Author Archives: Voices for VA's Kids

  1. Virginia’s Youth in Action in the News

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    Last week, Voices hosted its Virginia’s Youth in Action (VAYA) Advocacy Day at the General Assembly with 18 bright and impressive young advocates from around the state. In total, VAYA advocates attended 22 legislative meetings, participated in a bipartisan press conference focused on youth mental health, and had a one-on-one discussion with Secretary of Health and Human Resources, John Littel. The day ended with advocates being introduced in the House by Delegate Adams and the Senate by Senator Mason!

    At the press conference, Ishika Vij and Heciel Nieves-Bonilla shared their personal stories on why we need to prioritize mental health support in Virginia. Echoing their call for action were state legislators Sen. Barbara Favola, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Sen. Jeremy McPike, Del. Emily Brewer, and Del. Sam Rasoul. Check out CBS6’s coverage of the press conference and 8News’ sit-down interview with Ishika and Heciel.


    Read their full comments below:

    Ishika Vij:

    “Good morning, everyone!  I am Ishika Vij, and I am here as a part of Virginia’s Youth and Action.

    Places where young people could get mental health assistance were already in the decline but have now reached an all-time low. I live in Loudoun County, which is statistically the richest county in Virginia, however, there’s still not enough mental health access and support for students throughout the school day. It follows that service is much worse in other counties that do not receive as much funding. It’s honestly shocking to see how much of the budget goes towards things other than our youth, even though young people are the future. They face the effects of social media, politics, the effects of the pandemic, and traumas that they have faced in their day-to-day lives.

    Although there are counselors available within schools, most of them are not properly equipped to deal with the mental health issues that the youth are facing today. For instance, counselors have to take a larger batch of students. There are long wait times to even reach a counselor, and the short 15-minute meeting does not give a chance for a counselor to truly understand what’s going on.

    For instance, when I was facing a mental health crisis, my counselor was not properly equipped to connect me to resources, and instead, she waited until there was severe suicidal ideation to provide access to receive additional help. This could have been prevented, and instead I did not have to wait for an extreme, such as suicide, for my mental health to be taken seriously. This has also happened to several of my peers, even though there are trusted resources that exist, we were just never given them. We couldn’t figure out what we were struggling with, and especially coming from a first-generation immigrant family, my family was even more confused on what actions to take.

    A counselor should have the time with each student to recognize warning signs, instead of focusing on other factors, and they should be equipped to connect with guardians and community resources to get help as soon as possible. However, this is not happening. Counselors are not able to easily access trustable sources, or recognize when these sources need to be enacted.

    If counselors were properly equipped in the first place, and students were provided more resources about how to help each other through this tough time, we don’t have to wait until it’s too late. Schools need adequate resources to hire enough mental health counselors and professionals to properly understand the mental health disorders and how they present currently, along with the resolving of the high ratios of students assigned to each counselor, so that each student is given the full care they need.

    Youth is our future, and raising these children without the proper assistance they need to ensure that their mental health is a priority, when we do have the resources to fund a system, is simply not OK. We have the budget; we just need to figure out how to properly distribute it in order to ensure that more counselors can be hired to specifically focus upon student mental health. Also, to have the additional funding to hire more counselors, so we can decrease the large student to counselor ratio. We need to create a better understanding of mental health for all, so that as a community we can work together to ensure this for our youth. Thank you.”


    Heciel Nieves-Bonilla:

    “Morning! My name is Heciel Nieves-Bonilla. I’m here to endorse the prospect of change in mental health care, for everyone but especially in the case of children and teenagers. The significance of so-called ‘invisible’ ailments is not lost on me personally – In fact I only live here in Virginia at all because a long time ago my family saw in this state an opportunity. One to better care for the invisible and developmental disabilities of my siblings and I through the medical system. We took a chance on this state and have called its forests and mountains and beaches home for over a decade, and our story has come with a lot of success.

    However in the period since we have discovered what it means to live in a place near the bottom nationally for access to care—this year Virginia ranks 48th in youth mental health access according to Mental Health America. For us, counseling or therapy of any kind has always been delayed and often dependent on either day-consuming drives to Richmond or NoVa. Or good computers and internet access that we didn’t always have.

    Medical resources for dealing with, for example, anxiety and depression, only became reliably available to us after learning the tricks of the system – and that was after jumping over the hurdle of English as a second language, which after many years still represents a barrier to access for many of the least affluent among us. In fact, in our experience, once we managed to speak to the correct social work employee or school representative the issue often existed of the service we were looking for simply not existing for our language needs. It’s even fair to say that there exist parallel systems for medical access broadly but mental health care access in particular: one for people with English proficiency, transportation access, and the money and resources to take full advantage of all the state has to offer, and one for people without one or more of those things, both of which would benefit from equity and from attention. In fact one of the major problems those seeking aid face is the inequity of service, whether based on poverty level, race, occupation, gender, language, immigration status, transportation capacity, or zip code.

    It’s inaccurate to say mental health access issues are not discussed, but it largely revolves around incidents of gun violence or suicide, the rates of which have risen among young people in Virginia and which are correctly identified as crises. It’s a devastating consequence of many things, including a lack of enthusiastic outreach to children about their own mental health. But we shouldn’t get it twisted – among the reasons why mental health matters are the realities of children’s individual needs throughout the whole gamut of care. To a larger point, to characterize the establishment of better mental health resources in terms of responding to a crisis is to miss the fact that the health of all Virginians, mental and physical, matters. It matters on its own merit.

    We ask you to support these proposals to support a positive school climate, increase access to transportation to care, extend informational and therapy sources to Spanish and other languages, and add more and better counseling to schools.  This is an investment in the future. In the name of stories like ours continuing to be possible and getting easier, and in to help make Virginia that state of opportunity for all youth.”


    Learn more about VAYA’s 2023 Advocacy Day and get General Assembly updates on mental health solutions by checking out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter or heading to our bill tracker.

  2. Impact of Burnout on Transitional Aged Youth

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    This post was written by former Voices intern Abby Aquije.

    Between a rigorous academic schedule, part-time job, and extracurriculars, my high-school self often had 12+ hour days. Just thinking about it makes me overwhelmed and exhausted. This, unfortunately, is the norm for young people, especially those that are looking to go to college or who have families they help to support. It is a lot of pressure to put onto young people and having graduated the year before COVID-19 started its impact, I can only imagine how much worse it has gotten.


    Youth Experience Burnout Too

    Burnout, which is on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classifications of Diseases list, is when chronic stress is not successfully managed. It is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism, and reduced efficacy. Workplace burnout has been a hot topic for years and is especially talked about as we continue to face widespread labor shortages that are impacting healthcare workers, behavioral health providers, and educators. Though the WHO cautions not to apply burnout to other areas of life, as it is an occupational phenomenon, they fail to realize that youth can experience unofficial occupational roles.

    These roles have aspects of, at minimum, part-time occupation. The average American student spends about seven hours in school, which is just shy of a full-time workday. Only an extra hour spent traveling, doing homework, or studying makes being a student a full-time job, and it is often more than that. Extracurriculars alone can add eight hours to a student’s week, and socializing and family demands add even more. Students have long days, lots of stress, loads of pressure, and few breaks. It’s no wonder that these students are affected by burnout. Those that learn and think differently are even more susceptible to burnout and burnout in young athletes is also a risk factor.


    Current Events and Societal Stressors are Worsening the Impact

    With all the uncertainty throughout the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, motivation was low. I remember in the fall of 2022 I barely got ready for my second year of college. I did not want to fully commit myself to something that could be taken away from me as it was the semester before. Beyond the fear of having to go back into a full lockdown, I also knew the year was not going to be anything like the college experience everyone talks about. Online schooling, frequent testing, and following the ever-changing safety guidelines all contributed to my burnout. Yet, I know I did not have it bad.

    A survey of online learning experiences found that nearly 3 in 4 college students felt their learning was impacted due to low engagement. I would agree that engaging in virtual classes was a challenge, however, for many, it was not just the style of learning that caused academic disengagement. Changes in life circumstances were said to be one of the greatest reasons for students not engaging in distance learning. Students were dealing with grief, illness, or economic hardships, including having to work during the virtual school day, among other stressors.


    When Burnout Persists, Other Concerns Arise

    Many students faced serious signs of burnout. As a result, we saw students wanting to stop school and get a GED and showing concerning signs of depression. In the following semester (Fall 2020) nationwide rates of college enrollment dropped. Although Virginia’s overall higher education enrollment was stable, new student enrollment decreased. Unsurprisingly, the impact was worse for community colleges and Virginia’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) considering lockdowns disproportionally affected low-income students and Black children were more likely to have lost a caregiver to the pandemic.


    Tackling Burnout Can Help Prevent Other Mental Health Crises

    Burnout is certainly not at the top of the list for reasons young people struggle with depression or stop pursuing higher education, however, tackling it can help prevent those outcomes. Catching signs of youth burnout early can allow adults to help these individuals engage in routines and other preventative measures.  In addition, there are many stressors that adults can work on limiting or managing better. This is especially so for students that have additional hardships and stressors. Students with learning disabilities, students from low-income families, and students of color are all at higher risk for burnout. Policies aimed at alleviating these stressors can tackle symptoms of burnout early on. If burnout is inevitable, it is necessary to integrate peer support and other forms of behavioral health resources to assist youth through the symptoms.


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  3. Youth Mental Health Crisis

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    Written by Voices’ intern Abby Aquije

    Increasing mental health resources and access to behavioral health services is a necessary step to mend our youth mental health crisis. If we are truly committed to ending this crisis, we must also consider what factors lead to the situation getting this bad. What is different about our youth today? What has gotten us to this crisis point?

    Youth are feeling alone and disconnected

    Our youth are facing an unprecedented number of stressors that can explain rising rates of depression and anxiety among children and adolescents. Gen Z youth are experiencing stress from sources ranging from school demands to family issues, and even “eco anxiety.” Though these statistics tell us that most youth are struggling with similar hardships, those that work closest to them assure us that this is not how they see it. Recent conversations with Virginia youth directors have made it clear that a key element in this crisis is that youth are feeling alone and disconnected from those around them.

    Most of us have been there, feeling as if we are the only ones stressing about school, social image, or family issues, when in reality the majority of us go through similar issues. As a society, we are becoming more open about mental health issues, yet, there is more to be done. If youth do not feel comfortable talking about their struggles, they will continue to feel alone. Think of a student falling behind in a class. On top of feeling the academic stress, they may also feel shame, which could lead to feelings of isolation and then more serious mental health issues. Even in the Netherlands – whose COVID-19 response included short lockdowns, equitable funding, and high rates of broadband access – student test results revealed a learning loss. How can a student blame themselves for something that is happening globally, even in “best case” scenarios? Why is it that they feel shame rather than solidarity?

    The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already concerning rates of loneliness

    Loneliness is being described as an epidemic, with over 60% of young adults feeling it. They are unable to connect with those around them and have to tackle their challenges alone. This all makes the perfect recipe for deteriorating physical and mental health issues that must be addressed.

    High rates of youth loneliness can easily be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic: the nationwide lockdowns, social distancing, and virtual schooling all caused disconnection. Efforts to boost human connection were admirable, but the damage is done. No amount of virtual connection can make up for the formative middle school years, high school celebrations, and other important in-person experiences youth missed. While it is easy to point fingers at the pandemic, we cannot forget that these rates were rising prior to it. Social media and changing family structures also play a role in limiting the connections youth build with one another.

    Program Response: Employ connectedness strategies

    As we move forward, we have to be more intentional about forming and maintaining connections. Those that work with youth should prioritize creating spaces for youth to meet and truly connect with one another. Youth thrive when they feel they belong, they need to know that people hear and care about them.

    Most parents and caregivers know the importance of forming secure attachment in early childhood and actively work toward developing it. Attachment building paves the way for healthy and independent children, however, as they grow up there is less of an emphasis on developing and maintaining these sorts of connections. It is important for kids to learn independence, but no one can survive on their own, not physically or mentally. It is no surprise that youth connectedness is a protective factor for negative mental health outcomes and that the CDC supports the implementation of connectedness strategies, policies, and activities. As we move forward, we must value building youth connections just as much as we do infant attachment building.

    Policymakers should push for Peer Support Services before crises arise

    Peer support is an evidence-based practice used to help individuals cope with mental health challenges and improve quality of life. In addition to being cost-saving, it has been shown to be more effective than usual care for treating depression, and is especially engaging for “difficult to reach” individuals. Virginia already has qualified peer support providers that use their lived experience with mental health and substance use disorders to help others with their recovery. These providers are important for recovery once mental health challenges arise; however, their experience can also be beneficial for preventative measures before the issues arise. Programs like Hoos Connected, at the University of Virginia, use a form of peer support by having upperclassmen facilitators bring students together to develop meaningful connections with one another.  Students that participate in these programs report feeling significantly less depressed and as a former facilitator, I can attest to the difference the 9-week program makes. Despite its limitations – mainly the challenge of enrolling youth into a “feelings” class – there is a lot of promise to programs like these.

    Combating the loneliness epidemic will take time as it requires youth buy-in and societal shifting. Working alongside young people as we continue to research and develop solutions will be essential as we move forward in an effort to improve the overall mental health of our youth.

  4. 2022 General Assembly Budget Passes with Bipartisan Progress for Kids

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    Click here to register for our upcoming Zoom webinar on June 14 as we discuss General Assembly results and what they mean for children and families in Virginia.

    After several months of negotiations and discussions among key decision makers, the General Assembly has reached an agreement on the budget. This year’s budget had notable investments in early education, foster care, and children’s mental health through bipartisan support. Since budgets are a reflection of priorities, we believe there are improvements Virginia can make to demonstrate its commitment to young people in the commonwealth.

    Notable investments in the final budget compromise include:

    • Expanding affordable, accessible early childhood education for young children around the state. The budget builds on Governor Northam’s vision to expand early childhood programming and provides funding for regional initiatives in Southwest Virginia and early intervention services for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.
    • State funding for school-based mental health integration projects linking mental health services into schools. The legislature approved $2.5 million for school-based mental health projects as well as the first regional recovery high school in Virginia.
    • New initiatives to address long-standing challenges in the child welfare system include replacing the outdated child welfare data tracking system and the iFoster web-based portal for youth, expanded regional collaboration for foster placements, and additional support for foster youth seeking associate’s degrees to participate in Great Expectations.
    • $1 million each year to boost the buying power of SNAP benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and community retailers.

    We are proud to stand by the youth and young adults who advocated with us for these investments. And we will continue to speak up for policy changes designed to meet their needs.

    As one of our youth advocates said,

    “Mental health is the same thing as your physical health. It’s just as important, if not more important, so we really need to prioritize that and make it so that everybody has equal opportunities.”

    – (Aaliyana, 16 years old).

    While these initiatives will continue to create new opportunities for young children to grow and thrive, the foundation of their success is economic stability. The rate of children experiencing poverty has remained consistent for decades in Virginia with persistent racial disparities in the percentage of Black and Latino children living in poverty than their White peers. A solid foundation for child well-being rests on a solid financial foundation for their families.

    As a significant commitment to families, the General Assembly approved a partially refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC):

    • Low-income working families who have a higher-than-average tax burden will see 15% of the value of their federal refund returned as a state tax credit.
    • In addition, this summer, taxpayers will receive one-time rebates of $250 for single families and $500 for married couples.

    The refundable EITC for families demonstrates that lawmakers can take necessary action to address long-standing challenges for families that were exacerbated by the pandemic. There will be more work to do to ensure that families receive economic support and stability that will address decades-long trends in child poverty and ever-increasing material hardship experienced by families across the state.

  5. Improving Family Economic Security Reduces Child Maltreatment

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    Guest Post by Jamia “Mia” Crockett, Chief Executive Officer of Families Forward Virginia

    Families Forward Virginia, in partnership with the Division of Family Services at Virginia Department of Social Services is observing National Child Abuse Prevention Month during April. This year, our advocacy is dedicated to “Growing a Better Tomorrow for All Children Together!”

    The biggest protective factors for facing adversity and building resilience are social supports and remaining connected to people. Unfortunately, as a system in Virginia, we have not been doing this work well for many years. State systems and community partners have often unintentionally worked in silos, leading to missed opportunities, broken safety nets and minimal collaboration across agencies.

    Strengthening family financial security is key to reduce child maltreatment and to enhance the relationships that help children thrive. When families face financial hardship, it sets the stage for more stress and less tuned-in interaction with children. Boosting family incomes through emergency direct payments, tax credits and paid family leave can relieve pressure and prevent childhood adversity from occurring. The General Assembly can give families with kids more support by making Virginia’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable. Virginia’s current EITC is non-refundable, capping the amount of the credit available to families. A refundable EITC would help budget incomes for working families across the state.

    As a rule, parents want what’s best for their children. We also know that children don’t come with instruction manuals. Even in good times, parenting is one of the most challenging jobs. All parents need help learning how to raise and teach their children. It’s especially critical for parents who didn’t have good role models themselves, don’t have help from relatives, or can’t access programs such as home visiting where they learn skills and understand what behaviors and skills are appropriate for specific ages.

    Clearly, we’re not all experiencing this pandemic in the same way. Through our 50 affiliates across Virginia, we’re seeing children and families – who were already struggling – desperately seeking help, dealing with a lack of paid leave, stressing about rent, utilities, medicine, and food with underinsurance or no health insurance. This pandemic has also exposed weaknesses in the child welfare system, such as:

    • Youth aging out of the foster care system without a supportive family
    • Limited access to technology
    • Youth in foster care having insufficient time with parents
    • Lack of flexibility with federal funding
    • Limited access to basic needs, including food, housing, employment
    • Lack of modernization in the judicial system

    Families have the right to live in a world free from fear, violence, or discrimination. Children deserve to experience the whimsical nature of childhood and learn about unfettered opportunities available to them. Instead, some children, especially children of color, have to learn to always get a receipt after making a purchase, why they shouldn’t wear a hoodie, or why they should be wary of how they play in their own front yards.  As a Black mother of 13- and 11-year old sons, I am having to renegotiate what safety looks like. What safety looks like for my daughter, as little girls of color go missing daily with little or no attention.

    Every child is filled with tremendous promise, and we share an obligation to foster their potential. Children need a support system to face adversity and build resilience, but naming and accepting that fact is different from seeing that necessity in everyday life. Before interventions are needed, policymakers need to support families with training and resources that address children’s well-being. That’s why Families Forward Virginia has:

    • Expanded the number of Circle of Parents, a parent peer support program, locations from eight to 17, with multiple Circle groups at each.
    • Facilitated conversations with the Virginia Department of Corrections to develop, train and support Circle of Parents groups to engage with their children proactively and positively both during and after incarceration.
    • Renewed parent leadership engagement across the state because parents must be at the table, creating opportunities and resources for positive family development.
    • Expanded efforts to encourage and drive collaboration among our child abuse prevention affiliates.

    Systems aren’t set in stone. Policymakers created systems, and policymakers must change them to meet new needs and new research. Policies that strengthen family financial security are another key strategy to reduce childhood adversity and enhance the relationships that help children thrive. When families face financial hardship, it sets the stage for more stress and less tuned-in interaction with children.

    Boosting family incomes through emergency direct payments, tax credits and paid family leave can relieve pressure, helping to head off childhood adversity before it happens. We must stand together, continuing to gain allies and speak truth to those in power in the unending fight to foster the potential and promise of every single child in Virginia.

    Join us in taking action today and tell lawmakers to prioritize children and families as they continue state budget negotiations.

    Jamia Crockett is the Chief Executive Officer of Families Forward Virginia.

    Jamia became Families Forward Virginia’s CEO in February 2021, having earlier served on the Board of Directors as Treasurer. Most recently, Jamia worked at Mary Washington Healthcare. She previously worked in various health systems across both Virginia and North Carolina focused on Strategic Planning and Business Development with extensive experience in research and evaluation.

    Jamia has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from William and Mary and a Master’s in Health Administration from VCU. Jamia is also an adjunct professor in executive leadership skills at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  6. Honoring a Voice for Children: Fletcher Lowe

    [Pictured above: Fletcher and Mary Fran Lowe at the first Carol Fox event in 2017]
    The tribute below was written by Voices’ Chief Policy Officer, Emily Griffey. She knew Fletcher well and had the opportunity to work with him for many years.

    It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Fletcher Lowe, a Voices’ board member from 2013-2019. Fletcher was an advocate for social justice in all the ways that matter—he lived the principles, he led the principles and he passed them on to others. Fletcher’s influence on advocacy included being one of the founders of the Interfaith Center for Public Policy, a former executive director of that organization and involved sharing his time and talents with many other organizations.

    To Voices, he was a friendly face at the General Assembly, a connector to financial support and the originator of the question at each board meeting, “are there any red flags we should pay attention to?” To kids in Virginia, he was a champion dedicated to justice through policy change day in and day out. The RTD political columnist Jeff Schapiro memorialized Fletcher in a tribute column last Friday: “Those are the kind of nudges he could give people” and the current director of the VA Interfaith Center for Public Policy shared her thoughts on his impact, including the conversation they had the day before he passed away. In his obituary, Fletcher asked that in lieu of flowers, “you help someone in need, smile and thank God for your life and contribute to a meaningful organization,” (he included Voices on the list of 4 organizations).

    In his initial board worksheet in 2013, Fletcher said that he wanted to get involved with Voices because, in his words, “Voices is THE advocacy organization in Virginia that deals with children.  If you are concerned about any number of issues affecting children, you need to care about Voices.  Voices coalesces other groups.  It takes the lead on things that I think are critical.”

    Many will remember Fletcher for his keen questions in board meetings and his love of plaid pants, but to Voices staff, he was a crystal clear moral compass. Voices’ Policy and Programs Director Allison Gilbreath remarked, “he will have an express ticket to heaven.” I recall a wonderful happenstance of my son Andy being assigned to write notes to Westminster Canterbury residents at the start of the pandemic where he was randomly assigned Fletcher and Mary Fran, so I could continue to stay connected in an unexpected way to keep in him the loop after his board term ended. That was Fletcher. What you got from him was unexpected and crystal clear. In his passing, we can all look to him for his model of using his privilege, his voice and his beliefs to always advocate for what needs to be done.

  7. Share Your Story: Back to School

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    As children across Virginia head back to school, many families are feeling uncertain. Lawmakers have taken steps to expand access to child care, to increase food benefits and offer free school meals and to provide child tax credits. These supports are necessary and appreciated. At the same time, there are challenges that will make this year’s back to school transition difficult such as lack of paid leave, long waiting lists to enroll in child care programs and costly back to school purchases.

    We believe that lawmakers will help families and we know they have the ability to provide help. Right now Congress is considering the Build Back Better recovery plan that includes 12 weeks of paid family leave, additional funding for child care, extensions of the monthly child allowance and more. This is the opportunity to pass a comprehensive package to provide families and caregivers with the support you need. With so many things happening in the world at once, we need to bring the focus back to children and families. We need you to share your story.

    Complete this form to share your story.

    You have a couple of options…

    1. type up your story and submit or

    2. submit your name and we’ll follow up to interview you and record a story.

    We will connect with you to approve your story before it shared and let you know more about where and how it can be shared. We would like to collect as many stories as possible in the first two weeks of children going back to school. We appreciate your patience in reviewing your story and getting back to you.

    We can’t wait to hear from you.

  8. Intentional Recruitment of Clinicians of Color


    This is a guest blog post written by Olivya Wilson, MSW, LCSW, the Parent Engagement Coordinator for Greater Richmond SCAN. This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one on the impact of having clinicians of color.

    We want to raise awareness about the importance of having mental health professionals of color and why children in particular need clinicians who present and reflect their same racial and ethnic experiences. This post focuses on the recruitment of clinicians of color, barriers to recruitment and how you can be an advocate.

    Intentional Recruitment of Clinicians of Color

    As mentioned in the first part of this series, there is a shortage of Black and Brown mental health providers and those that do exist can be difficult to access, especially depending on where you live. So, in addition to raising awareness about the need for more mental health professionals of color, we have to speak to why there is a shortage. One of the reasons is recruitment and retention. The mental health arena consists of many types of job settings and positions and for a long time, the field has not been intentional about recruiting Black and Brown people. While better efforts have been made with the help of increased conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity, we still have some ways to go to close the gap.

    Barriers to Recruiting and Retaining Mental Health Professionals of Color

    The Reach of Job Postings

    I have benefited from recruitment efforts that involved being personally referred for a job opening by an inside person. This is a common practice in the mental health field especially in the non-profit world. I don’t knock this kind of recruitment effort, however I do have a problem with it being providers’ primary or sole recruitment strategy especially if the organization or agency’s staff is predominately white and have little or no connections to other professionals of color. This will not help reach more clinicians of color. Intentional recruitment of clinicians of color requires diversifying the places/platforms where job opportunities are posted. Posting jobs in places that attract the same pool of applicants every time and then simply concluding that Black and Brown clinicians don’t apply for whatever biased reason is a barrier.

    Fair and Equitable Pay

    Traditionally, the mental health care field has been known to have low to average paying positions. Though we are beginning to see increases in pay, we still need to consider the equity implications for why White mental health clinicians generally would be more likely to accept a lower paying job than clinician of colors. Funding for Black and Brown mental health providers to start businesses of their own is also a barrier.


    We cannot deny that workplace discrimination continues to occur and when it does, the discrimination is mostly based on race and sexual orientation, which is reflected in a 2017 Report from the Behavioral Health Workforce. This report highlights that discrimination against the client population also deters mental health clinicians of color from working with particular employers or is a factor that leads to them leaving their job.

     Call to Action

    What you can do? Mental health providers of color can connect with/join area chapters of organizations like the National Association of Black Social Workers, National Association of Black Psychologists, and National Association of Black Counselors. Membership benefits can include networking, educational opportunities, mentorship, greater access to job referrals/job postings, and other community resources, just to name a few. These associations often have directories and other resources that can help community members of color find Black and Brown mental health providers in their areas. Additionally, the aforementioned associations oftentimes have student chapters at various colleges and universities that allow students of color to get connected to strong professional networks which helps prepare them for the workforce post-graduation.

    We can create pipeline structures for future mental health professionals of color by increasing exposure about employment opportunities in the mental health field to Black and Brown youth as early as possible. Increased positive experiences between Black and Brown clients and mental health providers who reflect their ethnicity and cultural norms can lead to increased interest and desire for people of color to enter the field. White providers working toward intentional recruitment of clinicians of color can reach out to local Historically Black Colleges and Universities and connect with their Department of Field Education and Career Centers to share job/internship opportunities. Go to these places and participate in their job fairs, build relationships with the Schools of Psychology, Social Work, Counseling, etc.

    Last, but not least, keep addressing systemic racism and its impacts on Black and Brown people. Invest in more trainings for administrators and employees that address biases, structural racism and other barriers to achieving equity, inclusion and diversity in the workplace. Advocate for more equitable funders/funding sources so Black and Brown mental health providers don’t have to continue struggling to effectively meet the needs of their communities.


    Referenced Articles/Websites

  9. Meet Our Interns: Kelsey McMahon and Kaytee Wisley

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    Meet our two new interns, Kelsey McMahon and Kaytee Wisley. We’re so excited to have them join the Voices team this summer.

    Kelsey McMahon:

    Kelsey McMahon is an intern for the Data and Research Program at Voices for Virginia’s Children. She has recently completed her Masters in Sociology from Virginia Tech and also graduated from Virginia Tech with two undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Criminology. Her thesis was on whether a college education requirement and/or community policing training at police departments could reduce police use of force. Kelsey has an extensive background in quantitative research and data collection to inform different areas of public policy, including but not limited to: juvenile justice, drug-impaired driving, alcohol-related crimes, and racial and ethnic health disparities. Her goals for this internship are to get well-acquainted with the inner workings of nonprofits, to learn skills to amplify and empower historically marginalized communities, and to collaborate with a wide variety of people to gain an understanding of policy issues and the best ways to address them.

    Kaytee Wisley:

    Kaytee Wisley is an intern for the Policy Department at Voices for Virginia’s Children. She is currently working on her Master of Public Policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. She recently graduated from Fort Hays State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Kaytee has previously interned with the Kansas Legislature and the American Civil Liberties Union. She has experience conducting policy research and doing advocacy work. Her goals for this internship are to learn more about Virginia state politics, to gain a better understanding of the various policy areas that contribute to childhood development, and to collaborate with the Voices team to create equitable policy solutions.


    Stay tuned for more on Kaytee and Kelsey’s work at Voices and check out blog posts they’ve written below:

    Learn more about the work Kelsey is doing by checking out the KIDS COUNT Data Center. 

    Learn more about Kaytee’s work in our policy center.

  10. The Impact of Having Clinicians of Color

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    This is a guest blog post written by Olivya Wilson, MSW, LCSW, the Parent Engagement Coordinator for Greater Richmond SCAN. This is part one on the impact of having clinicians of color.

    We want to raise awareness about the importance of having mental health professionals of color and why children in particular need clinicians who present and reflect their same racial and ethnic experiences.

    Tamika’s Story

    I want to do this by first introducing you to Tamika. Tamika is a Black/African American mother of four. She has three boys and one girl. Her oldest son was diagnosed with Autism as a child, something she knew nothing about as a new mom several years ago. This diagnosis led her on a winding path of trying to learn all she could about the diagnosis and how to find the right kind of resources and supports for her son. She fought many battles trying to advocate for her son’s needs. He was completely non-verbal at the onset of his diagnosis and struggled with aggressive behaviors, among other challenges. Additionally, he was in a school system with personnel that didn’t know how to appropriately respond to his needs, especially with him being a tall Black adolescent and later, a teenage boy with Autism.

    When her son began receiving intensive in-home counseling services, she requested a Black male counselor, but for the first three to four years, her son was assigned mostly White female counselors. He received a Black female counselor once, but shortly after was switched back to a White female counselor. Tamika persisted with this request until her son was finally assigned a Black male counselor, who she said has made all the difference in her son’s progress.

    If you asked Tamika, she would tell you that the reason it took so long to get a Black counselor for her son is because there aren’t enough Black mental health providers to meet the ever-growing need and demand. Black male mental health providers are even more scarce. Tamika shared her story with me and continues to share it every opportunity she gets about why it was so important for her to find a Black male counselor for her son. She went to these lengths because she knew it was important for her Black son to be connected with someone who looked like him and who could identify with him and relate to him in a real way. She wanted someone for him who shared similar, or even the same, ethnic and cultural values.

    Why Children of Color Need Clinicians of Color

    I’m always reminded of Tamika’s story whenever I engage in conversation about the need for more Black and Brown mental health professionals. Her story is just one of many that helps convey why having clinicians of color is so important. When we consider the needs of children of color, we must consider their unique backgrounds and experiences as well. We have to take into account what it means for them to have mental health professionals that represent and reflect their identities, as well as have spaces to share and process their experiences without the added stress of having to explain themselves or feeling fearful of being misunderstood, judged, invalidated, or further marginalized by their therapists.

    In season 4 of the award-winning drama series This Is Us, Randall Pearson, played by Sterling K. Brown, finally acquiesces to seeking therapy for his past traumas and history of mental health challenges. He begins working with a White female therapist, who Randall appears to develop a positive rapport with and who seems to help with his first breakthrough. However, with COVID-19, the resurgence of violence against Black people, increased racial and political tensions happening, he comes to realize he needs to find a therapist that could help him show up more authentically in a therapeutic space and he finds that with a Black male therapist.

    When I think about the mental health of children of color, I think about how the history of racism and systems of oppression are in many ways connected to their presenting circumstances. Just like we advocate for more representation of Black and Brown people in other professional arenas such as the medical field, politics, mass media and sports that have been dominated and run by White people and white supremacist systems for so long, the advocacy is desperately needed in the mental health field as well.

    According to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies, 86% of psychologists are white, and other mental health professions are similarly homogeneous. Already at a disadvantage owing to structural disparities, people from underrepresented communities are often unable to find providers who look like them or share their cultural experiences. (Source:

    Raising awareness about the racial-ethnic disparities in the mental health field doesn’t dismiss or deny the ability of some White mental health professionals to work with Black and Brown children and their families. However, it does remind us how neglectful the mental health field has been to Black and Brown individuals and communities. For me, not acknowledging the importance of having and needing more mental health clinicians of color keeps us at risk, whether consciously or unconsciously, of perpetuating the “White Savior” complex.

    From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex. This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people… The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege,” according to a piece in The Atlantictitled “The White Savior Industrial Complex”. (Source:

    I’ve come to recognize more than ever that Black, Indigenous, Latino and Asian people, especially our children, need to see more people like themselves participating in the healing process. Attending cultural competency or cultural sensitivity trainings are helpful and necessary, but it’s not enough. We must start to recognize how important the lived experiences of Brown and Black mental health professionals are to the practice. In these Trauma Basics or Intro to Trauma Informed Care trainings, we learn that trauma doesn’t discriminate, it has no respect of person, it crosses color lines, class, socioeconomic lines, etc. This is true, trauma can and has impacted all kinds of peoples and communities. I’ve also learned in my Urban Trauma training courses that there is a history of trauma, cultural biases, mistrust, and stigmas that are unique to Black and Brown people that White clinicians will never truly be able to understand, with regards to the importance and relevance of these experiences to their identities.

    Egette Indelele is the founder and CEO of Safe Haven Space and a recent graduate of George Mason University. Egette and her family were refugees from Tanzania some years ago. Her experience of being a refugee and realizing the impacts of that experience on her and her family’s mental health, along with understanding the cultural stigmas around mental health led her to founding Safe Haven Space. They offer mental health and well-being programs to refugee and immigrant students and their families, helping them to succeed in American life and culture through programs in schools and community organizations. This delivery of services most likely wouldn’t have the same impact if someone without the experiences of being a refugee or immigrant was leading this work.

    Learn more about Safe Haven Space.

    These are just a few examples and reasons of why we encourage more Black and Brown providers to work in mental health and why children in particular need clinicians who represent and reflect that same racial and ethnic or cultural experiences.

    In part two of Olivya’s guest blog post, she’ll be discussing the recruitment of clinicians of color, including barriers, retainment, and how you can help.