Social Services Chatbot
I chose to serve school social workers during my time as an engagement journalism student. I did so because I myself worked as a school social worker at a high school for a year and realized not many people know what school social workers do.
School social workers are trained mental health professionals who work with students, families, teachers, administrators and community members. They assist with mental, behavioral, and social concerns by obtaining and coordinating community resources that meet peoples’ needs. A typical day for a school social worker could include counseling, home visits, distributing clothing and food, and creating action plans for necessary next steps.
The scope of the role, with the ratio of one social worker to 300+ students depending on the school, leads to a tremendous amount of work to be done in a day. There’s typically one social worker per school, and data collected by the Texas Education Agency for the 2019–2020 school year showed that out of the 1,002 school districts in Texas, only 172 of those districts had social workers as employees. Adding to the shortage of social workers in school districts, social workers are typically some of the only trained mental health professionals on a school campus, and with covid increasing mental health challenges that students are facing, school social workers’ time is increasingly in demand.
For our entrepreneurial course I was tasked with creating a product that would serve my community. After speaking with community members I was told the biggest need they had was a way to gain back a little more time throughout their workday so they could accomplish more tasks. I began to think about the ways other school employees could help. I remembered a few times when teachers approached me to report suspected child abuse, or ask me to help them file a report for abuse. Although I was glad to help, my time spent with them did eat at time I could have spent with a student. Since school staff are mandated reporters anyways, I realized they could easily complete these reports and assessments on their own with some sort of guide provided.
I surveyed school social workers in Texas to see if they agreed this would be a useful tool, and if so, what forms and assessments they thought would be most useful to include or not include. The responses requested CPS reports, runaway reports, and suicidal ideation risk assessments be included.
I created a chatbot that provides important information about the form or assessment the user is looking for and links to the necessary websites used to complete them.
The chatbot has its own website link that can be shared with anyone and once the link is opened, the chatbot has a welcome message asking the user which report or assessment they need help with. The user can cycle through all the options and can ask the chat bot to reshare the options as many times as they’d like. Having a shareable link allows for multiple school staff to use the chat bot and easily share it amongst each other.
I would love to see the chatbot continue to grow in the future. Ideally, the chatbot would expand the types of forms and assessments it provides information for, and possibly expand into other areas such as links to resources that school staff could share with students or parents.
Although not all school staff are social workers, all staff can promote social work values by serving their students with the resources they have.