$8M Department of Education Grant to Strengthen Children’s Mental Health Workforce in Georgia

Staff Report

Friday, January 27th, 2023

The Georgia Health Policy Center’s (GHPC) Center of Excellence for Children’s Behavioral Health at Georgia State University has received an $8 million, five-year grant from the Department of Education to lead the Advancing Innovative Partnerships and Pathways to Address Mental Health Workforce Shortages in Georgia Schools initiative.

This expanded pilot internship program will train, place and supervise graduate-level students from three metro Atlanta universities in underserved Clayton County public schools to expand access to school-based mental health services and grow the children’s behavioral health workforce in Georgia.

This partnership among Georgia State University (GHPC and the School of Social Work), the Department of Social Work and Human Services at Kennesaw State University, the Whitney M. Young Jr. School of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University, the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD Office of Children, Young Adults & Families) and Clayton County Public Schools will build on the infrastructure of the existing Georgia Apex Program, a statewide, school-based mental health program that served 13,778 students in 738 schools during the 2021-22 school year.

“Limited access to children’s behavioral health providers is a challenge both in Georgia and nationally,” said principal investigator Ann DiGirolamo, director of behavioral health at GHPC. “This is a tremendous opportunity to better meet the mental health needs of children in Clayton County and to ultimately strengthen the capacity of the mental health workforce in Georgia by providing training and entry pathways for emerging school mental health professionals.”

The pilot will begin in six Clayton County schools, an identified high-need district. In 2023, there will be 15 interns placed (five from each university), which will grow to 24 in year two and 30 student interns annually thereafter. It is estimated that in 2023, 200 Clayton County students will receive mental health services through the pilot, which will increase to 400 in year two and 600 each year after that.

“Over the last decade, the prevalence of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression have increased among school-aged children and adolescents,” said Danté T. McKay, director of DBHDD’s Office of Children, Young Adults & Families, which oversees the Georgia Apex Program. “Access to treatment can be challenging, and without treatment, mental health disorders can hinder the abilities of youth to reach their full potential. By expanding the internship program and the school-based provider pipeline, we hope to increase access to treatment by serving youth where they spend the majority of their time.”

“By funding our students to be trained in under-resourced communities under the full-time supervision of established Apex providers, the grant will increase the number of social workers trained in trauma-informed practice,” said Renanda Wood Dear, director of field education at the Georgia State School of Social Work. “Additionally, it fulfills a significant need and increases the representation of social workers within the communities that they serve.”