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Avivo program encourages culturally-specific and culturally responsive care

Thanks to funding from the MN Department of Human Services (DHS), Avivo has initiated a workforce development program to increase diversity of mental health staff and provide culturally-specific and culturally-responsive care for the community. The program surrounds diverse professionals and students with supports to overcome barriers in education and to licensure and employment, specifically people of color, LGBTQ, and recent immigrants.

“There is such a lack of mental health clinicians in Minnesota from diverse backgrounds.”

“There is such a lack of mental health clinicians in Minnesota from diverse backgrounds,” shares BJ McElrath, program director of Avivo’s Mental Health Clinic and targeted case management teams. “People need to see a clinician who looks like them. Not understanding someone’s culture can hurt, not help.”

As part of Avivo’s workforce development program, Avivo program director Karvee Kawalawu is a clinical (task) supervisor for three interns. “I can relate to the challenges my interns face going through the school of social work as a person of color,” she shares.

 

Karvee emigrated from Liberia at age 17 with her family and finished high school in Minnesota. She has her masters of social work (LCSW-P) and is advancing her career as a licensed clinical social worker. According to Karvee, the American education system, racism, and the costs of clinical supervision, testing, and licensure are among the challenges people of color, LGBTQ, and immigrants face.

“People need to see a clinician who looks like them. Not understanding someone’s culture can hurt, not help.”

She recalls one of her internships where she was not treated the same as her white counterparts. “My supervisor and other staff always questioned me. They would even answer me with a question when I asked a question.”

The experience was so frustrating that people would ask Karvee why she stayed in that internship. “I have to stay because the people I am serving look like me. They need to see someone [for their therapy] that looks like them.”

Currently, 13 Avivo staff and interns are part of workforce development program. Avivo is able to help cover the costs of licensure requirements like Board-approved, clinical supervision and exam-study help that is culturally supportive. Avivo can cover the costs of the licensure tests and exams, and Avivo can also provide a monthly stipend for mental health interns.

“We are in a place surrounded by diversity – families from different countries, families from different cultures.”

“We are in a place surrounded by diversity – families from different countries, families from different cultures,” adds Karvee. “As staff diversity increases, we are able to shape policies and an approach to care that is culturally-responsive so the end results benefit the people we are serving. We are helping Avivo be the best among our peers.”

Funding for Avivo’s workforce development program is provided by the Minnesota Department of Human Services Cultural and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure Grants. Avivo partners with the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College behavioral health and social work programs, and provides training and financial support to obtain clinician certification and licensures.