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Grant to help produce more behavioral health specialists for western Kansas

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare has been awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant to recruit and fund students for master's-level education focused on behavioral health practice with adolescents and transitional-age youth. The program will be open to students in the western Kansas program as well as those on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses. 

The grant, from the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will fund the final year of master’s work for up to 85 students over the life of the program. Known as the Kansas Behavioral Health Scholars Program, the initiative will support experiential training, enhanced interprofessional preparation, the development of field placements in integrated care, and the exchange of knowledge about workforce development in behavioral health with children, adolescents and transitional-age youth. The funding was available as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“Many of our students struggle with getting loans or taking an extra job to be able to pay for school. These funds will help address those concerns for a good number of students,” said Michelle Levy, research associate in the School of Social Welfare. “With our special focus on the Western part of the state, the program will also help to increase the number of social workers in a part of the state that has been traditionally challenged by workforce shortages.”

The program will emphasize the preparation of clinical students to work interprofessionally with transition-age youth, a term that refers to young people age 16 to 25, a traditionally underserved population. The School of Social Welfare will collaborate with the KU Medical Center’s Center for Interprofessional Education and Simulation to offer training with other health professionals involved in the provision of patient-centered, integrated care.

“Taking an interdisciplinary approach will allow us to add more specialized knowledge to these students’ skill set,” said Alice Lieberman, professor of social welfare. “Sometimes transition age youth can get lost in the system because of shortages in behavioral health care.”

Previous research has shown there are only about 115 professionals with a master’s of social welfare working in the western half of Kansas, or roughly one for every 349 square miles. Partnering with agencies in western Kansas to prepare more professionals will benefit children, families, schools, communities and the state, Levy said.

The Kansas Behavioral Health Scholars Program is the latest in KU’s ongoing efforts to service western Kansas. In 2013, the School of Social Welfare began offering its standing master of social work program through a partnership with Fort Hays State University and Garden City Community College. The program allows social workers in western Kansas to further their education and stay close to home.

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