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Military puts social workers in elementary schools

The U.S. Army Medical Command budgeted $1.3 million in fiscal 2011 to put social workers and other mental health experts in military elementary schools to help children whose parents have been deployed, according to this Associated Press article.

These children may experience sadness, anxiety, and other mental disorders, the article said. Mental health experts may also give them help when a parent returns from overseas and the family has to adjust to the change.

The article mentioned the work of National Association of Social Workers member Raquel Shoch, MSW, who works in elementary schools at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

Shoch uses a table top sandbox and toy soldiers to engage children in play, which puts them more at ease and willing to share what may trouble them, she said.

“Play is their world,” Shoch explains. “It allows them to bring their guard down, to emote through play.”

Social workers help military personnel and their families. To learn more visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Veterans Affairs website by clicking here. NASW is also committed to helping service members, veterans and their families through various initiatives. To learn more click here to visit the NASW Social Work with Veterans and Military Families website.

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  1. I well remember the poster on my dorm wall in 1970, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

    I clearly understand that school based supportive services can be invaluable to youth whose parents are transitioning into and out of, or serving in a war zone. And I am pleased to learn that social workers are involved in this important provision of support. But I am quite troubled by the profoundly clinical focus of the program as described in the news article: “individual therapy, family therapy, medication management and more. In addition, a psychiatrist travels between the six schools to see children.” In fairness, I’m also concerned about the social work professions increasingly clinical focus as the ultimate mission of the profession. Is the provision of therapy and the authority to diagnose psychiatric or behavioral “problems” really what we are devolving to? Is this our “path to glory?”
    I dread that our pursuit of professional credibility as “clinicians” is undermining our foundations of practice: an outward focus upon vulnerable individuals and populations; advocacy; recognition of individual and cultural differences (competence); attention to “the person in environment” and the value of social relationships; recognition and pursuit of matters of injustice, and perhaps an attention to individual and systemic STRENGTHS. (As opposed to pathology.) We’re talking about our professional integrity here.

    I had to laugh at the suggestion that, “One measure of the program’s success shows up in statistics that reveal how faithfully appointments are kept. The compliance rate at JBLM is more than 95 percent –“We’re talking elementary school KIDS who attend school on a military base and live immersed in military culture. I bet 95% stop and stand at attention each day at 5PM too. (You might have to of lived on a military base to understand that particular example.)

    Then there is this, “The most frequent diagnoses are: depression and other mood disorders 26% anxiety disorders 12% and ADHD 47%.” Sure, I suspect that there is likely some overlap (piling on?) in diagnosis, otherwise that data suggests that 85 % of the youth carry the burden of some particular diagnosis.

    What’s wrong with this picture? Isn’t it difficult enough that one or both of their parents are certainly going “in harms way?” As social workers, we have the history, the education, the tools, and the responsibility, to do much better than just this.

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