Social worker

Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health was awarded $3 million in state grant funding to increase its number of social work graduates as part of California’s effort to expand the number of professional social workers providing services in underserved regions.

The five-year grant — from the Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) — will provide tuition and fees for 25 new Master of Social Work students who meet eligibility criteria of being economically disadvantaged, from under-represented populations, and residing in underserved communities.

Funding will also support the addition of faculty and staff positions, marketing and recruitment, supervision and mentoring, and the development and retention of quality internship sites in underserved areas.

“This grant is an indication that the state of California values Loma Linda University as an important institution within this region, and that the links we have between the university, community, and our healthcare put us in a good position to support this expansion initiative,” said Beverly J. Buckles, DSW, dean of the School of Behavioral Health.

The grant is part of the Social Work Education Capacity Expansion program, which is issuing nearly $60 million in awards to support social work education at 23 schools.

“Supporting and protecting our youth’s behavioral health is a top priority for Governor Newsom’s Administration,” HCAI Director Elizabeth Landsberg said in a release earlier this month. “Thanks to this new grant program, we are able to help grow this vitally important sector in the health workforce and get children, youth, and adults the care they need, when they need it.” 

School leaders say the grant’s support for internships is particularly valuable, as many practicum sites have shut down or been slow to reopen following the pandemic. They also believe the grant’s support of online education will be a tipping point for numerous students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to drive more than 100 miles to attend classes.

“It can be hard to get graduates to work in remote, underserved areas, but if we can recruit individuals from those communities who are already embedded there and have strong connections, it will be a powerful way to increase capacity in some of those regions,” said Kimberly Freeman, PhD, MSW, MSW Program Director and associate executive chair of the school’s Department of Social Work and Social Ecology.

The field of care for mental health has experienced sharp growth in recent years. School leaders say enrollment is now at more than 450, up from less than 360 five years ago, which is in line with the growth of behavioral health degree programs at other institutions.