School social worker (SSW), multidisciplinary team, counselling, professional self-understanding, formal regulations


The overall aim of this article is to describe and analyse critical components that influence the role and performance of school social workers in the Swedish elementary school. Special attention will be paid to aspects related to formal regulations, professional self-understanding, and SSWs’ role in the interplay between professional domains involved in elementary school.

The data collection was conducted through four semi-structured qualitative focus group interviews with a total of 22 School Social Workers (SSWs) in four different regions in Sweden during the latter part of 2019.

The results reveal three main challenges for the SSW: 1. To navigate in a pedagogic and medical arena within a multidisciplinary team, 2. To manage ambiguity without formal regulations and in unclear settings and leadership, and finally, 3. To negotiate tasks at different levels, with a health promotional and preventive focus. The SSW ends up, mainly, in remedial work with individual children. The results also disclose SSWs hold a vague professional self-understanding position with little formal mandate to perform their work. We suggest that national guidelines for SSWs be developed, and that a common base of knowledge and education be established.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Author Biography

Biographical notes

Maria Kjellgren is an authorized social worker (MSc social work), a Licensed psychotherapist, a Licensed Health care Social Worker, Supervisor and teacher of psychotherapy and a PhD student in social work at the Umeå university. Her thesis research is about school social worker´s individual counseling practice with children in the Swedish elementary school.

Sara Lilliehorn is a PhD in Social Work and a a Licensed Health care Social Worker in oncology care. Her research concerns peoples lived experiences of cancer, and how such experiences can be fruitfully understood in order to improve clinical care and rehabilitation. Another research field of hers is social work professionalism. Her research perspective is foremost qualitative and relates theoretically to psychology, sociology, and gender theory.

Urban Markström, PhD, professor at Department of social work, Umeå university. Markström is affiliated to Helsinki university as a guest professor at the Swedish School of Social Science. Further, he is deputy leader of Centre for Evidence-based Psychosocial Interventions (CEPI), which is a Swedish national research centre for community mental health research. Markströms research is mainly oriented towards different aspects of psychiatric disabilities, and the welfare sectors efforts to support people with mental ill-health. He is especially interested in issues of community support and public and service user involvement.