Conference preps social workers to address school violence

Alex Kotlowitz

Alex Kotlowitz: social workers “unsung heroes in our city.” Photo: Aaron Wickenden/Kartemquin Films

Social workers are the “unsung heroes in our city,” award-winning author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz said at a recent campus conference on the impact of urban violence on academic success.

“Not only do we need to find ways to support them, we need more of them,” Kotlowitz told the audience of school social workers, social service agencies and youth gathered Aug. 5 at Student Center West for the conference, hosted by the Jane Addams College of Social Work.

“We need to let them know how important their work is,” added Kotlowitz, co-producer of the documentary film “The Interrupters” about the UIC-based CeaseFire violence prevention program.

Kotlowitz was joined by mental health professionals, teachers, parents and high-school students, along with community partners and UIC faculty, at the daylong training institute.

Organizers said they wanted a forum where school social workers and community agencies could become more informed about evidence-based practices and learn strategies for urban and suburban school settings.

“School social workers are oftentimes those persons who are working with the young people who are traumatized, whether it be dealing with violence, or also some of the issues they’re experiencing within schools,” said Cassandra McKay-Jackson, associate professor of social work.

“We are trying to assist school social workers to have the information and knowledge to go back to those schools and do the work that’s called for.”

There are challenges ahead, particularly because of Chicago school closings, organizers said.

“It’s really important that, as practitioners, we not only look at ways to develop strategies to meet the needs of youth, but also involve the youth in the conversation,” said Annette Johnson, clinical associate professor of social work.

This is the institute’s fourth year. This year, about 120 people attended, including 25 young people. Partners included Metropolitan Family Services, Mikva Challenge, National Association for Black Social Workers, UCAN, Youth 1st Counseling and the Illinois Association of School Social Workers.

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