New stipend program offers specialization in early childhood mental health

boy in kindergarten

Colorado State University’s School of Social Work is helping to lead the way for children’s mental health in Colorado.

A new internship stipend program, offered as a Larimer County workforce development opportunity in partnership with the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County, aims to give students a clear pathway for specialization in infant and early childhood mental health as social work practitioners.

Open to both BSW and MSW students, the integrated partnership program strengthens local early childhood mental health services by offering an opportunity for students to participate in an internship cohort linked to field education at partnering agencies in Larimer County.

Liz Davis
Colorado State University School of Social Work Field Education Program Director Liz Davis

“This program will meet a critical workforce gap for serving children and families, and help to retain newly trained providers in the community with a work commitment in the county post-graduation,” said Liz Davis, the school’s director of field education.

Opportunity for well-rounded experience

The first cohort of six students in the program began in the spring 2021 semester. In addition to an internship focused on early childhood mental health, the students will receive a $5,000 stipend, support for membership in the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health (COAIMH), and additional training towards a specialized endorsement with COAIMH.

“Each student will be able to gain a well-rounded experience of the early childhood and infant mental health landscape through their internship and training, and then secure a position working in the field in Larimer County upon graduation,” said Davis.

MSW student Samantha Bruick sees the program as foundational to her career plans as a social worker.

“The ECMH program empowers me to be an Early Childhood leader in Larimer County and beyond,” Bruick said, “preparing me both for professional success and enabling me to be a champion for more equitable and culturally-informed early childhood services. It represents social work at its best.”

“The opportunity to develop key interdisciplinary community partnerships, receive ongoing professional development and mentorship, and obtain an additional professional endorsement while still in school is unparalleled,” said Bruick.

Those partnerships are appreciated by current professionals in the field as well. Mary Beth Swanson of The Willow Collective, a network of social work practitioners who support maternal, infant, and early childhood mental health in Larimer County, is looking forward to serving students in the cohort as a mentor, and sees the program as a “win-win-win.”

“We have the chance to expose students to the complexities of infant and early childhood mental health services in our community, and to build the workforce in this quickly-growing specialty, and to deepen our relationships with one another,” said Swanson. “This only stands to improve our collective abilities to serve young children and their families.”

Partnerships led to progress

It’s interesting to note that the idea for the partnership was hatched about one year ago while Davis was meeting for coffee with a CSU alumna: Laura Veradt (BSW, ’01) is an early intervention coordinator at Foothills Gateway, an agency serving people with intellectual & developmental disabilities and their families, and one of the School’s many field education partners for internships in the local community.

“We knew we wanted to offer interns a more robust experience in early childhood mental health because it is such an important component of our community and an area that deserves attention,” said Veradt, who has worked with Foothills Gateway for 20 years. “If we can support these families sooner, we know it leads to better outcomes.”

The program has now been funded through a $40,520 grant submitted through the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County and awarded by Larimer County Behavioral Health Services.

Liz Means, the program manager at Early Childhood Council of Larimer County who ultimately served as the project’s driving force, had sought a partnership with higher education for a number of years.

“It wasn’t until I had the good fortune of connecting with Liz Davis from CSU that we were able to move this project from idea to action,” said Means. “With Liz’s background in early childhood and our many mutual connections, the pieces just fell into place beautifully, and the CSU School of Social Work was an obvious choice to pilot this internship project.”

An additional mini-grant from CSU Extension supports one research-focused student in the cohort. This student will receive training in the translation of early childhood research to practice and policy. Findings from this work will also provide opportunities to create equitable decisions and interventions that may reduce disparities and improve lifelong outcomes for Colorado’s children and families.

“CSU’s School of Social Work, along with multiple agency partners across Larimer County, shared a vision to grow the early childhood and infant mental health workforce to support local communities,” Davis said. “Together we’re excited to help grow, train, and retain our students as members of this specialized workforce in Larimer County.”

Spring 2021 Cohort

Student Placement Agency Partner
Samantha Bruick – MSW Mary Beth Swanson, LCSW, LLC The Family Center/La Familia
Emily Barfuss Foothills Gateway Inc., Early Intervention Program Field Instructor – Jenny Woordard, LCSW – Site Supervisor, Etta Schwirtz and additional support from the Part C Coordinator Laura Veradt
Jackie Andrade Ramirez Thompson School District – Integrated Early Childhood Program Susan Bartlett, LCSW – Field Instructor
Maria Villegas Alvarez Poudre School District – Early Childhood Program and The Family Center/La Familia Cheryl Refuerzo – Field Instructor, Site Supervisor – Lia Closson – The Family Center/La Familia
Nina Barkmann Thompson School District – Integrated Early Childhood Program Susan Bartlett, LCSW – Field Instructor
Mylene Laughlin CSU School of Social Work Research with Asst. Professor Samantha Brown Field Instructor – Mary Beth Swanson, LCSW

School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.