Researchers at West Virginia University are fighting West Virginia’s opioid epidemic with new professional development opportunities for social workers.
Two new initiatives in the WVU School of Social Work are working to meet these needs by expanding trainings for the state’s social workers and growing the workforce.
“The School of Social Work is committed to improving recovery and treatment for people coping with substance use and behavioral health disorders,” said Deana Morrow, director of the School of Social Work. “These newly funded initiatives will enable us to provide specialized student and provider training in recovery and behavioral health treatment. The funds will strengthen our capacity for building a highly skilled workforce empowered to support the recovery and behavioral health treatment needs of West Virginians.”
Strengthening training for addiction recovery
Morrow, along with the School’s field education director, Jenifer Gamble, are leading an initiative to expand training for addiction recovery efforts.
The project will build the social work workforce in West Virginia by awarding 10 scholarships and three graduate assistantships to students who participate in specialized training and internships related to substance use disorders. It is supported by a $241,401 award as part of the West Virginia State Opioid Response grant in the WVU School of Public Health.
“This opportunity will allow us to cultivate new placement options for students in settings intersecting with addiction, providing them with new environments for learning and practice,” Gamble said. “It lays the groundwork for improved responses across the state.”
The training will prepare social workers in diverse practice areas, such as employment, emergency assistance, criminal justice and child welfare, to identify addiction characteristics as they work with individuals, families and communities.
“With new knowledge and skills, our students’ approaches and methods for support will be sensitive to the complexities of addiction and be ‘recovery friendly,’” Gamble said.
Gamble hopes the initiative will strengthen support for West Virginia families and communities dealing with addiction recovery.
“By focusing capacity-building early and at the provider level, we are ambitiously working to develop new solutions and insights that will revive our communities and extend into broader community sustainability and workforce development efforts,” she said. “West Virginians’ work ethic and determination is strong, and we owe it to each other to face these challenges both strategically and with compassion.”
Building a behavioral health-focused workforce
A second initiative will focus on training opportunities for social workers in the area of behavioral health. It is led by Morrow, Gamble and Jacki Englehardt, admissions and recruitment coordinator for WVU’s Master of Social Work program.
The initiative is supported by a $25,000 award from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. Seven students will receive stipends to participate in intensive field education training in preparation for careers in behavioral health.
“This award will give students extra support and exposure to behavioral health settings and experiences as well as enhanced license exam preparation,” Englehardt said. “Hopefully, they will be more likely to obtain employment and licensure in West Virginia after graduation, expanding our clinical workforce and serving more clients.”