Social work researchers receive grant to target mental health in local schools

October 2, 2023
Social Work Researchers

Baylor researchers have been awarded $2.5 million across five years to pursue mental health opportunities for students in the Waco area. The program, Partnering for Heart of Texas Mental Health, will also assist Baylor students working toward their master’s degrees in social work as it funds their education.

“We’re grateful for the impact of this grant, which will provide stable funding to build on these relationships and get more local mental health providers trained and working in our schools,” Carrie Arroyo, senior lecturer in the School of Social Work and principal investigator, said.

The program will start in schools Baylor is already partnered with, including Alta Vista Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School, Indian Springs Middle School and Waco High School.

“The data shows, and we see, just how many children are having mental health struggles,” Mary Zane Nelson, project director and co-principal investigator, said. “To keep a child from falling through the cracks potentially, it’s helpful to have specialists who can serve in the school and get children the care they need.”

The funding is provided by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This year, the program will have six graduate students, which will grow to 10 by the third year of the project. Nelson said the students included in the program should have a long-term career plan that involves working in schools.

There are high standards and great needs for qualified social workers in schools, Nelson said.

“There should be about one social worker to every 400 kids. Right now, it’s more like one to 13,000,” Nelson said. “[The rate of mental illness] is up about 60% from 10 years ago. About one in five face sexual abuse, which is up roughly 25%.”

Baylor has been working with schools in the Waco area for several years, and Arroyo said the grant will increase the ability of Baylor’s staff and students to become more actively involved with them.

“The more we can partner with our schools and create earlier exposure to mental health services — to also help students envision that as a career path and start working toward it — it’s exciting to think about that impact and what it would mean to have more homegrown practitioners here in Waco,” Arroyo said.

Nelson said this presence will have profound impacts on students in the Waco area.

“We’ve been in these schools for a while now, and when we get involved on a more personal level with the students, we should see a domino effect in grades, attendance and other things of that nature,” Nelson said.

Originally published by the Baylor Lariat.