A new program at the University of South Carolina will expand mental health services and support to thousands of K-12 students by recruiting and training future school mental health professionals and undergraduate school mental health liaisons to work in schools.
In the Enhancing Capacity in School Mental Health Program, school mental health liaisons will work to close any gaps in services provided by school mental health providers, such as promoting family engagement in children’s schooling and increasing access to school and community resources.
The School Behavioral Health Team in UofSC’s Psychology Department created the new program with the support of a BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation grant. The SBH team aims to increase mental health access in schools, where it does the most good for children, adolescents and families.
Why it matters
Nearly 23 percent of SC youth (ages 3-17) experience one or more mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral problems, and at least 62 percent of public school children are disadvantaged. Increased access to school mental health services and supports will decrease stigma and improve social, emotional, behavioral and academic functioning in students.
“Children and families, now more than ever, are in need of accessible mental health services,” says UofSC research associate and principal investigator Courtnie Collins. “By building a strong, well-trained workforce of school mental health supports and professionals, this grant will create a sustainable pathway for meeting the tiered needs of students across South Carolina.”
Collins, along with Psychology professor and co-investigator Mark Weist, will coordinate with school districts and principals to establish recruitment pathways to place UofSC undergraduate students interested in mental health careers into those schools.
“We know that offering more comprehensive mental health services in schools greatly increases the likelihood young people will receive them, but we have significant workforce needs,” says Weist. “This grant will pursue innovative strategies to address these workforce needs and is likely to become an exemplar in South Carolina and for other states."
The Enhancing Capacity in School Mental Health Program will recruit undergraduate and graduate students across the state to complete a school mental health internship or internship enhancement program. These educational programs will ultimately lead to greater numbers of students seeking degrees and careers in school mental health professions while also meeting the needs of schools.
The South Carolina Department of Education has expressed excitement for this initiative and is offering support in recruiting school districts to participate in the program. “Florence School District 2 is committed to prioritizing the mental health of our students,” Cristy K. Altman, school psychologist for the district, says. “We are continually seeking ways to meet student needs. Additional resources would be greatly appreciated.”
SC school mental health program professionals and school mental health liaisons will serve an estimated 14,300 students and families.
Principals and superintendents who are interested in hosting a student this fall or next spring can reach Courtnie Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Undergraduate students with an interest in pursuing future careers in mental health should contact project coordinator Leah Tolan at email@example.com to learn more about joining the program and visit the School Mental Health Undergraduate Internship page.