Oklahoma City Schools wants to expand a partnership connecting students, parents, and DHS.
We're talking about putting a social worker in school buildings. For the past five years, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary has had an in-school social worker. The principal says it will take a lot of pressure off the school and the parents.
The school is considered “high risk” with more than 80-percent of the students receiving free or reduced lunches.
“If a child comes to school hungry, it's more difficult for them to learn and to grasp information,” said MLK Elem. Principal, Cherron Ukpaka.
Ukpaka says her students and their parents have a lot of needs, but help isn't far.
“Any resources that the DHS office would normally have where parents are going into their office, we're able to provide that resource here,” said Ukpaka.
“My challenge is to Oklahoma City and to the surrounding areas to embrace us if they don't understand who we are,” said DHS social worker, Malia Smith.
Smith spent two and a half years as a social worker at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary. She says the need is critical.
“The department of human services has so many resources that are available, and so many different agencies available to families, and so, that's why it's important,” said Smith.
Among a number of issues, Malia dealt with truancy, child welfare, behavioral and emotional intervention, and even parental issues which sometimes included home visits. Urban school districts across the country are moving to adding social workers to their school staff.
“Children's lives are being saved because we're there,” said Smith.
Emerson High School off N. Walker is the only other school in the district that has an in-school social worker. But, we're told a majority of OKC schools receive federal dollars that can be used to pay a social worker.
The district is encouraging principals to look at how social workers can help students and for it to be an option when there is a need.