It was a special year for UNO in 2014 with countless events, achievements, special guest visits and national recognitions for students, faculty, staff and alumni.
The Grace Abbott School of Social Work is dedicated to help solve the problems many Nebraskans face, especially those who lack traditional access to much-needed behavioral health professionals. Thanks to a large federal grant, UNO students and faculty are able to do just that.
$1.3 Million Grant to Benefit Rural Nebraska
Thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s (UNO) Grace Abbott School of Social Work will be able to provide social services in rural Nebraska for at-risk young people with behavioral health concerns.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nebraska employs nearly 1,900 social workers with a focus on child, family or school issues and only 420 health and substance abuse social workers, but a large percentage of those are located in Nebraska’s largest metropolitan areas.
“The result is a critical shortage of behavioral health workers in all areas of the state, but it is especially concerning in rural regions of the state related to working with at-risk children, adolescents and transition-age youth who have multiple behavioral problems,” says Peter Szto, associate professor and social work graduate program chair says. “These rural areas are high in need but there is a distinct gap in the delivery of services.”
The grant, which is one of the largest ever received for the school, will be used to create a program called Project NETWORK: Nebraska’s Education Targeting Workforce Organization, Resources and Knowledge. The program will help provide $10,000 stipends for Master of Social Work graduate students to practice mental health interventions with at-risk young people throughout Nebraska with special emphasis on rural areas.
“In some cases, there may be services available, but youths and families would have to travel 100 miles to get to them,” Szto says. “Because of the distance, many won’t bother. We hope to take distance out of the equation.”
The grant will provide stipends to 25 students the first year and to 30 students in each of the two years that follow.
The stipends will encourage UNO social work graduate students to conduct their practicums in placements that will allow for an increase in service delivery options for young people with substance abuse, developmental disabilities and mental health issues, which aligns with the university’s overall community engagement efforts.
“Our goal is to train and graduate 85 Master of Social Work students over three years to work with this underserved populations,” explains Amanda Duffy Randall, director of the Grace Abbott School of Social Work. “It represents a significant increase in potential mental health providers compared to what we have today.”
The project is of special importance to the UNO Grace Abbott School of Social Work given the program’s namesake was born and raised in Grand Island, before going on to be a key figure in the abolishment of U.S. child labor laws and establishment of social security.
Today, Abbott’s legacy is continued through this project in addressing the needs of underserved populations. Szto says the project addresses several specific challenges rural areas of Nebraska currently face:
- A lack of access to evidence-based interventions to treat multi-morbid conditions
- A continuum-of-care based on primary care resources and integrated health services
- The existence of a career-oriented system for recruiting and retaining masters-level social workers.
“A key outcome of this project is to create and disseminate a training-to-career model that will sustain a behavioral health workforce for Nebraska’s most vulnerable children,” Szto says.
Collaborators on the project include OMNI Behavioral Health and the Coalition for Research to Practice.
“We are very pleased this grant has been awarded for our master’s program,” Randall says. “It provides enhanced training opportunities to prepare students for the needs of the workforce to serve the citizens of Nebraska.”