Last updated June 10, 2015
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Multisystem Skills and Interventions in School Social Work Practice

The school social work field is in a major transition as a result of momentous changes in many important areas. Public education has undergone numerous shifts in its curricula, programs, and policies. The reauthorization of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) by the 105th Congress concerning inclusion (P.L. 101-476) and the requirements to serve children with disabilities from birth to age five (P. L. 99-457) are but two recent examples of significant policy changes in education. A number of social welfare policy reforms have developed that are affecting the quantity and quality of health, mental health, child welfare, and economic resources available to meet the needs of children and families. Such changes will influence the role of schools—and that of school social workers—in addressing those needs when they affect family functioning and students’ school performance.

Technological advances, including management information systems and social and medical life supports for children with disabilities, now allow schools to better educate and monitor the special needs of students and the effectiveness of specialized services in meeting those needs. Within the profession of social work itself, there has been a renewed emphasis on implementing a strengths perspective and empowerment ideals for helping clients resolve environmental and social justice issues. Indeed, there is a movement within the profession to modify its language so that it is more consistent with these values. Some social workers are now using the term "consumer" instead of "client" and have replaced problem-oriented terms, such as "treatment" and "diagnosis," with concepts of solution-focused practice, such as "miracle questions" and "exceptions to the problem."

These changes are substantive. Along with the related transition in school social work, they represent opportunities and risks, both to the field and to the children and families it serves. Opportunities include using this transition to study the shifting needs of children, families, schools, and communities and to implement the skills necessary for effective practice in this new era. The risks, often associated with periods of great change, involve ignoring and denying the emerging needs and adopting a "status quo" philosophy by continuing to use strategies that are ineffective in addressing those needs.

Multisystem Skills and Interventions in School Social Work Practice offers school social workers the opportunity to increase their understanding of the emerging needs of students, families, schools, and communities and of the skills and competencies necessary for working effectively with these consumers collectively. To facilitate this process, the book is organized into five sections that contain chapters primarily focused on practice at various systems levels, including practice with individuals, families, groups and classrooms, communities, and large systems and also policy. Thus, it emphasizes skills and competencies in school–community practice from a systems perspective, a resource that school social workers around the country have requested repeatedly.

The book’s other features include

  • a view of children–families–schools–communities as consumers and equal partners and stakeholders in defining and resolving issues of concern
  • a strengths-based, solution-focused approach to assessment and intervention
  • a problem-relevant but non–pathology-oriented focus on the normative and non-normative issues that children and families encounter
  • an ecological perspective that requires a combination of simultaneous multisystems interventions for effectiveness
  • creativity in addressing social justice issues in a variety of situations that delimit the opportunities and hopes of children and families related to their disabling conditions, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, socioeconomic status, or geographic location
  • an emphasis on comprehensive early intervention and prevention services that are accessible in the school, in the community, or in both areas.

These features and the range of diverse chapters in this book should make it useful to school social workers and community practitioners with varying years of practice experience. Beginning practitioners can use it as a guide for developing an effective foundation for practice, and more experienced practitioners can use it as a tool for helping hone their existing practice skills. The book can be used by graduate and undergraduate schools of social work as a text for courses in school social work, child and family specializations, community practice, direct practice, and—particularly related to its systems perspective—for human behavior in the social environment courses. It can be a resource to helping professionals in other fields as well, such as school counselors, school psychologists, clinical and community psychologists, psychiatric nurses, mental health professionals, and preventionists.

As school social workers and other professionals use this reader to transition into the 21st century, Multisystem Skills and Interventions in School Social Work Practice may become a benchmark for noting a historical shift in children’s and families’ needs and related services. Benchmarks often reflect an uncommon awareness of some of the current forces that signal change while characteristically offering a vision of future possibilities and dreams. We believe this reader more than fulfills these criteria of change.

Edith M. Freeman, MSW, PhD
Professor, School of Social Welfare
University of Kansas

Cynthia G. Franklin, PhD, LMSW-ACP
Associate Professor
University of Texas at Austin

Rowena Fong, MSW, EdD
Associate Professor
University of Hawaii

Gary L. Shaffer, PhD
Associate Professor and Director of Field Education
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Elizabeth M. Timberlake, DSW, BCD
Ordinary Professor of Social Work
Catholic University of America
Washington, DC