“Crisis preparedness” can sound so impersonal. Manuals. Policies. Procedures. And, yet, the entire concept of school safety is about each person’s experience in the context of a small environment (the classroom) that sits within a larger environment (the school) that is integrated into the broader community (society).

It is this abilityto think through the concentric circles of connection
that makes a social worker uniquely trained and committed to advocate for
the individual at the hub of the wheelthe student.

As trauma-informed professionals, social workers approach situations with an understanding of potential social-emotional impacts. Through this lens, social workers can provide essential input as to the tenor of school safety strategies, helping to keep drills practical while not needlessly increasing fear. During and after moments of crisis, social workers can provide comfort and strategies directly to students, while being a compassionate support or substitute if a colleague is not able to be fully available.

Special needs

Safe & Sound Schools recommends that all School Safety Teams should include at least one school- or community-based social worker. Here are some ways a social worker can serve the school in the safety improvement process:


  • Identify stakeholders across levels (community level, group level, individual level).
  • Build bridges to engage stakeholders during all phases.
  • Review literature, summarize best practices.
  • Peer review existing plans, programs, and procedures, identifying areas to be re-worked.
  • Provide developmental, trauma-informed, and community-aware guidance regarding facilities; policies & practices; and security awareness & training.

ACT Phase:

  • Lead and collaborate the design/revision of existing protocols.
  • Review evidence-based research about developmentally appropriate strategies for students and staff.
  • Evaluate ethical considerations around implementation.
  • Maximize access to community-based resources.
  • Prioritize resource allocation.
  • Work with grade-level teams to create strength-based, age-appropriate jargon and activities, reducing the risk of drill-induced student trauma.
  • Attend to the psychosocial well-being of all stakeholders during drills and crises.

AUDIT Phase:

  • Evaluate the social-emotional impact and practical efficacy of current school safety protocols.
  • Devise and implement measured review of policies and procedures.
  • Conduct individual, survey, and focus group venues to gather feedback.

Communities that do not have a designated school social worker can develop a consulting relationship with a community-based social worker. Look for a social worker who works as a child therapist and who grasps your school’s organizational culture. An outside consultant can bring a very helpful, fresh, and child-centered perspective.

Shari Nacson is a Cleveland-based freelance editor and clinical social worker.  She specializes in consultations & presentations in child development.  An advisor and contributor to Safe and Sound Schools, she serves as author, public speaker, and consultant regarding developmentally mindful school safety strategies.

For further reading about the role of school social workers in school safety, see:

State lawmakers could soon pass a package of bills designed to enhance security and better protect students, teachers and school employees from a wide range of threats, including an armed intruder entering the building. Read the article: 4 new ideas to protect New Jersey schools from mass shootings

You may not realize it but, March is National Social Work Month, the month where we recognize and celebrate the work of this nation’s more than 600,000 social workers.

When you think of “social work,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Maybe the answer is in one of these pictures…

SW perception 1

In reality, social workers play an integral role in keeping people safe and advocating for causes and services on behalf of others. America’s social workers serve in hospitals, mental health clinics, military facilities, prisons and schools. About 96 percent of these social workers spend their time on direct client services and 73 percent on consultation. Their services and consults can range from providing mental health services to serving children and families, to addressing health issues and aging.

Despite celebrating community heroes like teachers and first responders, social workers often go unrecognized. Is it due to a lack of understanding? Are there misperceptions of what they do? Is it a lack of visibility in mainstream society or Hollywood? Or is there a stigma that prevents people from openly acknowledging their impact – the idea that working with a social worker is synonymous with an inability to care for oneself or children.

Whatever the reason, we owe social workers respect and gratitude for keeping people safe, especially when it relates to children. In learning to value and appreciate their work, let’s take a look at the history of social work as it relates to child welfare.

SASS-Jane-Addams-quoteIn the late 1800s, Jane Addams became the first social worker and pioneer of social work in the United States. For her work, she became the second woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Many women and men followed, pursuing a career in social work to help alleviate the circumstances of the poor and those mistreated by society.

While Addams paved the way for social workers, Etta Angell Wheeler, a missionary and humanitarian, paved the way for child welfare. She was the first person to shed light on child abuse in the U.S. Wheeler was informed about a young girl, Mary Ellen Wilson, being abused by her caretakers. Neighbors could hear the child screaming and begging for help, but could not do anything to help Mary Ellen.

With the information she had, Wheeler alerted the police. The police couldn’t do anything. They did not have the authority to intervene on suspicions of abuse. They could only act on it if it was an animal. Wheeler sought the help of Henry Bergh, president of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Elbridge T. Gerry, ASPCA’s lawyer. Bergh and Gerry found a loophole in the law, giving the judge the authority to remove Mary Ellen from her abusive environment.

Not only did Wheeler save Mary Ellen from a life of abuse, Wheelers’ family went on to care for Mary Ellen until she married at the age of 24. After the success of Mary Ellen’s case, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) worked to extend their laws to protect children and created the NYSPCC, New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Since 1874, social workers have worked to protect children from abuse and neglect. Etta Angell Wheeler may not be the pioneer of child welfare, but she was a driving force in the creation of laws to protect children. Whether working in the school or community setting, social workers strive to support families and keep children safe.

This March let’s work together to show our appreciation to the Wheelers and the Jane Addams of this world for keeping children safe and sound.

Donation to fund school safety programs in Maryland

Baltimore, Md. – February 29, 2016 – BFG Community Foundation, Inc., during their 2016 Champion in Life Gala, bestowed a $20,000 endowment award to Safe and Sound Schools in recognition of its ongoing efforts to educate communities about proactive school safety measures.

With this endowment award, Safe and Sound Schools will establish a School Safety Series exclusively for Maryland school districts. During this education initiative, Safe and Sound will be able to impart important lessons about better planning, management and recovery strategies to improve a community’s resiliency during a school-based emergency.

“The Safe and Sound Schools team has courageously shared the lessons learned from the tragic Newtown shooting and created a growing movement focused on improving school safety,” said Michael O. Brooks, Chairman and CEO of BFG Community Foundation. “Bringing this wisdom and expertise to Maryland schools will help create a stronger, safer learning environment for our students and their educators and families.”

Safe and Sound Schools will unveil specific plans for the School Safety Series over the coming months, but aims to reach a minimum of five districts and 500 educators, with the power to impact thousands of Maryland students.

“Support from philanthropic leaders like the BFG Community Foundation will have a lasting impact on schools by making is possible for us to bring vital assessments, tools and resources to local communities,” said Michele Gay, executive director and co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools. “I am so grateful for BFG Community Foundation’s endowment award, not only for the impact it will have on Maryland communities, but for the organization’s commitment to improving school safety.”

For more information about Safe and Sound Schools, including free assessment tools, tool kits and resources, visit safeandsoundschools.org.

About Safe and Sound Schools

Safe and Sound Schools is a non-profit organization founded by Sandy Hook parents who lost their children during the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Winner of the 2015 SBANE New England Innovation Award for nonprofits, Safe and Sound Schools is dedicated to empowering communities to improve school safety through discussion, collaboration, planning, and sharing of information, tools, and resources. To get involved, visit safeandsoundschools.org.


Two West Fargo schools go into lockdown and discuss lockdown procedures for different threat levels. Read the article: School Lockdowns: Different Levels, Different Notification Protocols.

Mother of Sandy Hook victim shares lessons learned for safer schools in Alabama

Learn more: AL.com, Alabama, March 8, 2016