Supporting at-risk families

Project tests innovative improvements to home visiting services

A unique partnership is taking place between research and public health through the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work.

When Sarah Kye Price, Ph.D., associate professor and the Ph.D. program director in the VCU School of Social Work, joined the faculty in 2006, she already had a history of partnering with public health departments in New York and Missouri to promote women’s mental health and to support their parenting capacity in ways that fostered social work’s commitment to system level change. It took Price only a few meetings to realize there was an overwhelming mutual desire for collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, too.

Over the past seven years, Price has been part of numerous community-university partnerships that have included efforts such as infant mortality risk reduction in underserved communities, designing and testing mental health interventions for low-income women experiencing perinatal depression, supporting community change through work with regional perinatal councils and serving as an adviser to the Health Commissioner’s Infant Mortality Work Group.  

But, most recently, the Behavioral Health Integrated Centralized Intake (BH-CI) project highlights Price’s work bridging the state’s public health infrastructure with social work’s commitment to change at the individual, family and community level. The project came from the work she did as a KL2 Scholar with the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research

The BH-CI project emerged from a strong, existing collaboration between the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Family Health Services and VCU’s School of Social Work. Price, who was a KL2 Scholar with the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research, had been actively involved in statewide and local home visiting initiatives and was one of the collaborators that was called upon to be a part of a large federal grant available to state health departments through the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Health Resources and Services Administration and the Administration on Children and Families.  

Virginia received one of 20 competitive awards nationally to test innovative improvements to the way in which home visiting support services are provided to at-risk families. In Virginia, that includes the BH-CI project, which is working intensively with four communities to implement behavioral health risk screening (perinatal depression, substance abuse, smoking and interpersonal violence) at the earliest points of contact women and families have with community support services.

Even though research and practice reiterates how mental health and behavioral health are linked with pregnancy and parenting outcomes, community services are compartmentalized between mental health, substance abuse/behavioral health, health promotion and child welfare.  

“This project bridges community service providers and uses a community-based participatory research framework to co-facilitate knowledge building and resource sharing among pilot communities,” Price said.

“We hope to learn more about the facilitators and barriers to community partnership for mental health promotion, and to develop systems of screening and referral that can be replicated in other Virginia communities,” Price said. “In addition, since the project is one of the federally designated home visiting evaluation projects, the knowledge that is generated is shared nationally and may influence the development of maternal and child health policy and practice.”

In addition to Price as the principal investigator, the project includes School of Social Work members: Molly Massey, training and technical assistance specialist; Tracey Wingold, behavioral health resources consultant; and Crystal Coles, Ph.D. candidate, research assistant.  


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Sarah Kye Price, Ph.D., associate professor, VCU School of Social Work
Sarah Kye Price, Ph.D., associate professor, VCU School of Social Work