Conference examines helping students

Jacqueline Couillard

Increased collaboration among schools, social workers and families might help failing or mistreated K-12 students, said Cynthia Bailey-Dempsey, an assistant professor of social work at Columbia University.
Bailey-Dempsey presented her model of how collaboration can help troubled children who are failing in school. She spoke Friday to about 200 social work professionals and students at “The Cutting Edge in School-Linked Services: Knowing What Works Best for Students and Their Families,” a conference held at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
“I don’t think kids fail in school because they got pregnant, because they are substance-abusing, because they have mental health problems … or because their parents are dysfunctional,” said Bailey-Dempsey, who is writing a book on the topic. “I think that kids fail in school, and then, because they are failing in school … they incur these other problems.”
Paula Childers, a full-time social worker for Hennepin County, said students with low self-esteem and some delinquent students fit the profile of people who could be helped by applying Bailey-Dempsey’s model.
In Bailey-Dempsey’s research-based model, schools and services are not in the same building, but still share decision-making responsibilities and resources, as well as accountability for outcomes, which they share with the students’ families.
“There is definitely a trend toward (school-linked services),” which has developed over the past 10 years, said Childers, who is also a lecturer in the College of Human Ecology’s School of Social Work.
Historically, services, such as mental health assistance and child welfare, have been offered outside schools, Childers said.
“The result of this is that there is yet another system that the child and family have to be dealing with. It makes for incredibly complex living,” Childers said.
Childers explained that by centralizing access, schools working with social services help people navigate their way through problems.
Options that allow K-12 schools to work with social services include basing social workers in schools or having a contact person work with a participating school and outside services, Bailey-Dempsey said.
After Bailey-Dempsey spoke, a panel of five local social workers discussed their experiences with collaborative efforts to help children.
“I just needed strategies to work with families, especially parents, who are resistant — resistant to assistance from various systems, such as schools, social service agencies and the county,” said Marissa Somers-DeHaney, a social worker at Andersen Elementary Community School in Minneapolis. Somers-DeHaney said that trying to collaborate with families at her school is not always successful.
In contrast, Jeffrey Phillips, the cultural liaison and youth advocate for Fairview Hospitals, shared success stories about providing social services to people who come through the Fairview system. He said he sees collaboration more as a philosophy than as a buzz word.
“We’ve been (collaborating) for a while now,” Phillips said.
At Columbia University, the college of education and the school of social work are working together to study how to prevent students in grades K through 12 from failing, said Esther Wattenberg, a professor in the University of Minnesota School of Social Work and the director of the University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare.
“Whether this University is able to proceed in this way has not been fully explored,” Wattenberg said.