Leadership and School Social Work in the USA: A Qualitative Assessment

Susan E. Elswick, Matthew J. Cuellar, Susan E. Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


School social workers provide unique insight into the biopsychosocial factors that influence students and overall well-being. Social work training in the person-in-environment perspective offers a unique understanding of issues within the school environment, making them ideal professionals to lead holistic, interdisciplinary response options and programs that help foster positive school climates and student success. However, current research suggests there is little information about what school social work practice actually looks like in the schools and how this practice is consistent with leadership roles and tasks. The purpose of this study is to examine school social work leadership in today’s schools. A sample of school social work practitioners across the USA (N = 375) provided a response to the question: “In what ways do you provide leadership within your school setting?” An inductive, thematic study was conducted to determine the aspects of leadership in which school social workers engage in most. Using coding procedures, three salient themes of leadership emerged: (1) increasing training and services; (2) focusing on school–community partnerships; and (3) advocating for policy and school structural changes that affect school safety. Findings from this study build upon past research and suggest that efforts to prepare and improve current leadership skills for school social workers are warranted. Implications for student education and social work programs are discussed, and recommendations for future research are provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-548
Number of pages14
JournalSchool Mental Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Leadership
  • Qualitative analysis
  • School social work


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