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New scholarship program looks to increase, retain social workers in Mississippi

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

Commissioner Andrea Sanders (center) is joined by Senator Brice Wiggins (right) and recipients of the MAP scholarship, as well as university professors.

  • The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services looks to increase social workers in the state through Mississippi Academic Pathways program.

The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) announced a new federal scholarship program to aid the next generation of social workers with financial resources, experience, and placement where needs are the greatest.

On Tuesday, MDCPS announced the Mississippi Academic Pathways (MAP) scholarship program. The program utilizes federal IV-E funding to benefit current social work college students. It also provides the department with internship opportunities at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

MAP has been made possible by a collaboration of organizations working together for the last two years. Professors from eight universities across Mississippi have worked to promote the program among their students, who were present for the announcement.

The first scholarships were awarded in the summer of 2023. Since then, $1.5 million has been awarded. There have been 112 intern scholarships to date spanning across multiple universities in Mississippi.

“This program helps current social work students get the education and the first-hand experience they need to hit the ground running. It also provides a tremendous resource for the Department to identify the best and brightest people to enter the field in an already understaffed sector,” said Commissioner Andrea Sanders.

Sanders said there is a critical need in the state to provide qualified social workers. She said the department’s primary focus is on how to grow and prepare a workforce for this important task.

According to MDCPS social worker salaries currently range from $37,461 to the highest level of $52,416.

Anyone who is currently enrolled as a social work undergraduate or graduate student, whether full or part-time, and are preparing to complete their field placement with MDCPS are eligible to apply. This can also include current MDCPS employees who are seeking to advance their career.

For students who receive a MAP scholarship, they are required to work for MDCPS for one year following graduation. The scholarship can cover at least one semester of tuition for the final portion of a bachelor’s degree program, and at least two semesters in a master’s program.

“MAP is an innovative program that provides specific and appropriate education for current and prospective MDCPS employees. It allows students to intern in their own communities, serving beyond the classroom and commit to future employment with MDCPS,” said Dr. Jerome Kolbo, Director of Social Work at the University of Southern Mississippi, and Principal Investigator for MAP.

Emily Mitchell is currently enrolled in the master’s social work program at the University of Southern Mississippi and has worked for MDCPS for the last three years. She said her interest in helping children in difficult circumstances first began when she was a child herself.

“I had a lot of friends who, at the time I didn’t know that’s what they were experiencing, but now as an adult I knew that I wanted to do more,” said Mitchell. “To be part of this program and the first scholarship recipients, it’s amazing to know that my job is giving back to me, and they are supportive of us.”

Mitchell said a primary part of her job is helping adults who receive a child placement, whether it be a relative or stranger, to understand how this is impacting that child and how to better adjust the environment to their needs.

“A child is a child. They don’t know why they’re doing something; they often can’t explain it. So, my work is to teach our foster parents how they can understand that behavior and where it is coming from and work with the child,” said Mitchell.

State Senator Brice Wiggins (R), who chairs the Senate Judiciary A Committee, works closely with MDCPS. He said the announcement of this program and other efforts by the department are a direct result of the separation of CPS from the Department of Human Services.

“That’s the focus I would like everybody to remember, the children that are in the custody of the state of Mississippi,” said Wiggins. “We need to put politics aside and look out for the children.”

Faith Powell recently returned to USM to pursue her master’s in social work. She said her desire to help remedy what is often seen as a broken system drove her to a profession in social work.

For Powell, the ability to have financial assistance and additional experience were a key factor in her decision to pursue higher credentials. She said time management among her client portfolio continues to be an issue for social workers like her, largely due to a lack of professionals in the business. She said addressing that gap is a primary goal for the MAP program.

Individuals interested in applying for MAP can reach out to their university’s department chair. The application deadline for the Fall of 2024 will be announced in the coming weeks.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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