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MSW Program Director Awarded SAMHSA Grant for Substance Use Training

Malitta Engstrom headshot

Authored by: Alina Ladyzhensky

Faculty & Research


Malitta Engstrom, PhD, LCSW, faculty director of the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), has received a significant grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Engstrom, an associate professor at SP2, was awarded a grant to fund a substance use training program for MSW students at SP2. As she explained, social workers are uniquely positioned to reach people experiencing substance use disorders across a range of service settings, including primary care, hospitals, schools, senior centers, housing programs, and other health, legal, and social service organizations. However, most social workers do not receive specialized training in substance use-related services during their professional education.

The training program addresses this gap by ensuring that every MSW student will receive specialized education in evidence-supported practices to assist people affected by substance use concerns. The content will be included across all sections of the program’s required, first-year foundation practice course. The training will utilize evidence-supported pedagogical strategies to enhance substance use-related practice knowledge and skills, including the development of a multimodal curriculum with video, online, and standardized client trainings.

In the second year, the curriculum will be further refined, implemented, and evaluated with new first-year MSW students. The project team will also collaborate with the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors and the Association of Social Work Boards to expand substance use questions on state licensure exams for social workers.

“Penn MSW students will have a rare and critically important opportunity to enhance their knowledge, skills, and effectiveness to work with individuals, families, and communities affected by substance use concerns. This training holds great promise to improve outcomes among people in a wide range of settings,” Engstrom said.

Overall, the program aims to ensure that individuals have consistent access to high-quality substance use-related services across diverse service settings and to reduce the gap between substance use treatment need and access. With the support of the project team—professor and director of SP2’s Doctorate in Clinical Social Work program, Jacqueline Corcoran; PhD student Jessica Cho Kim; and online learning coordinator Nicole Auge— the training will begin to be implemented in the MSW Program curriculum in 2021.