A new partnership between the Louisiana Department of Education and the University’s School of Social Work aims to fulfill the mental health needs of the Louisiana public school system.
The ratio of social workers to students in Louisiana public schools is 1,277:1, over five times the ratio recommended by the National Association of Social Workers.
The new Louisiana School Social Work Expansion Project allows graduate students to participate in internships at Louisiana public schools under the supervision of public school social workers. The goal is that students gain field experience from the time spent on the job, and Louisiana’s school-based mental health workforce grows with the addition of each intern. The program will assist children in high-need K-12 schools.
Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Brandi Conrad serves as the principal investigator for the project.
“The graduate student interns have the amazing opportunity to work closely with the students in elementary, middle, high school, charter and alternative schools in Louisiana,” Conrad said. “Our students assist school social workers with both the mental health and academic needs of our students.”
Conrad said the program will also have the state create a School Social Work Chapter of Louisiana. The new chapter hopes to bring in more resources and representation for social workers.
“The creation of a new SSW Chapter of Louisiana will bring much needed resources to our school social workers in the state,” Conrad said. “We hope to increase networking, resources, workshop CEUs, consultation and supervision for our school social workers.”
Another action the state will be taking is the creation of a new social work position within the LDOE.
“The social work position within LDOE will ensure proper credentialing of school social workers in the state and advocate for policy issues important to Louisiana social workers providing mental health services in schools,” Conrad said.
The program pays public school social workers to take on LSU graduate students as interns. One supervisor at THRIVE Academy, LSU alumna Chelsea Trice, said funding has exacerbated the shortage of social workers in public schools.
“With the budget, you are basically faced with the decision of ‘Do you hire another teacher or do you hire another SPED educator or do you hire someone who can teach English as a second language or an elective teacher, or do you hire a social worker?’” Trice said. “The classroom sizes are already so large, so in many situations I think it's a very difficult choice for administrators to make.”
During the internship, graduate students will gain hands-on experience in their field. Trice said the interns do everything from group therapy to crisis response.
“We do a lot of group therapy, and they’ll help plan different groups that we lead; social skills groups, intermanagement groups, other social and emotional development groups,” Trice said. “They get experience doing psychosocials, which is how you get history-taking and background information, as well as symptoms a child might be experiencing. We also do a lot of crisis response and crisis management plans.”
The grant will fund the program for the next five years, according to a press release by the Office of Research and Economic Development, and the school plans to continue with the internships this semester through the hybridization of public school classroom settings.