not without challenges. Spain highlighted these areas the team had to overcome:

  • HIPPA vs. FERPA
  • Documentation
  • Computer systems
  • Role clarification on campus
  • Culture
  • Funding
  • HR/compensation

Spain shared messages of support from district parents: “I work in special education, and before we had the social workers, I spent a lot of my time doing ‘well-being’ work. So much so, that I was not always able to service the IEP goals as I would have liked. This year, that need was supported by them, and I could focus on my true scope of practice.”

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