History of SSWAN

The time is always right to do what is right. - Martin Luther King, Jr.                           

School Social Work Article for NASW-NE Prairie Wind

Written By Mary Bahney

Reprinted with permission February 2007

It all began at the Happy Chef at the Greenwood exit of I-80 in the spring of 1991. . . 

School social workers from the Lincoln Public Schools, Millard Public Schools, Papillion-LaVista Public Schools, and Area Education Agency #13 in Council Bluffs met to discuss the possibility of forming an organization that would address the specific needs of those in the field of school social work. From these humble beginnings, the organization now known as the School Social Work Association of Nebraska (SSWAN) was formed. Although social workers have been working in school settings for over 100 years, the public and private schools in Nebraska have only begun to use social workers as part of the educational team in the past two decades. 

At that time, the group of “pioneer” school social work women came together to network, share ideas, explore how the field of school social work could be encouraged in Nebraska, and to raise the profile of school social workers. The group soon evolved into the School Social Work Focus Group of the NE Chapter of NASW. During this time the Focus Group received guidance and support – both financial and moral -- from NASW. This relationship allowed the fledgling group of school social workers to have a stabilizing link with a larger supportive group of professionals. In the next few years, the School Social Work Focus Group began exploring the possibility of becoming more independent by establishing itself as a separate organization. The group needed to develop by-laws, establish tax-exempt status, determine membership and dues regulations, and establish a relationship with the Midwest School Social Work Council. With the continued input from several of those original Happy Chef school social workers and with the added involvement of other school social workers who had been hired by school districts in the ensuing years, these tasks were completed and SSWAN was born during the fall of 2005.

In addition to establishing a new organization, this group of school social workers has accomplished many things including: offering annual all day conferences on topics related to the field of school social work; establishing a scholarship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) School of Social Work; sending member representatives to the Midwest School Social Work Council Conference and Council meetings; presenting on the topic of school social work at various professional conferences and meetings; and advocating for the hiring of school social workers in Nebraska school districts. Throughout the years, most of the school social workers have been located in the Lincoln and Omaha metropolitan areas. Lincoln Public Schools employ the greatest number of school social workers in the state. However, members of SSWAN were pleased to learn that school social workers have been hired by the Grand Island Public Schools. Additionally, it is very exciting that during this school year, practicum students from the UNO School of Social Work have placements in several schools in the Omaha Public School District. Encouraging the hiring of school social workers by the largest school district in the state has been a long time goal of Nebraska’s school social workers. The members of SSWAN have reached out to both groups to provide support and expertise to those working in brand new school social work positions. From these modest beginnings, which could be considered as somewhat ugly, a true SSWAN has come to life. The members of SSWAN are very grateful to the members of the NE Chapter of NASW for all the support and encouragement that has helped to make this transformation possible.