Abigail Ross, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work, along with several members of the Graduate School of Social Service faculty and staff, were awarded nearly $1.9 million in federal funding in June from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as part of a project called PIPELINE for Youth Health (Prioritizing Integrated Care, Prevention and Equity: Leading Interprofessional NYC-Based Efforts to for Youth Health).  The project aims to train social workers from diverse backgrounds to work with young people facing health and mental health issues. A full 60% of the funds will go toward supporting students in Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Work.

Pandemic Exacerbated Health Challenges in Communities of Color

“While we are not yet on the other side of COVID-19, we know that this pandemic—which is likely the largest public health crisis we will see in our lifetimes—has been nothing short of a collective trauma,” said Ross, who spearheaded the grant effort and is the principal investigator. “It has disproportionately affected communities of color and has placed New York City’s youngest residents at risk of a host of adverse health and behavioral health outcomes. To mitigate these challenges, there is a dire need for a well-prepared behavioral health social work workforce equipped with skills in prevention, interprofessional practice, and health equity that mirrors the population most affected.”

Addressing Need for Social Workers from Diverse Backgrounds

The project, which is part of HRSA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program for Professionals, sets out to address workforce shortages in social work and lack of diversity in the profession while equipping workers with skills designed to address the potential impact of adverse childhood experiences, said Debra McPhee, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Social Work.

“The overarching goal of PIPELINE for Youth Health is to create a sustainable pipeline of racially and ethnically diverse behavioral health practitioners equipped with the skills needed to work effectively with youth,” said McPhee.

Each year, a total of 27 student fellows—26 MSW students and one doctoral candidate—will be supported with stipends to offset the cost of tuition while they participate in a specialized training program that prioritizes prevention, integrated care, and health equity for underserved young people. The project has been funded for five years; 75% of the student fellowship slots are reserved for students of color.

The PIPELINE for Youth Health team is led by Ross and includes Binta Alleyne-Green, Ph.D., associate professor, Larry Farmer, Ph.D., associate professor, Janna Heyman, Ph.D., professor and Henry C. Ravazzin Chair; Christie Hunnicut, director of field education; Liz Matthews, Ph.D., assistant professor; Yvette Sealy, Ph.D., associate professor; Linda White-Ryan, Ph.D., associate dean of students; and Anne Williams-Isom, D.Min., professor and Dumpson Chair in Child Welfare.

Ross said the new training program will prioritize prevention, integrated care and interprofessional practice, and health equity in the youth behavioral health workforce. The program begins this fall, when students will participate in required coursework; a PIPELINE Integrative Seminar; and a special speaker series featuring innovations in prevention-oriented practice with children, youth, and their families.

“We were already facing a major shortage of youth behavioral health practitioners here in New York City even before COVID-19 emerged. The need is now greater than ever,” said Ross. “I am very excited to work with the PIPELINE for Youth Health team to develop and implement a specialized behavioral health training program that will greatly enhance the social work workforce dedicated to serving the children, youth, and families of New York City.”