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Indiana University grants work toward solution for mental health shortage in schools

By Kirsten Adair, IPB News | Published on in Education, Health, Statewide News
Indiana University announced $10 million in grants to hire and train mental health staff in Indiana schools. (FILE PHOTO: Peter Balonon-Rosen/IPB News)

Indiana University recently announced it is using federal grants to help address the shortage of mental health professionals in schools. More than $10 million in grants recently awarded to the university will be used to help train and hire mental health staff in six schools around the state.

Of that $10 million, $5.7 million will be used to increase the number of social workers in the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, Lafayette School Corporation and Tippecanoe School Corporation by offering staff online classes for school social work.

Another $4.4 million will be used to partner IU campuses in Kokomo, South Bend and Richmond with the school corporations in those respective communities. Those partnerships will address a shortage of school psychologists by promoting a new education specialist program offered through IU.

Barbara Pierce, a professor in the IU School of Social Work, said in a statement the two grants will increase the number of mental health staff in schools and help reverse a shortage affecting schools across the state.

“Indiana has what we call ‘mental health deserts,'” Pierce said. “We know there are places in Indiana that have a shortage of mental health providers and even psychiatrists and psychologists, so being able to increase mental health services in those geographic areas, particularly to children and youth in schools, allows for us to increase capacity for the state overall.”

READ MORE: Indiana Counselor of the Year says he’s facing an ‘epidemic’ of student mental health needs

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The Indiana Department of Education’s school personnel job board shows there are currently 137 job openings for school counselors, school psychologists and school social workers in Indiana.

IU Kokomo education professor Leah Nellis said some Indiana schools have not hired a school psychologist in almost a decade because the shortage of professionals is so severe.

“So much of mental health care is relationships, and when you are only able to offer part-time or virtual services, there’s really no opportunity to build those relationships and community,” Nellis said.

Tonia Brewer, South Bend Community School Corporation’s director of exceptional learners, said in a press release the corporation’s partnership with IU will be good for everyone involved.

“South Bend Community School Corporation believes that this new program will be pivotal in the growth and expansion of services and supports provided to our students,” she said. “We are excited to be part of it and hope this will become an example of how focused partnerships geared toward responding to the needs of our students provide access and opportunity for all.”

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.