A social worker position for the high school and middle school in the Union R-XI School District was approved by the board of education.
Members voted unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 19, to approve adding the position to the district.
“There is a need (for a social worker) and will always be a need for one,” Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold said.
The position is new. Weinhold said the position is moving some existing funds around because of retirements and other changes.
Director of Special Education Missie Evert told the school board the position would be a dual role of social worker and at-risk counselor.
The goal is to have the person take care of the mental health needs of the students, “to ensure they are ready to learn,” she said.
Evert explained that student productivity decreases when they are worried about what is going on at home despite the efforts with curriculum.
“We do have a lot of agencies we can collaborate with like Compass,” Evert said. “However, a lot of those agencies are at capacity so they are unable to provide the services needed.”
The school district is no stranger to having a social worker, according to both Evert and Weinhold. The school district “back in the day” had one and then a couple of years ago the resource board funded a social worker through a grant but the district currently does not have one.
According to Evert’s research, 14.6 percent of children under the age of 18 in Franklin County are living in poverty. That percentage increases to 20.5 percent when you look at children under the age of 6.
Food insecurity and affects about 17.36 percent of the children in Franklin County. She also pointed out that homeliness is an increasing problem for children as well.
“There is a need for this and it is not being fulfilled and we need to take care of the kids,” School Board President Dr. Virgil Weideman said.
The person hired for the position would have a caseload for at-risk kids and those with high mental health needs at the middle school and high school.
This not only would benefit the students but also the counseling staff at the school, Evert said.
“This would allow school counselors to do less of the responsive services,” she told the board. “This in turn allows them to focus on the other important parts of their jobs.”
Another role in this position will be to act as liaison with the children’s division, foster care and homeless coordination.
“This communication is so important so children do not fall through the cracks,” Evert said.
The position also would be responsible for holding small groups on topics that affect children, for example cutting, divorce, etc.
Weinhold added that while the position is focused on the middle and high school it would still be able to help and benefit the elementary schools.
While this position will fill the needs for grades sixth through 12th, there could be a need for more social workers in the school district.
“We want to try it and see how it goes (referring to having a social worker in the middle and high school),” Weinhold said. “But I can see us expanding this program down the road.”
The posting for the job position is expected to be on the school districts site later this week.