In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Basic Job Description
School-based family service centers are relatively new phenomena in the public schools. Many family service centers operate in conjunction with the school counseling office. School counselors may help staff the family service centers, though much of the counseling services will be provided by external counselors working in the afternoons and evenings. School-based family centers are often located in urban or suburban areas.
Issues to Understand
Family service centers often serve underperforming students and their families. One of the family service centers, where my students interned, worked from the philosophy that counseling, whether individual, couple, or family counseling, is to assist the student in academic achievement.
Many students presenting for counseling will come from impoverished, single-parent families. Such students will often have a number of challenges such as academic underperformance, legal difficulties, school suspensions, drug and alcohol issues, and teen parenting. Essentially, a counselor will need to be prepared to address a wide array of personal, social, educational, vocational, legal, and familial issues. It is worth admitting that all counselors in all settings will address these issues, but counselors in family service centers will need to be facile in academic counseling (placement testing, planning for life after high school, etc.) and the broad spectrum of mental health issues.
Counselors in family service centers will need to develop a strong relationship with the school counseling office, school social workers, school psychologist, nurse, teachers, and the principal. Administrators and teachers will likely expect the counselors to reduce acting-out behavior over all other issues. This may cause some friction between counselors and other school personnel, given that the issues with many of the students are so ingrained and that students referred to family service centers often have a number of personal issues. Counselors will also need to address alcohol and drug use, violence, gang activity, risky sexual behavior, and many more issues.
Family service centers also provide family counseling given that the family unit may well be one of the difficulties the student is facing. I have placed a number of graduate counseling students in family service centers, where virtually all clients came from single-parent families, where the father was uninvolved and the mother and children lived at the poverty level. Often, requests for family therapy went unanswered, though many mothers and some fathers did participate in family therapy.
Best Aspects of the Job
Counselors who enjoy the challenge of addressing a number of personal, developmental, family, educational, and social issues will like this setting. Counselors in the family center will provide individual, group, and family counseling. In many family centers, cotherapy is the model practiced. Therefore, two counselors might provide family therapy or run a group. In addition, there may be graduate interns and additional counselors watching from behind a two-way mirror, who will occasionally call in and provide suggestions. This team-oriented approach is very common in many family service centers.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
Readers of this book have likely figured out that there is no such thing as “easy” counseling work. Family service centers certainly do offer a challenge on a number of levels that have been noted above. The students and families will most often come from the lower middle class and below. Students will be struggling with multiple issues, including legal charges. Even the school that hosts the family service center may not always understand or be supportive of the work the counselors are providing. Providing a safe environment for gay and lesbian students, birth control information, and so forth are always “hot” topics in many schools.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
Once again, hard figures are difficult to report due to the lack of tracking by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the fact that family service centers are still few in number. Currently, jobs at such centers are also few in number, though family service centers may become more popular over time. Such centers are more likely to be located in less-affluent school districts, or run by public alternative schools. Salaries are likely to be more in line with that of mental health counselors (median salary $36,810) as opposed to school counselors (median salary $57,000).