Bridging the Gap: School Social Work Collaboration with Local County Human Services 

By Shelby Mach, CAPSW School Social Worker, Osseo-Fairchild School District, CCS/CLTS Service Facilitator, Trempealeau County Human Services

In the ever-evolving practice of social services and education, a unique collaboration has emerged, redefining the way communities support their students. This initiative involves the collaboration between a county human services agency and the school district, jointly employing a School Social Worker. This collaborative model not only streamlines communication and resource-sharing but also establishes a comprehensive and nuanced support system for students grappling with multifaceted challenges. The innovative framework was developed through the joint efforts of Trempealeau County Human Services and four local school districts – Osseo-Fairchild, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, Blair-Taylor and Eleva-Strum.  

The Power of Relationships 

Central to this initiative is the emphasis on relationships and a shared commitment to fostering positive outcomes. Relationships form the bedrock of success, with the shared School Social Worker playing a crucial role in connecting not only with students but also in building relationships with parents, colleagues and service providers. This outreach extends beyond the school setting, reaching into the homes of families, where stronger connections are formed through genuine care and support.

Navigating the System Together 

The relationship between the School Social Worker and families transcends empathy and support; it involves navigating the intricate systems of both the school district and the county’s human services department. This collaborative approach ensures that families have a primary contact, simplifying the process of accessing resources and understanding the supports available. It underscores the power of collaboration in creating a seamless and supportive experience for those in need. 

The collaborative model excels in enhancing communication and coordination between professionals in both realms. By dismantling communication barriers that often exist between different institutions, this approach ensures that vital information is promptly shared, leading to more efficient and targeted interventions. 

Addressing Mental Health Needs 

As student mental health needs rise, reflected in both the school system and an increase in behavioral health referrals for county services, the School Social Worker acts as a vital liaison. Identifying gaps in available help, streamlining resources, and ensuring shared responsibilities prevent any one entity from shouldering too much burden. 

The referral process for services has become more streamlined, addressing mental health needs and making progress in truancy cases. Connecting with families in their home, beyond the confines of the school environment, has led to stronger relationships and students feeling supported. This outreach extends to holiday and summer breaks, demonstrating a commitment to continuous support. The quality of service has transcended bureaucratic delays, ensuring families receive timely support and do not fall through the cracks. 

Service Facilitation for County Programs 

In this collaborative model, the School Social Worker serves as the service facilitator for students enrolled in the Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) and/or the Children’s Long-Term Support (CLTS) programs through the county’s behavioral health department. This allows the School Social Worker to ensure that students with complex needs receive the comprehensive support they need for their well-being and academic success. Employed by the local school district, the School Social Worker is readily available to meet with students throughout the school day while also having access to collaborate with teachers, school administrators, and other stakeholders.

Optimizing Reimbursement  

County programs can effectively bill time for CCS and CLTS Medicaid dollars, ensuring that services provided are reimbursable. The School Social Worker diligently documents time invested in delivering direct services or engaging in activities for students enrolled in county programs. This documentation encompasses various interventions such as crisis intervention, care planning and coordination of support services. By implementing meticulous record-keeping practices, county programs can optimize their capacity to secure Medicaid dollars for these essential services. This strategic approach not only ensures the financial sustainability of these programs but also facilitates their growth, enabling continued and expanded support for students in need. 

A Transformative Impact 

The success of this collaborative model has expanded over the past seven years. Starting at the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District in 2017, Trempealeau County has since developed partnerships with three additional school districts – Osseo-Fairchild and Blair-Taylor in 2022, and finally, Eleva-Strum in 2023. Moreover, the La Crosse School District teamed up with La Crosse County Human Services for the 2021-22 school year, adopting a similar approach. This expansion illustrates the transformative impact of strong relationships and unified efforts. It showcases the effectiveness of addressing the diverse needs of students and families across multiple communities. As the success of this collaborative model persists, it stands as an inspiring example for other communities, highlighting the potential for positive change when education and human services join forces in the pursuit of student success and community well-being. 

This article was reprinted with the permission of the WI School Boards Association.