Associate Professor Scott Wilks receives $1.5 million grant to help meet surging behavioral health care needs among at-risk youth in Louisiana

10/01/14 2:30 PM


School of Social Work (SSW), within the LSU College of Human Sciences & Education, Associate Professor Scott Wilks was awarded a three-year $1.5 million grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to help meet the surging behavioral health care needs among at-risk youth in Louisiana.

The grant, Louisiana State University School of Social Work Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program (BHWET), will increase the skilled, professional social work labor force in Louisiana by enhancing and expanding behavioral health workforce education and training opportunities for LSU Masters of Social Work (MSW) program students committed to working with vulnerable and underserved populations, specifically youth at-risk for behavioral health disorders. 

“There simply aren’t enough trained professionals to meet the social work positions that are in demand to work with this population,” said Wilks, who will serve as Project Director. “Our hope and expectation is that with the funding that we currently have and the expansion of these internships that the students will fill these internships and inevitably transition into trained, competent, licensed social work professionals in the same area.”

In the past decade, Baton Rouge has shown a dramatic spike in violent crimes, with a cumulative violent crime rate above every other metropolitan area in the state. Louisiana’s behavioral health indicators among the target population – including domestic violence, poverty, substance use, and HIV/AIDS – are ranked among the most severe among all states.

“When we say there is a need, there is a dramatic need. There just aren’t enough health care professionals to work with these individuals. These at-risk youth fall through the cracks,” said Wilks. “There aren’t enough health care professionals to work with these youths for their mental and behavioral health issues. These youth may get sent back into the community where they continue to have the same behavioral health issues, including aggressive behavior. The reality is that post-Katrina, Baton Rouge has higher rates of aggressive and violent crime with youth than New Orleans.”

“The LSU School of Social Work has a long history of service committed to vulnerable populations in Louisiana.  The BHWET grant will allow the school to further this commitment by having the ability to provide behavioral health training and education for social work students who have an interest in working with at-risk youth in Louisiana,” said Dr. Wesley Church, School of Social Work Director.

Almost 85 percent of the LSU SSW’s graduates work in Louisiana and more than 50 percent of all credentialed social workers in Louisiana represent LSU SSW alumni. 

Addressing the health care needs of at-risk youth with prevention and intervention will save the region and state millions of dollars in tax payers funding that would typically go toward incarceration and rehabilitation. 

In addition, Dr. Wilks has experience in empirical program and intervention evaluation program in health settings. Wilks’ administrative experience and leadership skills will translate effectively to the leadership role in the BHWET Program.

Wilks was specifically recruited by the school to direct this proposed grant program because of his prior success with the development, implementation and management of SSW’s Graduate Certificate in Gerontology Program. This program was created because of the tremendous health and social needs of older adults in Louisiana and correlating need for gerontological social workers. During his five-year tenure as certificate program coordinator, the number of students per program cohort quadrupled from 8 to 32; the number of participating internship settings rose from 25 to 60; and pre- and post-program competency scores significantly increased aggregately with each cohort.

The LSU SSW strives to place its MSW students in internship settings that meet the vast array of needs among diverse, vulnerable, and disenfranchised populations in Louisiana. These settings allow students the opportunities to work with youth who present an array of at-risk behavioral indicators, including conditions related to bullying, domestic violence, witnessing violence, behavioral health disorders, poverty, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS.

“In the next three years, we are going to use the stipends as much as we can not only for the students that would ordinarily go to these internships, but also to recruit new students and expand more behavioral health internships,” said Wilks.

Expanding MSW internship opportunities in behavioral health care settings in BHWET Program’s targeted regions and among the targeted at-risk youth populations will be accomplished by: recruiting and developing new agency partnerships in integrated BHC settings; increasing MSW field supervision, leading to increased internship opportunities; preparing selected students for social work careers through internships, interdisciplinary training in field settings, and education/training milieu; enhancing skills of agency personnel in these internship settings to provide more effective service delivery; and contributing to a surge in the skilled, behavioral health social work labor force. 

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration is providing this funding to expand the focus of education and training among MSW students to meet the critical, behavioral health needs of the aforementioned populations.


About SSW
The LSU School of Social Work (SSW) aspires to be a leading graduate school of social work, a vibrant center of intellectual development, a leader in promoting and supporting diverse communities, and an advocate for an integrated and inclusive model of social work, all within a learning environment that supports best educational practices. The Child and Family Studies (CFS) undergraduate degree integrates theory, research, and practice to focus on child development and family dynamics.

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About CHSE
The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. Formed in 2012, CHSE brings together programs and capitalizes on individual strengths to create a dynamic new college that addresses the socially significant issues we face as a state and nation. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Leadership and Human Resource Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work, and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer 8 undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The College is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs.

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