Image Credit: Tennessee Department of Education
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Project RAISE plans to put more than three hundred mental health providers in public schools in rural Tennessee over the next five years. Funded by nearly $14 million in federal grants, the initiative is part of President Biden’s “Investing in America” agenda.
Seventy percent of these grants are going to projects in regions that have been defined either as an “Area of Persistent Poverty” or a “Historically Disadvantaged Community.”
The aim of Project RAISE, which stands for Rural Access to Interventions in School Environments, is to increase mental health provider retention in rural districts by fifteen percent by creating internship opportunities in schools. In the next five years, the grant will fund recruitment and retention of three hundred plus mental health providers in forty rural school districts in the state.
In partnership with MTSU, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and ETSU, Project RAISE plans to put up to seventy interns in the areas of school psychology, school counseling, and school social work in rural schools for the 2023-2024 school year.
Stipends for interns are as follows with up to $1,200 for relocation for out of state applicants:
• Up to $40 thousand a year for School Psychology
• Up to $20 thousand a year for School Counselor
• Up to $15 thousand a year for School social work
Interns who participate in the program must agree to stay within the state for at least two years and work in a Tennessee school after their internship is over. If they leave Tennessee public schools before the two years are up, they may find themselves repaying the grant funds that they received.
In a presentation entitled “What is a School Social Worker?”, Dr. April Ebbinger, Director of School Psychology Services for the Tennessee Department of Education and Dr. Susan Elswick, from the University of Memphis School of Social Work write that the state is “experiencing dramatic shortages of school-based mental health providers and is currently ranked 45th in the country for access to mental health care.”
The authors say that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Tennessee youth and that 10.6 percent report attempting suicide in the last 12 months compared to 8.9 percent nationally.
According to the state’s Child Fatality Report from 2019, thirty-two children died by suicide in 2019.
The state’s 2021 Suicide Prevention Report states that suicide death rates were highest among adults aged 25-64 (22.8 per 100,000) in 2019 and lowest in children/youth aged 10-24 (10.0 per 100,000).
In 2018, the Tennessee chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) said that 42.8 percent of school districts had no school social workers.
Trained mental health professionals with a degree in social work, School Social Workers provide services related to a child’s social, emotional and “life adjustment” to school and/or society.
Ebbinger and Elswick write, “ALL school social workers address barriers to learning honoring an individual’s dignity and worth… this means through relational work school social workers are trained to meet mental health, social, emotional, behavioral, and physical needs to contribute to academic achievement,” and “ALL school social workers utilize trauma sensitive healing centered approaches and have specific training about cultural awareness… this means school social workers are trained to support and apply culturally responsive school practices.”
As part of their duties, School Social Workers may pull students from class to discuss concerns and might even visit students at home. Depending on their level of education level and licensure, they may even provide “direct services” including assessment, intervention, and diagnosis.
In a “Did you Know?” section of the presentation by Ebbinger and Elswick, “School Social Work services can be covered by state and federal education dollars in addition to grants,” and, “School social workers providing clinical services can generate revenue by billing Medicaid for mental health services provided.”
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.