IEP’s: Is the Pursuit of Flexibility Meeting Best Practice Standards?
One of the most valuable characteristics of an effective school social worker is the ability to be flexible. My short time in the field has already taught me that my Outlook calendar is only an “ideal” itinerary of what my day will bring.
The office in which I work appears to have a revolving door that brings in a stream of students, nurses, administrators, counselors, teachers, and other social workers bearing gifts in the form of actionable items that add to an ever-growing “To Do:” list.
Trips across the school are rarely follow direct paths and often contain numerous detours and layovers.
And let’s not forget the formidable crisis situation with its power wipe out an entire day’s agenda with a single wave of its hand.
Indeed, flexibility and its sisters: time management, prioritizing, and the ability to say “No” are the indispensable survival tools of the school social worker.
But what of those things that can’t be rearranged? More specifically, how does a school social worker meet the requirements of the IEP in a profession that demands flexibility?
There are two ways that I have witnessed school social workers making IEP requirements more flexible:
- Establishing annual minutes as opposed to weekly or monthly minutes
- Defining the minutes as Counseling Services rather than Social Work Services
These approaches may indeed increase flexibility and are within the confines of IDEA 2004, but they also create opportunities for abuse.
Annual Minutes vs. Weekly or Monthly Minutes
Weekly minutes are difficult to adhere to–especially with shortened weeks, holidays, conferences, and the aforementioned crises situations. However, using annual minutes can may permit a social worker to have a lackadaisical attitude towards providing timely services.
“I’m really busy this week. I’ll just double up on his/her sessions next week.”
With annual minutes, a social worker could, theoretically, avoid seeing students with low minute requirements for long periods of time. For example, a student with annual minutes that average 15 minutes per week could be seen for 30 minutes a week for only half of the school year.
The reverse situation may also occur. The students may receive services that exceed his/her minute requirements in a particular week/month. The social worker may then feel justified in delaying the next appointment due to other pressing needs of the school or another student.
Counseling Services vs. Social Work Services
IDEA defines counseling services as follows:
(2) Counseling services means services provided by qualified social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors, or other qualified personnel. [§300.34(c)(2)]
Using counseling services allows for a greater number of professionals to meet the student’s minutes, but it also raises a number of concerns.
Assigning counseling services does not define who will be responsible for delivering the services.
Can a student see a guidance counselor one week, the psychologist the next, and the social worker the week after and have all meetings count towards minutes?
Are the guidance counselors able to provide counseling minutes if they don’t have a state counseling licence?
If staff other than the social workers are providing services, are they also tracking on the IEP goals and quarterly updates? Do they attend the IEP meetings?
Deciding to use counseling services, like using annual minutes, appears to create an environment where best practices are more easily compromised.
It is possible to maintain best practices even while employing these strategies. The terms of the IEP do not dictate the level of integrity within the school social worker. I believe many school social workers would continue to provide the best services possible, no matter the terms of the counseling minutes. I also believe, however, that when there is potential for abuse, there are those who will exploit it. Maintaining accountability helps ensure that children with disabilities will get the appropriate services.
I am a school social work intern with limited experience in the complexities of IEP’s. I am merely making observations and synthesizing classroom knowledge in an effort to better understand the issues impacting best practices. I realize that I may have overlooked information that could add to or better explain the preceding discussion. I welcome any comments or criticism from more experienced social workers that can shed additional light on the issues of using annual minutes or assigning counseling services rather than social work services.