The city’s plan to hire 500 additional Social Workers to help address the mental-health needs of public-school students isn’t enough to actually achieve that goal, according to the United Federation of Teachers and a study from the city’s Independent Budget Office.
In April, the de Blasio administration announced that it would hire those Social Workers to help students struggling with social-emotional issues due to the pandemic. Many students have endured the death of loved ones or homelessness during the past year and need increased emotional support.
One for Every School
The additional hires would ensure that each of the city’s 1,800 schools has a Social Worker on staff.
But UFT President Michael Mulgrew believed that simply hiring a large number of mental-health professionals wouldn’t be enough to help nearly a million public-school students, many whom have not set foot inside a school building since remote-learning began in March 2020.
“Just hiring a Social Worker and putting them in a school, that’s not a plan,” he said during a June 16 interview with News 12 Bronx.
Three months ago, the UFT unveiled a five-part plan to help students recover from the pandemic that included the establishment of academic and mental-health intervention teams at every school.
The proposal calls for the Department of Education to hire academic intervention specialists—who would assess what subjects of study students were struggling with—guidance counselors and social workers. One team of six-to-eight academic and mental-health support staff would be provided for every 200 students.
Analyze Students' Needs
Mr. Mulgrew added that schools should conduct an analysis of every student to determine their mental-health needs.
“We need to put a real program in place, not just send people to a school building and say ‘You deal with it,’” he said.
And according to an IBO study, those 500 additional staffers that wouldn’t be enough to ensure that each school has a Social Worker.
Currently, 423 schools do not have any, while in District 75, which serves students with special needs, an additional 25 schools don’t have a full-time Social Worker, the study showed. There were also 166 schools that had a part-time Social Worker on staff, with 90 percent of them having a shared Social Worker on the premises less than 25 percent of the time.
The IBO estimated that in order to ensure that schools that currently have just a part-time Social Worker get full-time coverage, another 127 would need to be hired.
DOE Contests Findings
The study showed that the total number of Social Workers needed to ensure every school was properly staffed was 575, meaning another 75 Social Workers would need to be recruited.
The DOE disputed these findings, stating that the IBO did not factor in that some schools were served by 200 mental-health clinics, which often have Psychologists or Social Workers who work with students at multiple schools.
“We appreciate the advocacy of the IBO on this critical issue, but our historic investment in hiring over 500 Social Workers and school-based clinics is specifically aimed at meeting the gap they identified,” DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer said.
The city estimated that the plan would cost $91 million and would be fully supported using Federal stimulus funds.
The IBO did note that significantly fewer schools had no Social Workers on staff compared to two years ago. In 2019, 44 percent of schools lacked a Social Worker; this year that figure was 28 percent. Much of that gap was closed because of the increased use of part-time Social Workers.
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