Job hunting lottery

School social workers, who work with students and their families, play a significant role in the US. But it is increasingly difficult to find a job in this area, writes Diana Wanamaker.   

School social workers are educated to masters degree level and approved by a university. They are assigned to one or more schools and act as a liaison between school, home and the community.

They have many responsibilities, including assessments of at-risk students and working with special education teams so students can make the best use of their education. They provide a problem-solving service to children and families through individual, group and community methods.

It is a popular role within social work. Universities in Michigan report that about a quarter of their intake are concentrating on school social work.

Why are so many interested in school social work? For me, it is the children. I love to work with them, and with a team of dedicated professional, well-educated and knowledgeable staff. It is an interesting, diverse and challenging position that offers fulfilment and job satisfaction and beats any other position in social work.

However, it means that more people are chasing fewer jobs.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of social workers will increase by 3 per cent. But there was a national unemployment rate in 2002 of 5.8 per cent (compared with 4.7 in 2001 and 4 per cent in 2000). There is also an average five-month wait to land a job in any profession, which is a 19-year high, and there have been cuts in transport and after-school programmes.

Joan Deller, graduate adviser at Michigan State University, says an unstable economy contributes to a reluctance to appoint people.

She also believes that weak interview skills and a lack of career direction mean that people often fail to land that dream job. Deller says she has experienced three or four economic cycles throughout her career, and it seems to her that the upturns are becoming shorter and the slumps longer.

This year large numbers of school social work graduates will be vying for the five to 10 positions that open up in Michigan. All positions will be part time, and it is likely that there will be fewer positions available in the Detroit area than in previous years because of cuts in school budgets.

This year human resources offices in districts that have posted an open school social work position have reported a “stack of letter of intents a foot high”.

They are even unable to verify whether they have received the applicant’s resum’ and cover letter, because of the overwhelming response.

So, anyone with hopes set on that dream job in a USschool might be better off purchasing a lottery ticket. The odds could well be better.

Diana Wanamaker is a school social worker.


“School social work is a specialised area of practice within the broad field of the social work profession. School social workers bring unique knowledge and skills to the school system and the student services team. School social workers are instrumental in furthering the purpose of schools: to provide a setting for teaching, learning and for the attainment of competence and confidence. School social workers are hired by school districts to enhance the district’s ability to meet its academic mission, especially where home, school and community collaberation is the key to achieving that mission.

Form the School Social Work Association of America: 

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