Social workers in schools can prevent youth crime

Derren Hayes
Monday, August 26, 2019

Research by What Works for Children's Social Care has identified the benefits of placing social workers in schools.

For the past six months, they have been placed in schools in Lambeth, Stockport and Southampton to help deliver support to children and families whose problems put them at risk of care proceedings.

In addition to holding discussions with staff, these practitioners have been undertaking "drop-in" sessions for parents and children covering a range of issues, including offering advice about housing problems and brokering early help support. Most importantly, social workers involved in the three pilot areas have been building relationships with both families and the school staff who play such a pivotal role in recognising the safeguarding needs of vulnerable children.

The studies detail how teachers value having access to social workers to act as a "sounding board and reassure them that they are taking the appropriate action", so much so that some schools are now interested in having a permanent dedicated social worker. Although it is too early to say if these improved working relationships will translate into reduced referrals to child protection teams or ultimately fewer care orders - which is its aim - this is a powerful example of the benefits of investing in early help (see special report). If successful, it could pave the way for school-based social workers to play a role in supporting other groups of vulnerable young people, such as those at risk of carrying knives or getting involved in gangs.

Policymakers' approach to tackle youth violence appears to focus on criminal justice measures - for example, increasing the use of stop and search, implementing curfews or, as recommended recently by the home affairs committee, placing police in schools in high-risk areas (see analysis). Most of these have already been tried with limited success and are unlikely to address the root causes of why young people carry knives.

Most of the children at risk of taking this path are already severely traumatised, the extent to which was highlighted in Keeping Kids Safe, a report from England's children's commissioner. It found children with "gang associations" are more likely to have mental health issues, be misusing substances, have witnessed domestic abuse and be excluded.

Social workers, whose training and knowledge base is underpinned by trauma-informed approaches, are well placed to support these young people. Schools could be the perfect setting for them to put these skills to best effect - and at an early stage.

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