Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Mark D. Weist

Abstract

The expansion of school mental health (SMH) has been critical for children and adolescents to access needed mental health services. Though SMH is needed to support children and adolescents, there have been challenges with recruitment and mental health professional retention. Individuals within the field indicate burnout as a primary predictor for retention issues, but little research has been done on intentional strategies to increase recruitment and retention. The South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SCDMH), a leader in SMH services, developed a strategic plan to address recruitment and retention concerns of clinicians working in schools within the state. The purpose of this study was to understand the impact of a high-quality internship/certificate training program on the recruitment and retention of students training to be SMH professionals. Participants (n=5) participated in a 600-hour intensive SMH internship. The internship was designed to increase participants' knowledge and skills in key dimensions of effective practice in SMH: working effectively within schools’ multi-tiered systems of support, increasing the overall quality of services in multiple realms, and implementing a range of evidence-based practices. Participants completed a pre- and post-survey to evaluate their understanding and skill development in these core competency areas. In addition, participants were part of a focus group to review the impact that the internship had on their career plans within the SMH field. Finally, perspectives from supervisors of interns were collected. For some participants, the internship was associated with large knowledge gains, and focus group findings underscored that participants indicated that the internship positively affected their decision to pursue a career in SMH. Five of five participants were recruited to the SCDMH, and four accepted a position as a SMH clinician. Based on our literature review, this was the first study of an intensive internship program for SMH, with findings from this pilot study setting the stage for future practice, research, and policy directions to further strengthen recruitment and retention of highly skilled professionals in this rapidly emerging field.

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