WSCC & School Social Worker

This practice guide is based on the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child, or WSCC model.  The WSCC model is CDC’s framework for addressing health in schools.  The WSCC model is student-centered and emphasizes the role of the community in supporting the school, the connections between health and academic achievement, and the importance of evidence-based school policies and practices. The WSCC model has 10 components:

  • Health Education
  • Physical Education & Activity
  • Nutrition Environment & Services
  • Health Services
  • Counseling, Psychological, & Social Services
  • Social & Emotional School Climate
  • Physical Environment
  • Employee Wellness
  • Family Engagement
  • Community Involvement

School social workers are uniquely positioned to support the whole child as our foundations of practice are a person-in-environment approach to problem-solving and overall wellness.  This has been our practice since the beginning of time, however a more organized approach to working within each area of this model is necessary to ensure student, staff, family, and community needs are being met. 

Note: This framework focuses on the integration among the 10 health components and the partnerships to address them in a coordinated manner.  You should look at the individual components and consider the partnership, coordination, and integration opportunities.

WSCC and School Social Work

Tab/Accordion Items

The goal of health education is to help students adopt and maintain healthy behaviors. Research overwhelmingly shows health education can

1) positively impact academic achievement,

2) decrease student absenteeism,

3) increase graduation rates,

4) reduce and avoid personal health risks, and

5) prevent disease and injury.


School Social Workers should:

  • Work to create safe, welcoming, and supportive school environments for ALL students by promptly correcting misinformation and educating students & staff on trusted sources of COVID-19 related information (DHHS/CDC).
  • Model and promote healthy behaviors through your interactions with students, staff, and parents.
  • Help students understand what steps they can take to keep themselves safe, including frequent handwashing, caution when sharing food or drink, and finding new greetings like elbow bumps instead of handshakes or hugs; to give them a stronger sense of control.
  • Encourage students to identify their own health behaviors and help them to set personal goals for improvement. When a student is referred to you, a comprehensive assessment should include exploring what health behaviors may be contributing to the barrier at hand.
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice and rehearse skills taught in health education classes to maintain and improve their health.
  • Educate parents and community partners on school protocols in place that protect the health and wellness of students.  Being in the field while conducting home visits or connecting with community resources, is a great opportunity to reassure/educate stakeholders to help facilitate a smoother transition back to campus.

Research overwhelmingly shows physical activity

1) can positively affect concentration, memory, and classroom behavior,

2) is associated with lower levels of stress and anxiety,

3) reduces the risk of developing obesity and risk factors for diseases, and

4) can improve standardized test scores. In addition, studies show recess offers students opportunities to interact and develop social skills. 


School Social Workers should:

  • Educate students and staff about the positive effects of physical activity on the brain.
  • Support physical activity as a recommended strategy to improve mood and reduce stress.  Incorporate physical activity in counseling sessions and encourage teachers to use brain boosts, “walk & talks” and physical activity breaks to support student mental health. 
  • Conduct physical activity challenges and other fitness programs for staff and students.
  • Connect with community recreation centers, clubs, and leagues to be informed of current offerings and schedules so that you can offer this as a resource for parents looking to add physical activity to their intervention list.

A nutritious diet can

1) positively affect classroom behavior (e.g., on-task behavior),

2) reduce the risk of developing obesity, dental caries, iron deficiency anemia, and risk factors for chronic diseases,

3) improve academic grades, standardized test scores, and cognitive function, and

4) increase attendance rates. In addition, studies specifically show implementing a universal school breakfast program can decrease absenteeism and hunger, and improve grade-point averages.

School Social Workers should:

  • Work with local organizations (e.g. No Kid Hungry) to assess food insecurity for students and utilize resources to address food gaps.
  • Provide food assistance and affordable food access information for families. This should be on all websites, social media, text, & periodically on automated messages/emails.
  • Educate students and staff about the effects of unhealthy eating behaviors (e.g., anorexia and obesity) and how good nutrition can positively impact body image.
  • Collaborate with school nutrition to ensure students’ nutritional needs are met and offer assistance if needed.
  • Stay up to date on P-EBT to ensure families receive payments as eligible.

Health services provide urgent and emergency care, assess and plan for the management of chronic conditions (such as asthma, food allergies, or diabetes) and provide health screenings for all students. Health promotion, preventive education, preventive services and referrals for staff, student, and parent education are essential functions of the school nurse or health service providers. Health services link staff, students, families, community and healthcare providers to promote the health of students and a healthy and safe school environment.

School Social Workers should:

  • Assist the school nurse in developing a plan and resources for addressing barriers to learning, reasons for poor attendance or inattention to class, and developmental problems.
  • Assist with barriers related to immunizations and health assessments.
  • Consult with the school nurse regarding students without medical coverage or other health needs and refer appropriately.
  • Provide culturally competent care in a safe, private, and confidential setting for all students.
  • During assessments with students, explore if any changes in health may be contributing factors to the barriers at hand.
  • Work to secure consents between community providers to be able to communicate about student wellness and share common goals.

Students who are taught social and emotional skills, such as managing emotions, practicing empathy, conflict resolution, and cooperation are more positive and less anxious than students not participating in these programs. Systems-level assessment, prevention, intervention, and program design by school-employed mental health professionals contribute to the mental and behavioral health of students as well as to the health of the school environment. These can be done through resource identification and needs assessments, school-community-family collaboration, and ongoing participation in school safety and crisis response efforts.

School Social Workers should:

  • Ensure students’ basic needs are met.
  • Stay hyper sensitive to signs of stress, trauma, anxiety, depression, abuse or neglect and need for related interventions.
  • Provide interventions to students using one-on-one counseling/sessions and small group counseling/sessions.
  • Practice with health equity considerations in mind.
  • Provide referrals for services when warranted.
  • Work to secure consents to ensure that services provided in school reinforce learning and help to align interventions provided by community providers with the school environment.

The social and emotional climate in schools should be comfortable, safe, and nurturing. It is essential for students’ academic achievement and for employees’ health and well-being. Research overwhelmingly shows that a positive social and emotional climate

1) contributes to a higher level of school connectedness (feeling of belonging and being cared for at school),

2) positively impacts academic achievement (improved attendance, fewer suspensions/expulsions, and increased graduation rates),

3) influences social and emotional development (increased prosocial behavior),

4) affects student engagement in school activities and relationships with other students, staff, family, and community (better attitude towards school),

5) promotes growth and development (improved prospects for employment), and

6) deters students from engaging in risky behaviors (reduced substance abuse).

School Social Workers should:

  • Provide leadership for creating positive psychosocial environments.
  • Create safe, caring, well-managed, and participatory learning environments that are respectful of diversity and cultural differences.
  • Explore the Evidence-based Practices For Assessing Students’ Social And Emotional Well-being.
  • Prepare schools to meet the needs of students coping with trauma and toxic levels of stress
  • Generate awareness about the positive effects of school behavioral health services.
  • Provide school climate and culture professional development opportunities to staff that support a positive social and emotional climate.
  • Educate teachers about supporting ethnic and racial minority students and how to inoculate children against stereotyping.
  • Consider all levels of cultural competence in service delivery.
  • Explore and use the SEL Practice Guide, Key Resources, and SEL Implementation site.
  • Examine discipline policies to ensure student-centered discipline and promote SEL.
  • Provide social and emotional competence interventions (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness relationship skills, and responsible decision-making).
  • Engaging families and communities in school-wide SEL initiatives and activities.

A healthy and safe physical school environment promotes learning by ensuring the health and safety of students and staff. Research shows that unhealthy physical school environments can negatively impact children’s health, attendance, concentration, and academic performance.

School Social Workers should:

  • Develop and train staff on protocols related to social, emotional, and physical health (e.g., conflict resolution, violence prevention).
  • Promote social emotional health with signage on the school campus.
  • Encourage staff to model appropriate care and treatment of the school building and environment (use trash and recycle bins, maintain a clean, welcoming classroom, care of equipment, etc.).
  • Refresh knowledge on threat assessments and critical incident protocol.
  • Practice active supervision.
  • Provide a safe space for students and separately, staff.

Fostering employees’ physical and mental health protects school staff, and therefore, helps to support students’ health and academic success. Healthy school employees serve as powerful role models for students. Research overwhelmingly shows employee wellness programs and healthy work environments can:

  1. decrease employee absenteeism and the cost of substitutes,
  2. reduce employee turnover,
  3. lower health care and insurance premiums,
  4. improve employee morale, and
  5. increase productivity.

Students, in turn, have positive role models, learn better and are healthier.

School Social Workers should:

  • Present “lunch and learn” sessions on wellness and other relevant topics.
  • Provide opportunities for mental health support of employees, and crisis intervention for personal difficulties (EAP).
  • Educate staff about modeling healthy social and emotional behaviors.
  • Provide community resources to schools to support employee health and wellness, including programs on physical activity, healthy eating and/or weight management.
  • Offer a stress management program/wellness challenge for staff.
  • Maintain self-care resources that are easily accessible.
  • Promote the use of the Hope4Healers crisis line (open to educators).

Family engagement has a significant positive impact on academic outcomes (grades, standardized test scores, teacher ratings, and indices of academic behaviors and attitudes). Family involvement improves mental and physical health for students, increases higher student and teacher attendance, reduces suspensions, improves school climate, improves social behavior and healthy youth development and reduces substance abuse, teen pregnancy, violence and street crime.

School social workers should:

  • Communicate clear expectations for learning and behavior to students, and share those expectations with families and encourage family members to reinforce them at home.
  • Utilize Engaging Parents And Families To Support The Recovery Of Districts And Schools.
  • Create a system to be alerted at a students’ third consecutive absence.
  • Explore all attendance interventions as well as tiered approaches to attendance.
  • Conduct safe home-visits to check-in with students and families.
  • Ensure families receive culturally competent communications and opportunities.
  • Educate family members about mental and emotional health issues and warning signs.
  • Share the COVID-19 Parent & Caregiver Guide (Prevent Child Abuse NC) with the families as needed.
  • Provide a list of community providers that offer counseling services for youth and family members.
  • Invite family members to be a part of the school’s decision-making process related to health and wellness initiatives.
  • Incorporate health and wellness into family oriented events such as Open House and Family Fun Nights.
  • Provide families of rising kindergarteners the Kindergarten Readiness Resources For Families.
  • Partner with community experts to provide educational programs for family members.
  • Hold office hours for families serving as the link to school, resources, and materials.
  • Ensure a resource library exists for families to receive information on meeting basic needs.
  • Promote the use of Hope4NC crisis line (open to anyone).

Research shows that students have higher grades and academic achievement as a result of parent and community involvement that supports learning. In particular, school dropout and student education aspirations and motivation are positively impacted by school, family, and community partnerships. Coordination among schools and community organizations to meet student needs is crucial to closing the achievement gap. The school, its students, and their families benefit when leaders and staff at the district or school solicits and coordinates information, resources, and services available from community-based organizations, businesses, cultural and civic organizations, social service agencies, faith-based organizations, health clinics, colleges and universities, and other community groups.

School Social Workers should: