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SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

Social Work in the Special Education Classroom Setting: A Literature Review


Dianna Smith
Brandman University

Author Note
This paper was prepared for Information Fluency and Academic Integrity LBSU 302
taught by
Kathleen Ennis, October 22, 2016
Through the years, there has been an increasing demand for the role of a social worker
in the special education classroom setting. The collaboration between social work and special

SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

education is essential in developing support for the academic, behavioral, and psychological
needs of children with special needs.
During the early years of development of education in the United States, most
students who are poor, a part of the minority, or are diagnosed with a disability are not
privileged to receive education. It was not until the 1800s when an educational program for
children with disabilities was established (Villa and Thousand, 2005) and even then, they
were segregated from students receiving regular education. Progress in special education did
not pick up momentum until the 1960s when a growing concern arose to protect and
guarantee children with disabilities to receive appropriate publicly funded education (Sacks,
2001).
By 1980s, students with disabilities are integrated into general education classrooms.
Villa and Thousand (2005) describe that it is important for children with special needs to
experience being included in a regular education setting, as it provides a sense of
belongingness and empowerment to the children. Inclusive education is defined as the
maximum extent for children with disabilities studying in public or private schools and other
care facilities to receive education with children who are not handicapped, and that special
classes be in a regular education environment.
Diversity is an important factor in fostering inclusive education for children with
special needs, and for these students to succeed, integrating the special education curriculum
to the general education is vital despite the differences in resources and situations (Villa and
Thousand, 2005). Sacks (2001) believes that an established and structured special education
curriculum is needed to for the development of the skills and needs of students with
disabilities. An integrated curriculum is significant in viewing the academic and behavioral
needs of the student. The curriculum development involves a multidisciplinary team,
including a social worker, a speech-language specialist, a psychologist, a behavior specialist,

SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

a guidance counselor, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, a school nurse or other health


professionals, in addition to the special education and regular teachers.
This is where special education intersects with the field of social work. Sacks (2001)
describes that a social worker may be part of the team that develops the curriculum and
intervention plans for the students. The social worker serves as a liaison between the students
and their families, community agencies and schools, coordinates social services, and consults
with families to assist them in child-rearing practices.
Balli (2016) evaluates the role of social workers in schools and how they affect the
welfare of children with disabilities in an inclusive education. Social work support is essential
in contributing to the well-being of students with special education needs. It is important for
social workers to collaborate and work with the teachers and parents in order to identify
rehabilitation and preventive measures for the students. They offer external support to the
students and their families by conducting home visits and conversations with the parents in
order to carry over the school intervention plans with the home environment.
Majority of the students in special education are children who suffer from emotional
and mental distress, resulting to poorer academic performance, class achievement, and
behavioral issues. Altshuler (2003) states that children in foster care struggle academically
and socially in school. As part of the solution in developing a better special education and
social work dynamic, the collaboration between public schools and child welfare agencies is
important, and how it affects the people involved in it, such as caseworkers, educators, and
students.
Social workers encounter several problems in establishing their role in the special
education setting. In order to assert their roles with students with disabilities, Bean and Krcek
(2012) believes that disability content should be part of the social work programs and must be
slowly integrated to school curriculum in order to support children with disabilities. This is to

SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

fulfill the requirement of school policies and accreditation standards. It is important that
schools of social work include disability in their curriculum in order to address the future
roles of social workers in education. Mahony et al (2015) highlights the vitality of
establishing support of a strong teacher-student interaction in the early years of education. In
a study on early childhood teachers with children experiencing parental separation and
divorce, teachers interactions with children can influence their wellbeing and learning,
allowing for the possibility for the school to assist children to make positive adjustments.
Various research evaluates the significance of the role of social work in special needs
education by performing empirical methods, such as quantitative (e.g. secondary date),
qualitative (e.g. surveys, focus groups, interviews) and descriptive (e.g. comparative case
study). Each study is based on different locations and sample audience, with an objective of
quantifying the relevance of social work in the field of special education.
Foote (2015) conducts a qualitative study about the role of social work field educators
in facilitating specific learning needs for students in Australia. It focuses on the experiences
of students on their first social work field education placement, as reported by the field
educators. Field education is a very important aspect in learning because it provides proper
resourcing and enrichment activities for the students. Results identified three themes that
were commonly dealt with by social workers. These are: student characteristics; developing
skills; and partnership between the university and field educators. Social workers have
identified that having students with specific learning issues, such as student disability and
psychological problems, is a significant problem. Most social workers are unaware of
students individual learning needs, leading to loss of opportunities for providing targeted
support.
Mahoney et al (2015) uses an empirical and qualitative study to discuss the role of
early childhood teachers with children in Australia experiencing parental separation and

SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

divorce, in order to identify how teachers interactions with children can influence their
wellbeing and learning, allowing for the possibility for the school to assist children to make
positive adjustments. Using theoretical sampling and snowball sampling, a focus group was
conducted with a sample of 6 participants. Results show that teachers engage in various
strategies to support and accommodate young childrens circumstances. These include
emotional, behavioral, and academic support.
On the other hand, Kayama (2010) uses a comparative analysis of parental experience
for children with disabilities in the US and Japan and its implication to social work. There are
variations in the special education systems in US and Japan, and both reflect cultural
differences on how experiences of parents with children with disabilities have a direct impact
on the students development through caregiving. In Japan, the government has hesitation to
label children with disabilities, rooted from the strong beliefs of Japanese that disabilities are
sensitive and could potentially stigmatize social issues. Also, Japanese school social workers
lack the perspective of family involvement in decision making and service provision.
Meanwhile, in the US, parents and professionals aim to establish equality, to empower
families, and to provide support in skills. Special education in the US is very family-centered
and values an equal relationship and active participation between the parents and the
professionals. Due to culturally based beliefs, provision of special education in both the US
and Japan vary. US provides a more systemic support emphasizing the childrens rights to
receive services, while Japan focuses on the importance of emotional connections between
professionals, parents, and children. Despite the differences, both countries may learn from
each other.

The social worker plays an important role in the field of special education. They
create networks of dynamic collaborations and addresses the needs of students with

SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

disabilities to achieve full education (Balli, 2016). Their role in education is oftentimes
overlooked, as there exists only limited mechanisms and resources to support them in
maintaining relationships in the classroom. Several studies (Balli, 2016; Altshuler, 2003)
suggest that there is a lack of cooperation and mutual trust between the parents, teachers, and
the social worker, due to insufficient information regarding the role of each stakeholder.
Educators feel that caseworkers withhold vital information, while caseworkers feel pressured
as to why they are expected to divulge confidential information (Altshuler, 2003). Moreover,
most social workers are unaware of students individual learning needs, leading to loss of
opportunities for providing targeted support (Foote, 2015). Studies recommend that schools
and social workers must work together to support the students education, like providing oneon-one tutoring, attending trainings, and giving clearer guidelines in regards to sharing
confidential information of the students (Altshuler, 2003).

References

SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING

Altshuler, S. J. (2003). From barriers to successful collaboration: public schools and child
welfare working together. Social Work, 48(1), 52+. Retrieved from
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Balli, D. (2016). Role and challenges of school social workers in facilitating and supporting
the inclusiveness of children with special needs in regular schools. Academicus
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Bean, K. & Krcek, T. (2012). The integration of disability content into social work education:
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https://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/advancesinsocialwork/article/view/2131
Foote, W. L. (2015). Social work field educators' views on student specific learning needs.
Social Work Education, 34(3), 286-300. doi: 10.1080/02615479.2015.1005069
Kayama, M. (2010). Parental experiences of children's disabilities and special education in
the United States and Japan: Implications for school social work. Social Work, 55(2),
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Mahony, L. l., Walsh, K., Lunn, J., & Petriwskyj, A. (2015). Teachers facilitating support for
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Sacks, A. (2001). Special Education: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABCCLIO. Retrieved from http://libproxy.chapman.edu/login?url=https://searchebscohost-com.libproxy.chapman.edu/login.aspx?
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Villa, R. A., & Thousand, J. S. (2005). Creating An Inclusive School. Alexandria, VA: Assoc.
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SOCIAL WORK IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SETTING


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