Maryland Universities Aim to Get More Social Workers in K-12 Schools

A new social work fellowship program is partnering graduate students in social work with Maryland public schools to help fill critical mental and behavioral health vacancies.

torso of a woman with long hair wearing a shirt that says "mental health matters"It’s back-to-school season, and student mental health is top-of-mind for counties, schools, and national leaders. Public school social workers are in high demand, with fewer and fewer students entering the industry and growing vacancies in K-12 schools nationwide.

Area universities have come together to launch a new fellowship program in social work meant to grow and diversify professional social workers in Maryland’s K-12 public schools. The fellowship program is being offered jointly this academic year by the schools of social work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Baltimore County, and Coppin State University.

Currently, there are 21 students in the inaugural cohort of the fellowship program, which is meant to “grow and diversify the ranks of school social workers” and “remedy a widespread shortage of mental health providers in schools, especially those of color.” The program will enroll 105 fellows over its five-year funding period, supported by a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE).

Fellows participating in the program will receive a $1,000 monthly stipend while attending university classes, a modest clothing allowance, paid exam fees, and $15,000 in tuition. The Baltimore Banner reported on the incentives:

The idea is to make a master’s level education — required for social workers in clinical practice — accessible for students who otherwise can’t afford it and may balk at accumulating what could be a lifetime’s worth of debt to pay for it. This will ensure social workers better represent the population of kids and parents they’re serving, Bailey said.

After obtaining a master’s degree, new social workers must complete 3,000 practice hours under clinical supervision to receive their certification, which is required in most settings to provide direct mental health care, including in Maryland schools. Alternatively, fellows can also work for “expanded school behavioral health agencies” — contracting agencies for clinicians like social workers and psychologists contracted to work in schools. In doing so, they can accumulate the clinical hours needed for certification.

Participants are then expected to sign a service contract to work in a Maryland school setting for two years post-MSW graduation. The Center for Restorative Change at the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work will partner with Maryland school districts to help its fellows gain employment once they complete their educational program and certification.

Social work in Maryland schools

Social worker vacancies vary in Maryland schools. The level of mental and behavioral support provided by those employed largely depends on individual school principals, who, according to the Baltimore Banner, often assign administrative work in addition to social work.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (“The Blueprint”) prioritizes “community schools,” which provide wraparound services, including increased social work and mental health support inside and outside of Maryland classrooms. The Blueprint’s expanded concentration poverty grants can also be used to hire more social workers and other providers.

Furthermore, $120 million in state funding is available via grants to aid counties and school systems address Maryland’s students’ complex mental and behavioral needs. The historic funding is available for the next year and a half and was set aside to provide counseling and behavioral health services in schools and communities.

MACo has supported various measures to increase social workers and mental/behavioral health in schools, like bills to require the Maryland Department of Health to apply to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a State plan amendment authorizing reimbursement of behavioral health services provided in schools for students on these insurance plans.

Learn more about the fellowship program.