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School Tapped by Obama Administration to Reduce Gun Violence

  • Opinion

The USC School of Social Work’s Field Education department has received a $1.4 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to train students in specific areas of behavioral health in an effort to address gun violence.

Part of the Obama administration’s Now is the Time plan to reduce incidents of mass shootings, which are often perpetrated by young men between the ages of 16 and 25, the training grant – one of the first to be handed out – will help fund the education of social workers and other clinicians who work with this transition-age population, many of whom do not have or are unable to access behavioral health and mental health services.

“These young men have received less attention and not many services because technically they’re adults who have outgrown direct parental supervision,” said Associate Dean of Field Education Marleen Wong, a trauma response expert who was invited by the White House to participate in its post-Newtown response plans. “The Obama administration wanted to invest money to support the education of social workers and psychologists so these individuals would have a background in treating and assisting these young people who have fallen between the cracks.”

The Tri-County Behavioral Health Training Consortium grant will fund stipends that will go to USC Master of Social Work students interested in working with this specific population. Starting this spring semester, 34 students will be chosen to be part of this program every year for three years, with a total of 102 students graduating with this specialized training. The USC program is unique because it spans three counties, with 12 students each in Los Angeles and Orange counties and 10 in San Diego County.

Each student will receive a $10,000 stipend to complete internships with designated agencies and take specific courses in substance abuse, transition-age youth and other relevant areas. Students will also participate in a seminar that will teach specific techniques, including Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT), tailored to working with this population.  An application process will be instituted for the fall semester, and there is no mandated payback or work requirement, as there is with other targeted training programs that offer a stipend.

“The goal is to set a career path for our stipend students to work with the target population. Even if they don’t go on to work directly with transition-age youth, these students will have more of an awareness having had this specialized training and will be able to identify red flags in any setting,” said Omar López, assistant director of field education and principal investigator of the grant.

What’s more, these future social workers will be doing exactly what President Obama’s plan calls for – reducing the probability of incidents of gun and other types of violence with early intervention.

“This program is responsive to what USC does,” López said. “We’re on the cutting edge of addressing a societal problem that impacts our communities.”

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