The COVID-19 pandemc has visited long-term illness and death on millions, but that's hardly the extent of its pernicious effects. Other, less prominent impacts have gone less noticed. Among them: the fear and isolation experienced by elementary and secondary school students, resulting in an increased need for mental health care.
Accordingly, the pandemic has increased the already-heavy workload of school social workers. These committed mental health professionals staff the front lines, providing the social services that can help alleviate this burgeoning youth mental health crisis.
Consider the Schenectady City School District in upstate New York. It increased its school social services and committed additional resources for its public school diversion program to address the greater numbers of students "landing in long-term suspension because of post-pandemic behavior problems after they returned to in-person learning." Diversion programs "[keep] students with mental health issues off long-term suspensions and out of the juvenile justice system" by providing them with school-based mental health services and support.
School social worker Nathaniel Wylie works in the diversion program with middle school through high school students who have been suspended from their home schools but are receiving several hours of tutoring daily so they don't fall behind academically. He also facilitates group therapy to help them learn to manage the behavior that led to their suspension. (Many of these students were suspended for fighting, drug or weapon possession, or assaulting school staff.) The goal is to end their suspension early, if all progresses well, and have the students return to their home schools the same academic year.
Needless to say, the emotional and professional rewards of school social work can be considerable. But what about compensation? What is the average school social worker's salary? After all, one's bills have to be paid. In this article, we'll answer the question how much does a social worker earn? In addition, we'll cover:
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the national average annual salary for elementary and secondary school social workers is $66,700. Yet, school social work salaries vary significantly, depending on your education level and location.
It's possible to be employed as a school social worker without a Master of Social Work (MSW). According to O*Net Online, 69 percent of child, family, and school social work jobs require one to hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), while only 26 percent demand one to have earned a Master of Social Work.
There are caveats. School social workers with BSWs are mostly limited to entry-level positions (to advance, you'll need that MSW). In addition, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recommends that a social worker who only holds a BSW be supervised by a colleague with an MSW.
More pertinent to this particular article is the difference in pay. According to a nationwide survey of social work graduates conducted by the NASW, social workers with BSWs earn around $13,000 less than their peers with MSWs.
If you intend to make a career in social work, you'll want to seriously consider earning your MSW. Foremost, earning an MSW is the first step towards licensure (and a must if you plan to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)), which signifies that you're highly trained in the field and bestows you with a level of credibility with employers, colleagues, and professionals that intersect with social work. As well, it qualifies you for many advanced roles within the social work field and an average salary range of $61,238 to $74,688.
The US is an awfully big country, so it makes sense that school social worker salaries vary depending on the region or state, with factors like the local cost of living playing a significant role. In New York, which has one of the highest costs of living in the country, school social workers earn the highest average salaries: $64,157. In contrast, Mississippi, which has the lowest estimated cost of living in the nation, has the lowest average school social work salary: $50,703.
Connecticut is another example that seems to fit the pattern: it's among the highest cost-of-living states in the nation, so its median salary for school social workers of $58,783 seems about right. But things aren't always quite so cut and dried. For example, looking somewhere in the middle, you'll find a state like Nevada, whose cost of living is in the higher percentile, but offers a median salary of $53,258, which is lower than what you might expect given its position in the other metric.
The number of school social worker jobs available also varies by state. According to the BLS, the highest concentration of child, family, and school social worker jobs is found in densely populated states like California, New York, Florida, and Texas, while the lowest are in less populated states like Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, and Wyoming. But this too can vary: Louisiana is in the middle of the pack in terms of population, but still rates among the lowest number of social worker jobs, while Kentucky, despite hovering just below Louisiana in terms of population, actually ranks in the second-largest tier of available school social work jobs.
School social workers operate within the elementary and secondary schools, a context with its own unique challenges, including the sheer number of stakeholders involved: students, teachers, parents, the school administration, and the local community and government. Below, you'll find the school social worker's duties—all carried out in compliance with the NASW Code of Ethics.
As previously mentioned, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) qualifies you for many entry-level school social worker jobs, but if you see yourself truly leaning into this as a long-term career, it's well-worth your time and effort to earn an MSW.
There are many excellent accredited social work degree programs to choose from, including those at Tulane University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Many of these MSW programs offer online or hybrid programs that make it a lot easier to earn your degree while working or tending to other responsibilities in your life.
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