There is a dire shortage of mental health providers today in the U.S. By one estimate, the number of clinicians working in behavioral health is sufficient to cover just 13% of the actual need. At the same time, mental health issues among children and adolescents, which had reached crisis levels before the pandemic, have become an epidemic of its own. In 2019, approximately one in six US children aged 6 to 17 were diagnosed with a treatable mental health disorder. In its 2023 update, Mental Health America reported that 12% of youth in the U.S. (over 2.7 million children and teens) experienced severe major depression last year. 

Despite the surge in poor mental health among children and adolescents, access to mental health services sharply declined among individuals 18 years and younger after the pandemic. Today, 60% of youth with major depression do not receive mental health treatment. These effects are particularly pronounced in underserved and marginalized communities: 78% of Asian and 58% of Black youth reported they could not access mental health services in the past year. 

Health care organizations are trying to meet this demand. According to the most recent report from the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, education and health services is the largest growing employment sector in Massachusetts. Over the last year, of the 24,800 jobs gained in Massachusetts, 20,300 were education and health services jobs. In order to meet this need, we must invest in expanding the behavioral health workforce pipeline. 

Currently, 2.9% of MA residents are experiencing unemployment—and although Massachusetts has seen decreases in unemployment rates, according to the Economic Policy Institute, disparities in unemployment persist with Black and Hispanic residents experiencing 4.7% and 4.2% unemployment compared to their white peers (2.6%). Focusing efforts on recruiting and training residents from these groups will accelerate our ability to diversify the behavioral health workforce. 

The Behavioral Health Care Management Training & Employment Program will provide direct services to 50 unemployed Massachusetts residents to build their knowledge and skills to enter the workforce as behavioral health care managers. Participants will be trained to assist practices in the early identification, screening, treatment and care coordination of patients with at least one mental health diagnosis. Each behavioral health care manager will be able to serve the behavioral health needs of about 2,500 primary care patients; thus, 50 behavioral health care managers would be able to support 125,000 Massachusetts residents. 

This is a versatile skill set that can be applied to a number of direct patient care positions within health care. In addition to job-specific training, the program will include other career development components such as resume writing and interviewing skills. We will match participants with employee partners whom we will support by providing on-the-job training and oversight for the first 6 months. 

This program will help meet the growing needs of Massachusetts’ behavioral health sector by training and matching unemployed residents with well-paying positions and a meaningful career pathway into the behavioral health workforce. 

The Brookline Center for Community Mental Health exemplifies an ideal candidate for CDS requests under the ETA, adhering to the guidelines set forth by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) demonstration authority. The Center’s “Expanding Behavioral Health Workforce through Care Management Training & Employment” program is meticulously designed with a clear purpose: to meet the employment and training needs of workers by offering comprehensive direct services, including career services, training services with a focus on work-based training, supportive services, and other permissible activities as defined in WIOA. This initiative primarily targets training unemployed individuals to enhance their skills for employment opportunities and facilitates the skill development of incumbent workers for higher-paying positions. The Center has ensured that the primary funding will be allocated to staff salaries to train, support and place unemployed individuals in work environments which should reduce the need to apply again for CDS funds. Furthermore, the Brookline Center’s program promises measurable outcomes and is strategically linked with the state or local workforce investment system, showcasing its potential to significantly impact the employment and training landscape for individuals within the community for behavioral health services.