In the heart of an often over-looked (or unfortunately stereotyped) neighborhood, a school — a community — thrives. Tenderloin Community School (TCS) is at the forefront of education thanks to the teachers, social workers, and caretakers who fiercely care not just for the students but for their entire family. It’s school’s like TCS and social workers like Michael doing their part to keep kids safe, that will ultimately help us end child abuse in San Francisco. Here’s Michael.
Q: Tell me about the Tenderloin Community School.
A: Tenderloin Community School (TCS) is a unique Pre-K and K-5th grade public elementary school serving a diverse student and family population with community resources that are located right in the school complex. In addition to a strong instructional program, we link students and families to a network of community resources including mental health service providers, an on-site dental clinic, and a variety of family and student supports made possible through our founding partnership with the Bay Area Women and Children’s Center.
Q: How did you get to know the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center?
A: I learned of the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center through other school social workers and through by the Prevention Center’s informational materials, which were circulated throughout our department.
Q: Tell me about the students.
A: It’s difficult to generalize TCS students because our students and families are so diverse. Our students are foremost energetic and curious learners. Many students speak two or more languages at home (and often at school) and are exposed to many languages among their peer groups. We are a predominately low-income school. We are also a trauma-impacted school in terms of our students’ exposure to domestic and community violence, homelessness, ruptured family systems, inadequate healthcare, economic hardship, and social marginalization of various forms. At the same time, our students and families demonstrate amazing resiliency daily in the face of multiple social, political, and economic stressors.
Q: What’s your role?
A: As the full-time school social worker, I support the socioemotional well-being of our students so they can better access the instructional program. In addition to some individual and small group counseling services, I provide behavioral and mental health consultation to families and staff, case management and linkage to other school- and community-based services, classroom and school-wide interventions, and program development related to students’ socioemotional well-being and mental health.
Q: Why is it important to have social workers in schools?
A: Social workers bring a perspective to student learning, mental health, and socioemotional development that other school personnel do not necessarily prioritize whether due to lack of time, training, or professional capacity. While we attend to individual student, family, and classroom needs, we also can play a leadership role in guiding school policy and protocol decisions to promote equity and social justice.
Q: What can a safe, stable + nurturing relationship do for a child who has experienced abuse or other trauma?
A: Such a relationship provides the context in which a child can metabolize their trauma and begin to repair their sense of hope and trust in other people. Children are social beings just like adults, and the quality and texture of their interpersonal relationships determines how they experience the world around them.
Q: How do you think we as a community can prevent child abuse?
A: It is critical that we educate our children and ourselves about the indicators of potential and/or ongoing child abuse, and where and how to seek help if we know a child is being abused. As a community, we should also attend to the many different types of need and stress that affect all family systems and which create environments in which child abuse is more likely to occur.
Q: Why is it important to talk to children about ways to keep themselves safe?
A: Children are vulnerable. Teaching them explicitly ways to avoid or escape harm is a form of empowerment. While it should never be a child’s responsibility to keep themself safe, the reality is that many children do not have an omnipresent adult in their life to take on that responsibility. Sadly, in many abuse cases, the adult whom society traditionally would expect to keep the child safe is in fact the abuser. Talking with children and teaching them ways to keep safe is developmentally appropriate and an unfortunate necessity.
Q: Why did you become a social worker?
A: I enjoy helping people and social work satisfies a personal sense of civic responsibility and call to service. I also followed in the footsteps of friends, family, and other personal role models who worked in the helping professions.
Q: If you could ensure that future generations learned one thing, what would it be?
A: There is no such thing as a “bad kid.” All behaviors communicate something; a misbehaving child is telling the world they have a need, they have learned to meet that need through a patterned response to their behavior, and/or something happened to them (e.g. trauma).
Q: What makes you angry / sad?
A: When people put down a child, caregiver or teacher.
Q: What makes you hopeful / happy?
A: When a child can identify at least one safe, nurturing relationship with an adult in their life.