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Family Support Program awarded AHEC Innovations Grant

The UNC School of Social Work’s Family Support Program was awarded $36,398 from the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program (AHEC) Innovation Fund for the “UNC-Prime Care Interprofessional Education in Co-Occurring Developmental Disabilities and Behavioral Health” initiative. The project adds a focus on developmental disabilities to the new UNC-Prime Care project led by School of Social Work faculty Anne Jones and Lisa Zerden, funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

The UNC-Prime Care project aims to develop a specialized MSW program to prepare social workers to deliver integrated behavioral health services in primary care settings as member of interprofessional teams. The project will expand the behavioral health workforce in North Carolina to address the critical health and behavioral health needs of unserved and underserved transitional age youth. As noted by Jones and Zerden, the lack of access to behavioral health services is among the greatest health care disparities in the US, and access is particularly problematic for children, youth, and transitional age youth (10-25).

The AHEC Innovation Fund is being offered for the first time this year. The funding provided an opportunity for the Family Support Program, whose mission is to promote and provide support for families with children who have special needs, to help prepare MSW students to work with individuals who have both developmental disabilities and behavioral health issues, and their families.

“This is a population whose needs are often overlooked,” said Tamara Norris, clinical associate professor and director of the Family Support Program. “At least one-third of youth and young adults who have a developmental disability have co-occurring behavioral health diagnoses, and practitioners haven’t been adequately trained to identify the condition and to provide effective interventions and support. This award enables us to add innovative elements to the UNC-Prime Care curriculum, including using the Standardized Patient model approach for skills practice for MSW students in the program, and to have students and service providers learn directly from individuals with disabilities and their families to develop skills in family- and person-centered practice.”

The project will also include staff of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities.