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How School-Based Case Managers Can Prepare for the New School Year

by Lori Granieri 1 min read

While the beginning of the new school year can be a time of excitement, hope, and anticipation, it can also conjure up apprehension, uncertainty, and anxiety. Schools are facing big challenges, from lack of funding and outdated policies to safety issues to rising student mental health issues.

Strategies for School-Based Case Managers to Gear Up for the New Academic Year

While the beginning of the new school year can be a time of excitement, hope, and anticipation, it can also conjure up apprehension, uncertainty,  and anxiety.  Schools are facing big challenges, from lack of funding and outdated policies to safety issues to rising student mental health issues.

School-Based Clinical Social Workers (CSWs), or School Social Workers (SSWs), are increasingly being called upon to help pick up the slack.  SSWs not only case manage, assess risks and needs, and make referrals to other agencies and providers; they also to provide interventions, such as ongoing therapy.  They are tasked with assessing, diagnosing, and treating students with mental and emotional health conditions, serious behavior issues, homelessness, severe trauma, family crises, and more.

SSWs are expected to help schools to address:

  • The continuing effects of the pandemic, which hit many students hard

  • The need for interventions and learning recovery

  • Significant attendance issues

  • Behavior problems, including disrespect, defiance, refusal, fighting, bullying, cyberbullying, and violence

  • Ongoing and increasing student mental and emotional health challenges

Each year, schools are relying more and more upon SSWs as vital extensions of their staff.   SSWs’ caseloads and responsibilities continue to grow, and there’s often a waiting list of students requiring their services.

What Can School-Based CSWs, SSWs and CMs Do To Prepare for the New School Year?

For SSWs returning to campuses this school year, preparation is key.  Of course, all schools and districts are different and have varied needs, but those needs appear to be immense and complex.  It’s important to gain some clarity on what those needs are and what exactly your role will be, to have a good idea of what to expect, and have a solid plan.  

Here are some ideas and considerations for preparing for a successful school year.


Know your school (or schools), the environment, culture, climate, procedures, schedules, and needs.  Familiarize yourself with the campus, safety protocols, and staff.  Understand who does what, and who your direct contact/s at the school will be.  Figure out how you can best work together.  Also, be sure that you have what you need, a quiet space that’s big enough and comfortable, and the necessary equipment, technology, tools, and supplies.

If possible, schedule a brief meeting with key team members before or soon after school starts.  You may also want to take a tour, take possession of keys (to the front gate, your office, the restroom, etc.), familiarize yourself with emergency plans, school maps and bell schedules (on regular, minimum, exam days, etc.), disciplinary rules, and so forth.  Know  how you will call for students to come to meet with you, how long sessions will be, and what if any passes or forms you will need.


Work on syncing your own expectations with your school’s (or school district’s) expectations.  Serving students on school campuses is a collaborative effort.  Clear communication with school teams is imperative for making sure everyone’s on the same page.  Establish a protocol for tracking, monitoring, and reporting on student progress.

As an extension, and important member of, your school’s (or district’s) team, it’s important that you stay in the know.  When you are working with a particular student, be aware of any changes, disciplinary actions, added services, or incidents involving him or her.  Also, keep others involved with the student, such as Special Education Case Managers, Counselors, or Administrators, in the loop on changes on your end.


In addition to interacting with students and school staff, effective communications with parents/guardians, partnering agencies, and referred providers are important.  Creating methods and systems for staying in touch, collaborating, and reporting will help to streamline these communications.  Figure out the best ways to stay in touch with various parties, and establish timelines for reoccurring outreach.

How can you best interact with parents/guardians?  If the parents do not speak English, you will need to have access to a trained language interpreter.  Also, consider confidentiality requirements.  


Be prepared for increased needs for mental health services, which will likely mean more referrals and larger caseloads.  Each new school year may bring an entire new client roster, or additions to a previous lineup.  Likely, the referrals will pour in faster than in prior years.  Figure out how you will meet this demand.  It may mean that you, and your school/district team, will need to triage student needs, and start working with those students with the serious and urgent circumstances right away, and holding off on seeing those with less imminent needs.  

What does this mean for the remaining students needing help?  Of course, their concerns will also need to be met.  This can involve communicating with team members, delegating tasks, and referring to outside agencies.  These tasks are also very time-consuming, which means you will need to set clear goals for yourself and schedule your days, weeks, and months accordingly.  This also highlights the importance of organization and time-management. 


Assessing student needs through the intake process is an important first step.  The more accurately we assess client needs, the more specific and targeted the treatment will be.  This directly impacts the outcomes and the duration of the treatment, and potentially frees up time and space to treat additional students.

Having solid assessments measures, tools, and protocols are imperative.  Knowing which methods to use and how to use them, as well as asking the right questions, and accurately documenting responses are all important parts of this process. 


It is crucial to have efficient and effective systems in place.  These include data collection, accurate documentation and record keeping, and tracking and reporting on progress.  This will provide clarity and consistency, and help to improve the quality of service, decision-making, and problem-solving.  It also makes it easier to delegate tasks, train others, and communicate outcomes.  With these systems, we can see progress and areas of new or continued need.

Other ways for SSWs (CSWs and CMs) to prepare for the challenges the new school year may bring include being flexible and open to learning, maintaining boundaries and work-life balance, and practicing self-care.  Remember, SSWs are crucial to the betterment of students, schools, and the community at large.  The more prepared they are from the start, the better impact they will have.


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Lori Granieri