News Release

Binghamton University receives $9.3 million in federal funding to train school-based mental health professionals

Grant and Award Announcement

Binghamton University

Master of Social Work students

image: Master of Social Work students from Binghamton University intern at Johnson City High School in Johnson City, N.Y. view more 

Credit: Binghamton University, State University of New York

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Economically disadvantaged students face food scarcity, unreliable access to services and other stressors, which can have a huge impact on their mental health. In Broome and Tioga counties, more than 50% of children live in families characterized as low income. New federal funding will help to put more Binghamton University social work students in schools to provide the services that these students need to succeed.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded two 5-year awards, totalling $9.3 million, to Binghamton University Community Schools (BUCS) to expand mental health services in New York’s Southern Tier as part of its Mental Health Service Provider Demonstration Grant Program.

“Both grants aim to put more social workers in schools, and we have a really great opportunity to do this because we have an excellent social work education program and strong relationships with our local schools,” said Naorah Rimkunas, assistant professor of social work and education at Binghamton University’s College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) and principal investigator for both awards. “And we can leverage that and put those students who are training to become social workers into schools to offset the shortage of mental health providers.”

Laura Bronstein, founding director of BUCS and CCPA dean, is thrilled that the work of BUCS will be expanded by these two new grants.

“As a leader in university-assisted community schools for small cities and rural communities, BUCS works with communities locally and beyond to support success for all students through out-of-classroom support in collaboration with universities and other community partners,” Bronstein said. “Increasingly, children are being left behind due to challenges that even the best teachers can’t address on their own. This includes issues like anxiety and depression, violence, poverty and many others that interfere with students’ abilities to focus on learning in the classroom. These new federal grants allow us to provide support for mental health challenges that have been skyrocketing among youth, especially since the advent of the pandemic.”

“As a social worker who has worked in and with schools for the past 20 years, I have witnessed the need for mental health support and the importance of family engagement to ensure that the two most important systems children engage with every day are aligned in true partnership around the needs of children,” said Luann Kida, co-principal investigator and executive director of BUCS. “This funding will allow Binghamton University to support our local schools while also providing social work interns valuable field experiences that will not only serve young people and their families, but also strengthen skills for emerging professionals preparing them to work within or alongside school systems. These proposals are the example of what can happen when partners build plans that are mutually beneficial on a core foundation of trust.”

A total of $5.7 million will fund the Rural Mental Health in Schools Expansion. This initiative will expand social work support to middle and high school students and families in four high-needs school districts (Harpursville, Whitney Point, Windsor, and Owego-Apalachin). Approximately 3,300 students at seven schools will be served through this initiative, which builds on a pilot telemental health project where Binghamton University social work students were trained to provide solution-focused telemental health virtually to young people in partner schools.

“During the pandemic, everything was disrupted; our schools were closed. Schools are a source of all things for children and families. They’re a source for services, especially through our community schools initiatives, and mental health services were interrupted,” Rimkunas said. “By doing a telemental health pilot, we were able to see that parents and students were accessing the services. This new funding allows us to expand on that so we can educate more social work students to have the skills, tools, and competencies to reach more students and families.”

The telemental approach will be implemented in tandem with an in-person approach that includes on-site mental health services for children and intensive outreach to the most hard-to-reach families with the intent to connect them as partners in the education and development of their children. This project will not only target social work interns serving in their field placements; it will also build capacity to increase the number of social work field instructors and provide technical assistance to school partners around building a culturally responsive, trauma-informed approach that fosters safety and professional growth for students, families and staff. One new social worker will be placed in each partnering school district and up to four social work interns will complete their practicums in each school, up to 16 per year.

The other $3.5 million will fund the Family Partner Program, which will serve approximately 3,700 students at the Chenango Forks and Maine-Endwell school districts.

“The Family Partner Program is really about building out our family engagement practices,” Rimkunas said. “We’ve been doing family engagement through our community school work for over a decade and this program will provide additional education to the social work students in these family engagement practices. The point of this is to bring in families as partners in the academic growth and social and emotional well-being of their children. But it takes skill to do that, so being able to teach social work students to do that will help to 1) make that a solid practice for them and 2) reach more families and students because there will be more social workers in our schools.”

“Our staff and CCPA student interns will greatly expand their support for mental health through schools by collaborating with families as partners in this work, building on over a decade of family engagement work that is core to our community schools approach,” Bronstein said. “The prevention and interventions we will provide through these grants are built on cutting-edge research developed by CCPA faculty, including Youjung Lee and Kelley Cook’s telemental health model. Lastly and equally important, these grants advance the education of the next generation of a diverse group of social workers in evidence-based, skill-rich approaches that center on the child, families and caregivers, so that all children may not only survive, but thrive.”

Rimkunas said that BUCS will spend the spring and summer hiring field instructors and recruiting social work students for participation in the fall. She is excited about the impact that the grants will have in local schools.

“It just means so much for our local community,” Rimkunas said. “To be able to bring attention to mental health to the area, and then also be able to offer innovative training for our social work students, I’m thrilled.”

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.