School Social Workers: Vital Link in the Transition Process for Students with Disabilities


Valtreasa Tolliver-Cook, Ed.D, ACSW, MSW, LSW

Assistant Professor of Social Work

13681030_1383403881674147_8804509587077298520_nMy name is Valtreasa Tolliver-Cook and I AM A SOCIAL WORKER and an Educator. Social work is my calling! Social workers are servants and being a servant is the purpose of my existence. Helping people, serving others, authentically, is not just what I do, it is who I am! Most importantly, it brings glory and honor to THE ONE I love the most; and the gratitude from and success of those who reap the benefits is pretty satisfying as well. It is an exciting experience practicing, writing and teaching about social work.

“They” say no one professional can be all things to all people; that may be true, but I believe that social workers come very close. Social work is both an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary profession, which simply means it draws from and relates to a number of other professions such as, but not limited to: psychology, sociology, criminology, health, law, anthropology and education. Quite frankly, we are just “know-it-alls” in a positive way. This wealth of knowledge, coupled with skills, values, love for people, and compassion are the keys to effective and efficient social work practice. Social work has an extensive history in collaborating and consulting with other disciplines. Social workers have worked with colleagues from other disciplines since the early days of the profession and they practice in a variety of setting such as hospitals, human service agencies, law enforcement agencies, mental health facilities, and schools.

The focus of this blog is to discuss how social workers who provide services in schools are a vital link in the transition process for students with disabilities.

The three key concepts here are school social workers, the transition process, and students with disabilities. I will briefly discuss all three concepts and then connect them to give you a vivid picture.

Social workers are academic and professionally trained practitioners who help people in need; challenge social injustices; respect the dignity and worth of people; give importance to human relationships; behave in a professional and trustworthy manner; and practice with competence. School social workers are specialized practitioners within the broad field of social work who bring the knowledge, skills, values, experience and expertise of social work practice to the school setting. According to the School Social Work Association of America ( school social workers serve as a link between the home, the school and the community providing both direct and indirect services to students, families and school personnel to promote and support students’ academic and social success. School social workers work with both general and special education students and they play an important role in service provision for students with disabilities and/or special needs. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) recognizes the role of school social worker services as a related service for students with disabilities.

What is the transition process? The transition process as defined by IDEA (2004) is designed to be a result-driven process. Transition services refer to a coordinated set of activities that prepare students with disabilities to move from school to post-school life. These activities must be individualized based on the student’s needs, preferences, and interests. The transition process is more than a mandate; it’s an experience with demands, challenges, and opportunities. It is a process that requires time, planning, commitment and patience. Successful transition also requires involvement and contribution from all parties. IDEA (2004) requires that the transition process begins before or when a student reaches the age of 16 years old.

Last, but definitely not least, let’s discuss students with the disabilities. There are multiple types of disabilities and IDEA (2004) mandates that children and youth between the ages of 3-21 with disabilities be provided a free and appropriate public school education. Disability is an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, intellectual, mental, sensory, developmental, or some combination of these that results in restrictions on an individual’s ability to participate in their everyday life. When a student presents with a disability, it is the school’s responsibility to provide appropriate accommodations for the student set forth in the law.

Now let’s bring it all together. How are school social workers the vital link in the the transition process for students with disabilities? It’s quite simple; we are the “glue.” We help to connect the dots; we make things happen; we bring the knowledge-based of our own profession and all the professions involved in the process; we help prepare the way, we make a way out of no way. IDEA refers to us as related services, but I know that we are the star players. We are the profession with the specialized knowledge that addresses the whole student and consider all facets of the student’s life, home, school, and community. We are very instrumental in opening doors to school and post-school success for students and their families. We not only provide services and linkage to students and their families, we also provide services to the teachers and the school administrators. We help them understand what it means to “start where the client is.” We help them understand how to view the “person in the environment” and how the environment impacts the educational and transitional process. We also create services when they do not exist. We are not confined to the school setting; we also work in the home, the community, and alternative settings, when necessary. We help the community to understand the needs of its children and families and advocate that provisions are made to address those needs. We are educators, consultants, counselors, coordinators, and the list goes on. Now, it should be pretty clear why we are the vital link to the transition process for students with disabilities.

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