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Wurzweiler Students to Help High-Risk Adolescents

$1.4 Million Grant Will Train Students to Work With Vulnerable Youth  

Drug abuse, multiple trauma experiences, underachievement and a 10 percent high school dropout rate are just some of the problems faced by adolescents growing up in high-risk environments, often leading to mental health disorders that need to be addressed. A new grant awarded to the Wurzweiler School of Social Work aims to boost the number of social workers trained to work with these vulnerable adolescents.

Dr. Ronnie Glassman Wurzweiler's Dr. Ronnie Glassman is the principal investigator for a $1.4 million grant that will train students to work with high-risk youth

Wurzweiler recently received a $1.4 million training grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services to fund over 100 social work students in clinical field placements with at-risk youth in New York City over a three-year period.

“The primary purpose of the project is to increase the number of social workers with strong clinical competencies who will work with adolescents and transitional-age youth at risk for developing or who have developed a recognized behavioral health disorder,” said Dr. Ronnie Glassman, Wurzweiler’s director of field instruction and the principal investigator for the grant. “This will be accomplished by the creation of increased social work clinical internships.”

The grant was effective September 2014 and continues through 2017, with over 100 students being admitted to the project within the three-year period.

“Our students will benefit from $10,000 a year in stipends for second-year field placement, and their clients and constituents will benefit from enhanced clinical services,” said Dr. Carmen Hendricks, Dorothy and David Schachne Dean of Wurzweiler. “Wurzweiler is one of three graduate schools of social work in New York receiving this grant, and it will have a far-reaching impact on our field education, the curriculum and Wurzweiler’s mission to change the world.”

In addition to the stipends, Wurzweiler will award further scholarship funding to the student cohorts in their first and second years of field work. The grant is also supporting extra field placements for students by financing additional field instructors who are licensed clinical social workers to provide the supervision they need. This will allow students to help larger numbers of vulnerable adolescents which agencies have been unable to serve due to scarce staffing resources.

“It’s a workforce enhancement grant, meaning that students commit to actually obtain jobs working with that population for two years after they graduate,” Glassman added. “This grant was given to many institutions across the country so that a workforce could be developed to have skills to work with these populations.”

Field placement settings will be in educational environments or community behavioral health programs designed to support these vulnerable populations. Long-term clinical social work approaches will be used in dealing with the often unaddressed multiple traumas that are experienced by urban youth, particularly those who may be immigrants, foster children or living at the poverty level. These traumas can range from unsafe school environments to domestic violence and substance abuse, which are often major contributors to behavioral health issues and lack of school success.

The goal of the social workers is to provide these youth with tools to overcome obstacles to achievement, enhance their involvement in learning and support mental health. Wurzweiler faculty and consultants will provide training to students on specific areas related to the behavioral health needs of the population, through coursework, seminars, programs and guest speakers.

Part of the grant will also focus on research and evaluation to determine how effective the program is, and to identify goals and improvements for its implementation in the future. One key goal is to evaluate the improved wellbeing of the clients who the students will be working with during fieldwork.

“We have created a way to measure client progress, using a software that measures progress over time based on individual goals of the client,” said Dr. Wendy Zeitlin, who is leading the research portion of the grant, together with her colleagues, Dr. Charles Auerbach and Dr. Susan Mason, chair of the doctoral program. “For example, if a child is living in a homeless shelter, we could look at how well they attend school. We can teach our students how to measure individual client outcomes.”

The research team will also determine whether the students chosen to participate in the grant are committed to the population. “We measure commitment to the field by following students after they graduate to see to if they gained a social work license and if they were able to obtain a job in the field,” Zeitlin said.

In addition, the research will help Wurzweiler determine whether they can create their own sustainable program once the grant is over, to keep training students to work with these populations, and if the agencies where the student did field work were satisfied with the work.

The grant will be implemented with the support of several additional Wurzweiler faculty members including Dr. Nancy Beckerman and Dr. Jay Sweifach, who will be involved in training and development in clinical practice and group work; and other staff, who will work on arranging student internships.