One of the unique trademark features of Para Los Niños Charter Schools is our School Support Services, a multi-disciplinary service delivery system available to every enrolled student. The School Support Services team, led by Para Los Niños Social Worker Coordinator Vanessa Soriano, is comprised of family specialists at all three sites, mental health therapists, social workers, and numerous Mental Health Master’s interns.
The team is part of the wider web of PLN’s Integrated Services network, which include PLN school counselors, Project Innovations LA coaches, school psychologists, After School Program staff, Special Education Department staff, and teachers who to discuss different cases. Additionally, when needed, the teams also pulls in Union Rescue Mission staff members or county social workers.
The full structure of this team was developed eight years ago when PLN staff realized students who exhibited higher or intensive social-emotional or behavioral needs (Tier 2 and 3 students) were served best when multidisciplinary professionals worked together to make effective interventions. Vanessa explained, “For instance, teachers need to understand the perspective of social workers, and vice versa. Not one professional can fully understand a student, and more can be done through collaboration.”
Vanessa continued, “Having this type of structure really embraces the need to communicate with other professionals and encourages us as professionals to think outside of our roles. Structure allows us to see the whole child and understand their whole story, their needs, their family’s needs. We know when there are twenty other things going on a person’s life, it is extremely hard to learn and absorb information when, let’s say, you’re thinking about an impending eviction at the back of your mind. We want them to be success-oriented and career-bound individuals who are not in crisis mode all the time.”
Regardless of if a child is identified as being higher need, School Support Services are applied to all students; social emotional wellness is built into the curriculum and teachers integrate these lessons daily. In CMS, this curriculum is more formally known as the “Second Step Program”. Everyone receives this level of intervention.
Judi Stadler, Director of Clinical Services, comments, “Our philosophy is by making our Tier 1 supports (classroom culture/climate) more robust, we will hopefully see less students needing both Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. With that said, it is critical to have the TIER 2 and 3 supports in place for those students who need more intervention/support.”
When working with students and their families, the School Support Services team’s ultimate goal is to understand them as individuals and support each individual with their own needs. All PLN students and their families have immediate access to the full team’s support. If a student or parent needs to speak to someone, they can go to them: whether that be a social worker, counselor, therapist, or external support. Parents are often encouraged to attend workshops and classes that further their understanding of their child(ren), the educational system, and the importance of self-care for themselves as parents as well.
At PLN, our School Support and Integrated Services are considered as high priorities that center on a relationship-based approach, and we continue to prioritize the steps to better our work and the outcomes we can have for children and families. To do this Vanessa shared current internal priorities, “First, we want to continue to strengthen our multidisciplinary practice. Second we want to hire more social workers and staff to support teachers and principals when more funding is available -the demand exceeds the supply.”