Thinking Outside the Box: Using Social Workers to Improve School Safety

“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:

3 replies
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