Washington University in St. Louis: Brown School partners with STL mayor’s office to ‘transform’ public safety

The Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis is partnering with the city of St. Louis in “Social Workers for St. Louis,” an innovative new program aimed at hiring social workers and public health professionals to intervene in nonviolent situations such as mental-health crises as an alternative to the criminal justice system.

The city plans to hire 20-30 social workers beginning in October. The Brown School will help recruit workers, provide professional development and partner in the ongoing planning of the program.

“I believe that social workers are miracle workers,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said in describing the initiative during an Aug. 25 panel discussion that was part of the Brown School’s Open Classroom series. “I was excited to find ways to partner with Washington University to bring more social workers into our city government.”

“I’ve often said we have to put the ‘public’ back in public safety,” Jones said. “This is an innovative program aimed at integrating mental and behavioral health into public safety.”

Mary McKay, the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School, said that social workers are trained to understand individual trauma and mental health issues, as well as root causes of problems that affect entire communities.

“They’re going to bring a lens of ‘How do we help individuals?’ but also ‘How do we also really change what happens to a population?’” she said.