The 2017-18 Burlington School budget included a half-time School Social Worker (SSW) in every elementary school. Here Ms. Pasnick explains her background and the opportunities she offers.
DD: How did you decide to become a school social worker, and what led you to Champlain?
CP: I enjoyed working with adolescents in both residential and group therapy settings for years when I lived in New Jersey before moving to Vermont three years ago and coming to work in schools. I got my Masters in Social Work at New York University in 2013 and, earlier this year, earned my Clinical License in Social Work (LICSW). I've always had fun working with kids and I enjoyed the structure of doing group work, so I thought schools might be a good fit for me. Turns out- it's a great fit! This is now my third year working with elementary students in the Burlington School District and I love it!
I am employed by the Howard Center and contracted to work by the school district. There has not been a clinician at Champlain for the past few years, and, starting this year, the district decided to place a clinician here on a part-time basis for 20 hours per week. I'm here at Champlain on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday afternoons.
DD: What does a social worker do when working at a public elementary school?
CP: I will carry a caseload of about 7 or 8 students with whom I will meet individually once per week. Kids get referred to me for a variety of reasons. Most often, I see kids that need some support around regulating their emotions, practicing appropriate self-expression, building confidence and self-esteem, coping with anxiety, improving social skills, and building positive peer relationships. I offer individual counseling and skill building support to students here, but I also can help parents with things like transportation, filling out paperwork, or getting referrals to other services. I help families get connected with resources in the community related to mental health, parenting training, housing needs, financial support, or recreational activities for kids. I'm hoping to do some group skill-building work with kids this year too. Skills such as building self-esteem, tolerating frustration, positive peer interaction and how to make friends, things all kids need.
DD: How does having a school social worker enhance school climate?
CP: Questions often pop up related to topics of mental health or various community resources that are available for families, and a social worker can provide some insight in these areas. Social workers, like other support staff in schools, are able to jump in and assist in times of crisis and help problem-solve when there are behavioral or social and emotional concerns about students. One big part of my role is to help keep parents and school connected and communicating effectively. There are times that parents might need help communicating their child's needs to the school or times that parents and school staff don't see eye to eye. I can help with navigating any conflicts or differences of opinion that arise. I help to maintain positive relationships whenever there’s a disagreement.
DD: How do you work with teachers or other school staff members?
CP: In this respect, a school social worker role will vary from school to school. I am available to teachers and staff for consultation regarding behavioral or social/emotional questions. I can participate in team meetings for my clients, and offer suggestions about relationship building and addressing behavior in the classroom. My office (112E) is between the Kindergarten and first grade, so people can see me on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday afternoons.
DD: What are the range of services provided by The Howard Center? Who can access these services?
CP: Howard Center offers all kind of services ranging from the most basic interventions to more intensive services or crisis intervention, like First Call. I have packets that list all of our services and can provide these for anyone that wants a copy. Our website also lists our range of services. We do individual, family, and group counseling for kids and adults. There are a range of services for kids and adults with developmental delays, substance abuse, or mental health needs. We have a few different programs that help build family relationships including things like Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Intensive Family Based Services, and Family and Community Based Services. I'm happy to discuss any programs with individuals that have questions. I can also make referrals to private therapists outside of Howard and for mentor programs in the community. Staff and parents can reach me at 864-8477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DD: In your opinion as a social worker, what are some of the most important things in a child's life?
CP: Most important in a child's life, in my opinion, is, in technical terms, having a secure attachment with a caregiver. This means having a safe, responsible adult that can meet a child's basic needs consistently and also provide them with unconditional love. Kids need to know that they are always loved, even when they've made some poor choices and get "in trouble."
DD: How can family members improve their children's wellbeing?
CP: Responding versus reacting to a child’s behavior is very important and goes a long way in building that secure attachment. The parent may not like what a child has done, but it’s important for the parent to separate the behavior from the child. Responding looks like the parent keeping their own emotions regulated, addressing their children with a calm body and voice, validating the child’s feelings, and teaching them in the moment. Reacting is giving consequences without a connection to the misbehavior, without supporting the child, and without teaching the child the behavior that you expect them to show. Children will only learn, “I’m bad” or “I’m good,” instead of learning why they feel or act the way they do, and what they can do instead.