Newswise — A team of researchers from Saint Louis University has received a new, four-year $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to establish the Integrated Behavioral Health Practice Fellowship for Children and Youth.

The grant will train professionals across disciplines to work with children, adolescents and transitional age youth with complex behavioral health needs. This population is at an increased risk for a range of adverse health and social outcomes including homelessness, violence, incarceration, depression, PTSD, suicide, victimization, chronic health conditions and early death.

More than 36% of this population in Missouri is identified as living in a mental health professional shortage area.

Katie Heiden-Rootes, Ph.D., associate professor in medical family therapy, is the principal investigator on the grant. The interdisciplinary team includes Annie Garner, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology; Alicia Barnes, D.O., MPH, assistant professor, psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience; and Michael Mancini, Ph.D., associate professor of social work.

The Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Grant funding will be used to increase the overall capacity of the behavioral health (BH) workforce serving youth and their families who are vulnerable to developing or who have developed a recognized behavioral health disorder in the St. Louis Metro Area.

“We’d been looking for an opportunity to work together,” Garner said. “Training with other disciplines is so important.”

The integrated care settings will allow fellows to work with children and adolescents in a variety of different situations, from a therapeutic setting to a hospital or clinic setting.

The program faculty will engage in a mixed methods evaluation design to assess performance and evaluate the program’s impact on the behavioral health workforce. The students and residents will engage in coursework and field experiences that emphasize the development of the clinical skills and competencies needed to practice from an interprofessional perspective.

“I’m hopeful this will increase the number of people interested in working with this age group,” Barnes said. “There is a shortage of people in community health with the advantage of knowing how to work with children and adolescents.”

Fellows will learn to provide integrated behavioral health care in team-based settings via telehealth and in-person settings. They will also gain knowledge and skill through coursework, service learning, mentorship and interprofessional training focused on prevention, assessment and intervention for youth violence, and its associated behavioral health problems, occurring across diverse families and communities.

“This is something that will help enhance the ability of behavioral health professionals to work in multidisciplinary settings and to better help youth in St. Louis with behavioral health needs,” Mancini said. “It will also increase the capacity of the behavioral health workforce in St. Louis, which has a high number of youth who need help.”  

The team hopes to have the first round of fellows on board this fall. The fellows will include three psychology students, two students from medical family therapy, two psychiatry students and nine social work students.

The project will provide stipends for students each year which will support students and residents while in their clinical field practicum serving youth with behavioral health needs.

“This is such an important part of this grant,” Heiden-Rootes said. “We can expand the field of people interested in this field by being able to provide some support while they have internship opportunities in this field.”

The fellows will have a variety of experiences during the fellowship, including stints working at SLU’s Interdisciplinary Center for Autism Services, Casa de Salud, St. Louis County’s Juvenile Detention Center and working with SLU’s partner Affinia Healthcare at its Child Development Center.

The grant also infuses cultural competency, anti-racism and queer-affirming practices in the training of social work, psychology, medical family therapy and psychiatry fellows. 

In addition to the creation of the fellowship, the grant will provide multiple professional developments and continuing education opportunities for behavioral health professionals in the region to enhance their practice skills and competencies.  

About HRSA

Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA is the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable. It achieves its goal in part by strengthening the skills and diversity of the health workforce and expanding the ability of health providers to see patients in underserved areas.

About Saint Louis University

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers more than 12,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.