Program Will Provide Critical Aid to the Maryland Health Department’s Effort to Address Disparities and Better Serve the Behavioral Health Needs of Underserved Communities
The primary goal of the project is to support pediatric primary care providers, strengthening their capacity to meet the behavioral health needs of young people in their care. To accomplish this goal, Morgan State and its M.S.W. program participants will engage in training, telephonic and telepsychiatry consultation, information gathering and dissemination, referral for specialized services available statewide and additional activities designed to support primary care providers.Morgan State University School of Social Work (SSW) has been awarded a $960,641 subcontract from the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) of the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) to provide frontline support in assessing and treating mental health needs of Baltimore City families and youth.
Teaming with the Behavioral Health Integration Program for Pediatric Primary Care Program (BHIPP), faculty and students from Morgan’s Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) program will conduct critical field work focusing exclusively on underserved minority communities, many of which have experienced long-term trauma and great disparities in mental health treatment. The effort will establish a collaborative learning community to support behavioral integration and foster interprofessional learning opportunities for next-generation social work clinicians.
“For our future clinicians who aspire to affect the communities they serve in bold, meaningful ways, programs like these offer invaluable field experience that will inevitably help bridge gaps and enhance service within our most underserved populations,” said Anna McPhatter, Ph.D., LCSW, dean of the School of Social Work at Morgan State. “As an anchor institution in Baltimore, we are proud to carry the mantle by addressing critical issues in behavioral health and creating new pathways for rehabilitation.”
The Morgan State BHA/MDH subcontract in coordination with BHIPP places a significant emphasis on urban areas and populations suffering from shortages of child psychiatry practitioners and other health-related disparities. Working collaboratively with primary care providers, Morgan M.S.W. program participants will be instrumental in early intervention, reducing long-held stigmas associated with mental illness and increasing the population’s general knowledge of mental health services.
“To utilize the expanding knowledge base of the social work profession and address the growing complexity of the population it serves, it is important that all social workers be equipped with practical field work related to their academic pursuits,” said Laurens G. Van Sluytman, Ph.D., LCSW, associate professor and assistant dean of SSW and co-principal investigator for the program.
SSW will identify and supervise students to serve as social work interns, Dr. Van Sluytman said. The interns will conduct field placements within primary care settings and establish working relationships with pediatric offices to coordinate mental health screenings and psychiatric consultations and better understand the overall goal of integrated care. Dr. Van Sluytman anticipates that, through this advance practicum, Morgan students will gain deeper insights into the implementation process, identify strengths and weaknesses within the program design and improve upon the program in future scale-up efforts.
The expanded minority health component secured by the Social Work program at Morgan through this subcontract is part of an ongoing statewide interagency initiative that has enlisted the support of advanced-year M.S.W. students from Maryland higher education institutions. The project was initially forged as a partnership with the University of Maryland School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was broadened to include Salisbury University, which placed interns in rural pediatric primary care practices in Western Maryland and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Morgan State’s involvement and its emphasis on urban/minority health further broadens the scope of the project.
Single Father Adopts Five Siblings from Foster Care System
Back in October of 2020, single father Robert Carter adopted a set of five siblings so that they would never again be separated by the foster care system. Robert became inspired to foster after being split up from many of his own brothers and sisters when he entered the system at the age of 12. Following his emancipation, Robert became legally responsible for two of his siblings, which inspired him to continue to expand his family. He became a foster father to three of the five siblings and quickly realized that it was his purpose to adopt all five children.
A Systemic Issue
There are currently over 400,000 children in the foster care system, two-thirds of whom have a sibling in the system as well. Many of these children are separated from their siblings for reasons including a lack of families able to foster sibling groups, diverse needs of children and lack of resources for finding placements. Other siblings may be more likely to be separated by social workers due to myths that sibling sets will not integrate as well into a new family dynamic or that it is in the best interests of a parentified older child to be removed from their siblings.
Sibling separations, like Carter and his children experienced, often compounds the trauma that children in the system endure. In a foster care system where 63% of children are removed from their homes due to parental neglect, sibling relationships help to provide much needed stability and emotional support. These sustained relationships allow sibling sets to have greater success in school, better relationships with foster parents, more successful permanency outcomes, and better mental health. Yet, until the last couple of decades, the advantages of keeping siblings together were largely ignored from a policy perspective.
In 2008 this changed when keeping siblings together became national priority when the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act was passed. This Act “requires a state plan to provide for reasonable efforts for joint placement of siblings in the same foster care, kinship guardianship, or adoptive placement unless it would be contrary to the safety or wellbeing of any of them.” This act also requires that children who are unable to be placed with their siblings be allowed frequent visits with their other siblings.
While sibling placement is defined as a priority on the federal level, states may interpret the implementation of a plan differently. As of 2018, only 37 states have statutes requiring these reasonable efforts to keep siblings together during the placement process. States may often vary in their definition of “sibling” as well. While children often define their siblings as those who grew up with them, including step-siblings, often state laws only define sibling relationships in terms of blood relations.
Certain states, such as Oregon, have a Sibling Bill of Rights to help protect children in the foster care system. Some of these rights include being able “to live in the same home as (their) sibling if possible” and “to live with foster parents who are trained on the importance of sibling relationships.” Bills like these offer children autonomy and protection when entering the system so that they can advocate for themselves.
As laws continue to evolve to protect children in foster care like Robert and his kids, Robert hopes that foster and adoptive parents will step up to help keep families together. Here’s what he said in an interview with Aol.com:
“A lot of people think you have to be married to adopt or be a foster parent. I want people to know: No matter the situation, as long as you have the means to take care of a child [you can] become a foster parent,” he explains. “We have so many kids still in custody, there are 400 kids in Ohio waiting on forever homes. And I am happy that I was able to help encourage and inspire other people to step up.”
Currently, over 100,000 children are to be adopted, many of which risk being separated from their siblings. You can help to keep these children together by becoming a foster parent for a sibling set and learning more about the adoption process.
If you are unable to adopt or foster right now, research your state’s sibling protection measures and help advocate for policies that support sibling reunification.
Protecting Children from Harm in the Context of Distance Learning
The nation saw an uptick in domestic violence calls in the midst of the pandemic and the shutdown. The convergence of social isolation, economic pressure, and psychological stress created favorable conditions for abuse to occur. Adults are not the only victims of abuse in the home. Children, too, are vulnerable. History shows that violence against children and child exploitation intensify under conditions of isolation and economic pressure. While the pandemic may be temporary, child abuse often has long-term consequences.
School systems play a vital role in intervening in the lives of vulnerable children. In fact, schools make 21% of the reports to child protective services according to The Washington Post. When COVID-19 forced the schools to close, states saw a drastic drop in the number of children being referred to CPS. Unfortunately, this reduction did not mean that the incidence of abuse decreased. Indeed, as reports to CPS dropped, ER doctors saw a rise in more severe cases of abuse. Child abuse not only persisted, but it went unchecked during the shutdown. Without school personnel, community workers, medical and dental personnel, and other mandated reporters, there was no watchdog to report the abuse until children sustained injuries severe enough to warrant medical attention.
Clearly, schools serve a vital function in protecting children from harm. Now more than ever, they need to be alert and responsive to abuse as children return to school virtually. Distance learning presents unique opportunities and challenges that should be addressed proactively. Social workers can and should play a leadership role in adapting child welfare protocols for distance learning and retraining school personnel to identify and report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. This article outlines a proposed curriculum for child abuse and neglect reporting in the context of distance learning.
School personnel should be well-equipped to spot signs of child abuse and neglect in the context of distance learning. Asynchronous instruction affords teachers a glimpse into students’ homes. In addition to any disclosures of abuse, teachers should be especially attentive to:
- Verbal threats of harm, hidden, unexplained, suspicious, and/or repeated injuries
- Suicidal ideation in students
- Sexually inappropriate behaviors or images
- Weariness when an adult is present or approaches the student
- Excessive dirtiness or lack of proper hygiene in the home or the student
- Illegal substances or evidence of impairment in the caregiver
- Evidence of malnourishment in the student
School staff should also note that it is illegal under most state laws for children to be home alone unless they have demonstrated sufficient maturity, and there are safety structures in place. Young children should not be home alone. Furthermore, children with a record of behavior or emotional problems (e.g. frequent suspensions) should not be in the home unattended. Children who are able to be home alone should be able to access safe adults in case of an emergency, and there should not be hazardous conditions or items present. Children who can take care of themselves may not be mature enough or capable of taking care of younger children. School staff members play a critical role in monitoring these conditions. Clear steps should be outlined for reporting any safety concerns or suspicions in a timely and accurate manner to school personnel (e.g. principal, guidance counselor) and child protective services.
Because teachers will be exposed to the live conditions of the home, they have to be prepared to respond to crisis situations. Crisis management in the context of distance learning is different from that in more traditional settings because the staff person is physically distant from the student, and there may not be another adult present with the child for reinforcement. As a result, they are at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to intervene.
Still, there are measures staff can take to manage the crisis from afar. In the event of an imminent threat to the safety of a student, staff can adapt telehealth protocols such as:
(1) call local 911/EMS while maintaining contact with the student
(2) identify bystanders who may be able to assist by providing information, monitoring the student, and/or intervening, as appropriate
(3) obtain the student’s physical location, an alternate contact in case of a disconnection or other technical issue, and contact information for the student’s caregiver
(4) while maintaining contact with the student, contact the caregiver to advise him/her of the situation
School personnel has an important responsibility in monitoring student attendance. Countless children can be lost to human trafficking and exploitation if schools falter in this duty. As such, the onus is on the schools to locate children who do not report for school. Students should be expected, at a minimum, to check in occasionally so that school personnel can check on their well-being.
Finally, school administrators should be cognizant of the increased risk of exploitation by school staff when supervision and monitoring are lacking. Clear codes of conduct should be put in place or adapted to guide online interactions between students and school staff. Outside meetups should be prohibited unless they occur at school during school hours with proper supervision. Administrators should ‘‘float’’ from class to class to monitor interactions and conduct in the virtual classrooms. Caregivers should also be encouraged to monitor online learning. An adult should be present at all times during synchronous sessions to supervise and provide support.
Schools play a critical role in protecting our most vulnerable population. Critical attention should be given to adapting child welfare protocols for distance learning so that school personnel can make the necessary efforts to be effective in this capacity under these unprecedented conditions. Social workers should proactively address this issue and retrain school staff in child welfare protocols.
Social Work School Launches New Domestic and Sexual Violence Training for Massachusetts Licensed Health Professionals
Online training helps health professional meet state law Chapter 260 requirements and prepare them for work with survivors and others impacted by domestic and sexual violence
Simmons University’s School of Social Work recently announced a new comprehensive online domestic violence and sexual violence (DV/SV) training to educate Massachusetts-based health professionals and prepare them for work with survivors, children exposed to violence, and people who engage in violence.
The training, Simmons University Massachusetts Chapter 260 Training on Domestic and Sexual Violence, is designed to meet state law requirements, which mandates that health professionals participate in domestic and sexual violence training in order to be licensed by their respective boards. The training was developed to fulfill the Chapter 260 mandate and has been approved by Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health (DPH).
“Domestic and sexual violence is a pervasive problem that virtually every health professional will encounter at some point in their career,” said Dr. Kristie Thomas, Associate Professor of social work at Simmons University, and the training’s lead designer. “This new training is a crucial resource that provides essential knowledge and tools to social workers, nurses, physicians and other health professionals so they can enhance care and better serve their patients impacted by sexual and domestic violence.”
The online training, which takes about three and a half hours, is informed by the latest empirical evidence and best practices, and is designed to be easily accessible so health professionals can apply it in their work.
“The training requirements of Chapter 260 will help ensure that every health professional working with someone impacted by sexual and domestic violence is informed about these difficult issues and can provide the best possible care,” said Judy Benitez Clancy, director of the Division of Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention and Services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “Simmons University has provided high-quality online domestic violence training for several years. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health was excited to approve this new training, which includes extensive information about both sexual violence and domestic violence.”
The training is organized into four units and covers a variety of topics, including the health impacts of domestic and sexual violence, common physiological symptoms, the immediate and long-term impacts on survivors, the role of structural oppression in increasing risk and decreasing help-seeking, prevention strategies, reporting requirements, and a range of resources for people who are affected by domestic and sexual violence.
“Simmons University is a leader in educating students in social work and public health, and we’re pleased to offer this new training that is easily accessible online,” said Dr. Stephanie Berzin, Dean of Simmons University’s College of Social Sciences, Policy, and Practice. “This training provides crucial knowledge and tools that thousands of health professionals across Massachusetts can utilize and apply in a tangible way to their practices.”
Massachusetts’ Chapter 260 law requires that the following groups of MA health professionals participate in the DV/SV training: physicians, licensed mental health counselors, social workers (LICSW, LCSW), psychologists (APA), licensed educational psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, physician assistants, nursing home administrators, nurses, and licensed rehabilitation counselors.
“People who experience sexual and domestic violence interact with a wide host of health and human service providers who can be a big part of their healing process,” said Debra J. Robbin, Executive Director, Jane Doe Inc. “This online training can make a tremendous difference in the readiness and ability of these caregivers to identify, support, and refer people who are impacted by abuse to sexual and domestic violence programs. We also appreciate the inclusive, survivor centered, and trauma informed content and philosophy that runs throughout the training.”
The training will be accessible online through Simmons University and DPH at: https://sites.google.com/a/simmons.edu/chapter-260-dv-sv-training/home
Home to the oldest school of clinical social work in the country, Simmons has more than a century of experience educating social workers who are equipped to serve urban, suburban, and rural communities. Simmons also offers the only MSW program in Massachusetts with a required course in substance use disorders for all first-year students. In addition, the Simmons MSW is the only program in New England to use hired actors as part of its innovative Simmons Clinical Simulation curriculum.
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