There is a great need for coordinating support services in our schools today. The ultimate goal of school support service providers is to improve the conditions for learning. Providing both prevention and intervention services promotes effective teaching and learning while collaborating with teachers and school staff to ensure that students receive high quality instruction.
School-based mental health professionals that address both the academic and mental health needs of children and adolescents include school counselors, social workers, and psychologists.
School counselors support the mental health of children and adolescents, thereby improving the students’ overall functioning, social/emotional development, career development, and educational success. School counselors work as leaders and collaborators focusing on the academic, career, and social/emotional needs of students and deliver services through individual and small group counseling, appraisal and advisement and classroom instruction. Because school counselors have access to these students with mental illness in our school systems, they are often the first point of contact in identifying and preventing mental health needs in students.
School counselors receive training about learning difficulties and psychological concerns that commonly manifest in children and adolescents. They also provide referrals and consultation to parents about mental health concerns. Although school counselors do not act as long-term therapists, they help foster an environment where mental health stigma is erased, help bridge the gap between student and community resources, and make sure the developmental needs of all students are met.
A licensed school counselor must complete a graduate Service in school counseling (M.S. Counseling) and participate in practicum and internship experiences where they practice and hone their counseling skills. Many of the school counseling preparation Services are accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Services (CACREP) and require a minimum of 60 graduate credits.
School social workers, who are assigned to schools on a part-time basis, work in concert with school counselors and provide a link between the home, school, and community and have experience in offering case management services.
School psychologists, who are typically assigned to several schools on a part-time basis, identify and assess learning disabilities, the overall psychological functioning of students, and help develop classroom accommodations and support.
These three roles have collaborated since the 1970s with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires that students who are referred need to be fully and comprehensively evaluated by a multidisciplinary team.
Each school defines its unique organizational design based on local context, budget, personnel, and skill sets. Clearly defined roles and job definitions are vital in developing common understanding, in working effectively together, and in educating others. These roles are not interchangeable, as there are unique capabilities and responsibilities of each group, as well as shared duties and responsibilities that are common to all three groups listed below.
School Counselors are responsible to fully implement the school’s comprehensive school counseling Service addressing the social/emotional, academic, and career development of all students. They are the initial contact for mental health services, providing short‐term, solution‐focused individual and group counseling within their scope of practice and expertise. School counselors implement curriculum (prevention) to all students and provide responsive services to students in crisis (intervention). They help identify resources for students and their families, as well as serve as a contact for other mental health professionals such as social workers, school psychologists and school based mental health providers or other services outside the school.
School Social Workers are an increasingly common and critical component to student support services. School social workers fill a unique niche in the school setting as they conduct psycho‐social evaluations and provide mental health services for a targeted number of students with more significant emotional and behavioral barriers to learning. School social workers consult with students, parents and educators offering intervention to improve functioning at home, at school and in the community.
School Psychologists work with students with significant educational and psychological challenges. School psychologists focus on assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plans for more complex situations covering the entire spectrum of emotional, functional, and learning barriers. Serving as consultants for educators and parents while supporting high needs students, these providers are a critical source of technical information and guidance for school personnel and families. School psychologists typically serve as consultants for multiple schools.
School Nurses provide a vital hub of services and have knowledge of individual student needs and the greater student body. Often individuals visit the nurse who could benefit from the counseling services offered through the school counseling offices. Creating collaborative relationships and communication of student needs may broaden the services and better meet the overall needs.
Collaboration and Teaming
School Counselors change and address individuals and group needs by partnering with other professionals within and outside of our schools. WE have the lens of the individual student as well as the collective interest of the student body. Education Support Team members engage in collaborative problem solving to determine whether additional supports are needed for a student to make appropriate progress and to monitor that progress. The Department of Family Services and Local Mental Health Services support families when crises occur or for the purpose of supporting students and families who can benefit from more intensive services.