The School of Social Work at New Mexico State University has received a $1.9 million grant to continue funding a program that aims to increase the number of social work graduates seeking employment with the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
The grant will fund NMSU’s Child Welfare Scholar Program through 2025, providing financial assistance and professional development opportunities to undergraduate- and graduate-level social work students who commit to working at CYFD Protective Services after graduation.
The program, housed in the College of Health, Education and Social Transformation, is a longstanding partnership with CYFD federally funded through the Title IV-E programs of the Social Security Act, said Mónica Montoya, the program’s director and principal investigator.
“Our grant renewal means we can continue graduating highly skilled, licensed social workers through our partnership with CYFD Protectives Services to help meet the needs of New Mexico in the face of a growing workforce shortage,” Montoya said.
The grant will enable an increase in scholarship benefits for students admitted into the program, a number that varies from year to year. Scholarships range from $10,000 to $12,000 per student, per year. For the 2022-2023 academic year, Montoya accepted 14 students into the program.
“The grant amount will allow us to enhance our scholarships to cover more tuition costs,” Montoya said, “and help our efforts to recruit top-tier students committed to the social work profession.”
Students can apply to the program during the spring semester but must undergo a background check and a rigorous interview process with social work faculty and CYFD staff, Montoya said. Admitted students enroll in a specialized elective program focused on child welfare and begin receiving financial aid by the following fall. Throughout the yearlong program, students also participate in professional development training and prepare to take licensure exams.
Students who complete the program and pass their licensure exams begin working for CYFD after graduation. They are contractually obligated to work for the agency for 12 to 18 months, depending on their scholarship. Those unable to fulfill the work requirement must pay back the scholarship funds.
Since 2015, 148 students have been admitted into the program, and 78 have graduated and sought employment with the state agency. Currently, 47 graduates from the program are working for CYFD Protective Services.
“Our goal is to increase retention in our bachelor’s and master’s programs and increase the number of degreed social workers in New Mexico,” Montoya said. “Right now, we simply do not have enough social workers in our state.”
Demand for social workers is growing across the nation. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that overall employment of social workers will grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. About 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.
Montoya said she views the program as an investment opportunity to help build the workforce in a much-needed area of New Mexico’s health-care sector.
“The Child Welfare Scholar Program is an excellent example of how programs of professional education can serve to reinforce, strengthen and promote the work of vital state agencies dedicated to the protection and advancement of children and their families,” she said.
Students who complete the program also have the option of working with tribal social services throughout New Mexico, Montoya added.
“This effort to engage tribal and pueblo communities within the state of New Mexico provides another mechanism to enhance the child welfare workforce by providing culturally responsive child welfare services throughout the state,” she said.