by Nino Shatberashvili, PhD, MSW, Deputy Head, Office of Resource Officers of the Educational Institutions, Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, Georgia
Standing at the vanguard of social work development in the educational setting, I feel excited, responsible, motivated and curious.
Social work is still a relatively a new profession in Georgia, in comparison to other countries, where it has been already developed for a century, and in comparison to other supportive professions in my own country. I myself grew with this profession, when I entered it in 1999, and have supported it by helping to found the Georgian Association of Social Workers. The maturity of a profession relates to the length of its development, the historical moment it was introduced, the tradition on which it was developed, the sphere from which it introduced itself in the society. All of these mold its image.
A newly adopted law on social work legitimizes, though does not limit to, four core directions of the profession: child welfare, justice, health and educational social worker. It also emphasizes the role of a social worker at the municipal level. So far only central level statutory social workers exist, and they are limited with their responses to referrals and unable to provide outreach services.
Currently I am a deputy head of the Office of Resource Officers of the Educational Institutions under the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports of Georgia, curating psycho-social services. The center hires 55 specialists: social workers, psychologists and child psychiatrists to be based in 10 locations across the country. We are serving children from ages 6 to young teens who exhibit emotional, behavioral or destructive behavior. Sometimes neither school nor society or the family is aware of their needs. Or there are situations when the case doesn’t yet meet the criteria to be reported to the police, Social Service Agency or our Psych-Social Center. Sometimes, there is reluctance to report the case for number or reasons. It is quite difficult to maintain a golden standard - not to rush to report cases for which you feel resourceful or have already taken concrete steps and are seeing results and vice versa. But we have to move to this direction.
School is a quite complex social organism. As school definitely is the place to teach children how to behave and support their personal growth and development, it also is not an institution for the treatment of behavioral problems. Though the need has to be addressed. Any kind of problem, be it discrimination, violence, oppression flourishes in silence and wilts only when and if discussed. Therefore, supportive professionals have a huge role in school setting.
I see social work in educational settings as assisting children, teachers, parents to not only cope with difficulties and stress that comes with change, but to support them to exercise their resiliency.
We are planning for social workers to work with school officers, teachers, administration and parents not to neglect the problems, cases of violence, bullying, as it will fuel over representation of exclusion, stress etc. School absenteeism is often attributable to feelings of being excluded or not fitting into the school network. Social workers have to promote children’s social success in par with academic success. They have to identify, assess and intervene.
Recently, I was impressed when referred by my dear colleague Mark Doel to Rachel Bramble’s work on school social work methods. She emphasizes that children are assessed on everything but not happiness, and this is true for the majority of countries. But this is a component of welfare and well-being. How can they be socially effective, successful? This is quite challenging.
Another challenge is to find its role among other professionals and decide when to act as a stand alone professional and when to step in multidisciplinary setting, as there is no clear-cut standpoint on when a monodisciplinary solution is not enough and a multidisciplinary approach may be more effective. They need to be confident on how to address these issues not only individually but at the school level too. We must conduct strengths-based interventions to empower students to become the kind of person they want to become.