Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Lanesskog, Deirdre


When children are detained and enter the foster care system, social workers screen them to determine if mental health services are needed. Formal referrals to mental health providers are made, however there is a significant wait time between referral and service delivery.

The focus of this study was to explore these barriers to mental health services in an effort to identify approaches that might improve service access. Qualitative face-to-face interviews were conducted with key stakeholders using an Ecological Systems Theory to fashion a hermeneutic dialect and a joint construct toward a shared action plan. Data was collected from the interviews and thematically analyzed.

The project informs service delivery systems of mental health for children and adults, both for micro and macro practice, by highlighting the need for increased collaboration between agencies and growing family engagement and empowerment to reduce stigma. These efforts will improve communication, define expectations, and diminish silos. The project also contributes to child welfare practices and policies for referrals of children’s mental health services by noting the need for an embedded mental health therapist within child welfare to accept referrals for services; the addition of one study site contractual children’s mental health service provider in the rural county that will accept referrals for children and families. In summary, the study identifies strategies to reduce wait time for service delivery, how those services are best accessed, as well as efforts to better engage families in treatment.