Partnership trains social work students to provide team-based mental health care

Monday, April 3, 2017

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five children have experienced a seriously debilitating mental health disorder at least some point in their lives. For school-aged children, these disorders often impact the child’s health and well-being, as well as schools, communities and other systems. Without proper support, the child and family are often left to figure out on their own how to advocate for their needs amongst different service providers and agencies.

Faculty at the UNC Charlotte School of Social Work, along with representatives from Cardinal Innovations and North Carolina Families United have created a partnership to assist these systems in collaborating for the best interests of the child and family.

Through this partnership, they have focused on training social work students on systems of care involving child and family teams from the family perspective. These teams include friends, family members, agencies and providers that come together to work with the child and family on recovery and personal goals. The classroom environment turns into a simulated child and family team meeting as students assume roles and apply content learned from the training.

“Our goal is to make sure our students are trained to allow the child and family to serve as experts while enhancing the recovery process for them,” said Sonyia Richardson, a lecturer in social work in the College of Health and Human Services at UNC Charlotte. “Ultimately, we believe this training helps children and families through this process towards healing.”

Beth Pfister, systems of care manager at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, stated, “Cardinal Innovations Healthcare is committed toward preparing students early on so that children and families are getting the best care possible. We are elated to now have 29 students trained in the child and family team process.”

The Child and Family Team training series is one vehicle that encourages family voice.

“The family voice is critical to the treatment process as they are encouraged to share what is most important to them,” said Wanda Douglas, family partner coordinator with North Carolina Families United. Families are encouraged to participate in the teams and that the meetings follow specific guidelines so their voices are heard.

In addition to impacting families, students completing this 10-hour training are more marketable to future employers and internship agencies as this training is required for many mental health and substance use positions. The training increases cultural sensitivity and prepares students for employment in a wide variety of settings.

Cardinal Healthcare Innovations and North Carolina Families United have provided more than 24 hours of training to UNC Charlotte social work students. Recent funding from the UNC Charlotte Chancellor’s Diversity Fund allowed for a focus on diverse and vulnerable populations and the training of 20 additional students. The University plans to continue with this partnership and offer this training through interdisciplinary efforts across the campus.