FIU awarded $6 million grant to enhance mental health support in Miami-Dade County Schools

by | Feb 21, 2023



  • FIU has been awarded a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve access to mental health services for students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
  • The grant will fund the FIU/M-DCPS Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Fellowship (Project DIG), which aims to prepare and train over 100 highly qualified school-based mental health service providers to help students, particularly those from underserved communities.
  • The shortage of school psychologists and social workers in Miami-Dade County is one psychologist for every 1,598 students and one social worker for every 2,492 students.

Florida International University (FIU) has received a grant of $6 million from the US Department of Education to enhance access to mental health services for students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS).

The five-year grant, supported by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, will help FIU prepare more than 100 mental health service providers, including social workers and psychologists, to assist students from underserved communities.

The program, known as Project DIG, is aimed at recruiting, preparing, and training school-based mental health service providers. The project will also address the critical shortage of school psychologists and social workers in Florida and across the country.

“There’s a huge need right now given the critical shortages of school psychologists and social workers, not only within Florida but nationwide,” said Andy Pham, director and associate professor of school psychology at FIU. “Project DIG will help us boost mental health services for these kids in high-need schools in Miami-Dade, by expanding and diversifying the mental health workforce, so underserved children can learn and develop ways to promote positive well-being and have a shot at a brighter future.”

In a school setting, psychologists and social workers play an essential role in assisting students and their families in navigating anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. The support team may also help students with behavioral challenges or neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD or autism.

In Miami-Dade County, K-12 schools are facing a severe shortage of mental health specialists, with just one school psychologist for every 1,598 students, while the recommended national ratio is one for every 500 students. Similarly, there is approximately one school social worker for every 2,492 students in Miami-Dade County — a figure far below the recommended national ratio of one for every 250 students.

Project DIG aims to address the shortage by preparing FIU graduate students studying school psychology and social work for employment in the Miami-Dade County Public School system post-graduation. The program includes tuition coverage, stipends, and field experience in public school settings, among others.

The project will complement the work of M-DCPS, which was recently funded by the US Department of Education to address shortages of school-based mental health service professionals with a focus on recruiting and retaining credentialed mental health providers.

“Limited access to mental health support can lead children and youth to face various personal and academic difficulties,” said Pham. “They’ll have trouble managing their emotions or developing positive relationships with their peers, families, and teachers. There’s also the risk of potential school dropout.”

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