UMSL, MU awarded $1.8M to train social workers for vulnerable, underserved areas

The federal money will fund a total of 120 master’s social work students from both schools, providing them training in integrated behavioral health agencies in vulnerable and underserved areas across the state. (Photos by August Jennewein)

The Health Resources and Services Administration has awarded a $1.8 million grant to the Schools of Social Work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the University of Missouri–Columbia to train behavioral health experts for vulnerable and underserved populations.

The money from HRSA, an operating division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be spread over the course of four years and be used to fund a total of 120 master’s students from both campuses in the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training for Professionals program.

UMSL School of Social Work Dean Sharon Johnson is the principal investigator for the grant.

The BHWET program offers students professional clinical experience through community partnerships with integrated behavioral health agencies, where they can learn best-practices for helping vulnerable populations and their families.

The HRSA grant will also help implement a career-services component to the program, connecting students post-training with behavioral health employment opportunities in crucial areas.

“This is important work happening in important places,” said Sharon Johnson, dean of UMSL’s School of Social Work and lead principal investigator on the grant. “Being able to build an educated and experienced workforce to deliver needed behavioral health services to vulnerable individuals and their families is beyond beneficial – it’s necessary.”

The UMSL and MU collaboration also provides an excellent opportunity geographically, expanding the reach of the program across urban and rural populations statewide.

“We want to help as many vulnerable and underserved communities in Missouri as possible,” said Kelli Canada, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of social work at MU. “People across the state will benefit from a workforce with specialized training in integrated behavioral health care thanks to this HRSA grant.”

The BHWET program builds upon existing MSW curricula and work already happening at UMSL and MU. Presently, both schools train MSW students in integrated health-care settings focused on children, youth and transition-age adults.

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