Case 1: Willow’s Transition

Willow is a 13-year-old White 8th grader. Born male, Willow began presenting as a female during the summer before she started middle school (after 6th grade). Willow’s parents—Rob and Laura—have come to you, the school social worker, to seek assistance with resources to navigate the public school system on Willow’s behalf. They are also looking for help securing health care services and emotional support for Willow, particularly in advance of her move to high school next year. You meet with Rob, Laura, and Willow in your office to begin the assessment process. As part of your preparation, you also talk with Willow’s homeroom, honors English, and algebra teachers. They report that Willow is bright and performing well in school. For the most part, they perceive that Willow is well-liked. However, her algebra teacher reports an incident when a peer wrote Willow’s name at birth on her binder, which was upsetting to Willow and her friends. Additionally, Willow’s homeroom teacher confides that the P.E. teacher has been difficult to work with in this case; specifically, he has insisted that Willow change for P.E. in the separate, faculty locker room, which she finds marginalizing. Your research reveals that the school district has no official policy on transgender students’ access to bathrooms and other facilities. Willow’s homeroom teacher has requested continuing education to equip her to best facilitate Willow’s social and emotional development, but, so far, she has had to seek out these resources on her own, including online forums for teachers with transgender students. Before Willow and her parents come to your office, you are visited by Willow’s close friend, Maya. Maya has been having some problems at home – her dad recently lost his job, and the family has been under some financial strain – but she says that this time, she is here to see you about Willow. Maya says that Willow is not holding up as well this year as she had last. Specifically, she says that Willow cried most of the night at a recent sleepover, saying that she “feels like a freak”. Maya is concerned that Willow is not asking for help from her parents or teachers, and she does not know how to be the friend that Willow needs.

As you talk with Willow and her parents, they identify the following concerns and goals. You leave the meeting wondering exactly where to start. Specifically, you want to figure out how you can intervene on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels to best support Willow and all students.

Willow’s concerns:

Laura and Rob’s concerns:

Willow’s goals:

Laura and Rob’s goals:

Questions for you to consider:

  1. What theories of human development could inform your work with Willow and her family?
  2. What would be your first steps in building rapport with Willow? With Laura? With Rob? Who else do you need to build relationships with in order to work effectively with this family?
  3. What additional information do you need to gather as you start to work with Willow and her family? How would you go about learning what you need?
  4. How will your work with Willow be shaped by your practice setting—the school? Who might you need to involve, in terms of social work colleagues in other fields, to most successfully meet the needs of Willow and her family?
  5. What ethical dilemmas might you encounter while working with Willow and her parents? How do you understand these potential conflicts? What should guide your decision making?
  6. How would you evaluate your practice with Willow and her family? How would you measure ‘success’?
  7. Thinking beyond your work directly with Willow and her family, what interventions at the mezzo (school) level would facilitate progress toward Willow’s goals? How would you assess the need for change here? How would you plan and execute your mezzo-level interventions?
  8. What about at the macro level? What changes at the state and federal level -- particularly related to policy -- would help students like Willow? What can you learn about efforts to pursue these changes, and how might you get involved in this work?