Resources, information and files for school social workers

Jerry Ciffone is happy to provide handouts given to IASSW and SSWAA Conference participants as well as handouts and PowerPoint presentation slides shown to parents and students when Jerry was a school social worker at South Elgin High School in South Elgin, IL.  To receive any of these resources, at no cost, contact Jerry at:

General resources for school social workers

  • A helpful website on the topic of Resiliency provided by the Positive Psychology Program

  • A trauma-informed TED Talk about the lifetime effects of “adverse childhood experiences”

  • A TED Talk on how to partner with anxiety

  • Typical or Troubled is an “early recognition, intervention and treatment of mental health concerns” informational program developed by the American Psychiatric Association that seems to be a very helpful resource to school social workers

Helping students in crisis

Over the 30 years of working as a school social worker in a comprehensive high school setting Jerry developed some strategies to address students in crisis. These students were not in a “ready to learn” mode due to an emotionally-charged situation.

Helping students in crisis due to a parent-teen conflict:

One of the more difficult and challenging situations were ones in which the referred student was coping with an exasperating parent. It would have been far easier to refer such students out to a competent mental health professional in the community. Given Jerry’s conviction to help all students rapidly and effectively (as described in his FOSSW Program), it was not necessarily a standard practice to recommend outside counseling to the parent in such situations. Some parents who needed to participate in good faith with a family therapist did not feel compelled to do so. Referrals to the community, once initiated, often took several weeks and it seemed perhaps months before a positive resolution occurred. Furthermore, the student did not usually or initially feel the community-based therapist was his or her advocate when the referral was facilitated by the parent.

Students in crisis due to a serious conflict with one or both parents would either be angry, excessively anxious (in the wake of an act of rebellion or resistance), or report feeling hopelessly resigned, depressed and in some cases suicidal. Most often these conflicts were with parents who employed a very authoritarian parenting style. Other students presented as the unfortunate recipients of parents who were otherwise disengaged, ineffectual, overprotective, or critical. (Students of permissive parents rarely surfaced on their own to complain. They were usually referred to Jerry by a concerned friend, the concerned parent of a friend, or a concerned adult at school.)

Jerry would set aside the time necessary to adequately help students in crisis, at times, beginning with a number of initial screens* to rule in or rule out a hunch about the student. One screen was a locally-normed adolescent version of the Adult Beck Depression Scale. If the depression screen score was in the at-risk range Jerry would ask the student to also complete a version of the Beck Hopelessness Scale. (Cut points for both screens can be obtained by contacting Jerry.) The other type screen (appropriate when the crisis is associated with a parent) was the Teen Assessment of Parenting Styles (TAPS). Carefully presenting the right combination of screens can be very effective in the school social worker’s appeal to the loving instincts of the emotionally-prepared parent irregardless of their parenting style. A briefly-described overview of parenting styles suitable to give to a parent as a starting point of discussion is available here.

With the stage set for a reconsideration of how to be with their child the parent might be sufficiently receptive to a follow-up meeting to hash out a “mutually-endorsed parent-child contract”. Resources for a follow-up meeting with the parent can be found in related links in Documents/For parents. Helpful information about parent-child contracts can be accessed by going to “Getting cooperation from your teen”. One of the many rewarding experiences as a school social worker can result from a student returning to say that he or she is happier due to the extra time and effort taken to meet together with them and their parents.

Helping students in crisis due to a peer conflict:

School social workers are well aware of the fact that peer relationships are of critical importance in the teen years. School social workers are also aware that school shootings, a large percentage of self-destructive acts, and other incidents of regrettable behavior were invariably precipitated by a conflict with one or more peers.

Jerry would take all peer conflicts seriously and he would arrange for a face to face session as was practicable. In some situations he would allow the two in conflict to use a private space in a nearby conference room without his physical presence, and if necessary, during class time. Rarely did students abuse this privilege as they recognized and respected the special treatment, concern and time they were given to resolve their conflict.

For conflict situations that peers determined could be resolved with the help of an impartial and competent peer those students were paired up with a Peer Mediator. Jerry and colleagues within the Guidance Department of South Elgin High School developed and implemented a Peer Mediation Program. The PowerPoint slides used to train teacher-nominated student volunteers is available, at no cost, from Jerry for any school social worker wishing to replicate the South Elgin High School Peer Mediation Program or augment their own existing peer mediation program.

*During an interview of a student in crisis a school social worker may use a combination of assessment strategies to asses risk or the probable cause of the crisis. School social workers regularly ask questions to formulate an opinion, or to rule in or rule out a hunch they may have about the circumstances associated with the student in crisis. The use of a standardized or non-standardized screen may be one of the strategies used in the diagnostic phase of a student interview when a timely assessment and recommendation is needed. However, a screen can also be problematic because without prior parent consent it cannot be referenced for a formal assessment of that student as in a case study evaluation, for a report to the court or other community entity, or otherwise entered into the student’s educational record.  When it seems necessary to use data from a screen (such as the TAPS) in a meeting with a parent the school social worker must assure the parent that such information (obtained without prior parent consent) will be kept confidential (in the school social worker’s file of personal notes) and will not be shared without their consent. In addition, it is important for the school social worker to be aware that when conducting an interview using a screen that a student may ask for some feedback, perhaps to ask what the screen revealed. Caution should be used when responding to this type question because the student may then report that feedback to his or her friends or parents and this action on the student’s part may, in some situations, not be in the student’s best interests. Conversely sharing disconcerting findings from a screen with a rather hopeless student may be helpful if those findings are favorable to a student who also might need a bit of persuasion to address a highly exasperating parent-child conflict.