Dr. Karen Francis

Director, Diversity and Inclusion

Company: American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Role: Session Presenter

2020 Conference Session: Using Cultural and Linguistic Competence to Guide the Journey Toward Sustainable Growth and Impact (S5-F)

Karen Francis, PhD, is the interim director of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and a principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). In the capacity of interim director, Dr. Francis leads AIR’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, providing organizational guidance and management for activities focused on implementation of AIR’s diversity and inclusion strategic plan. She leads efforts for D&I communications, internal and external engagement, and the integration of D&I and culturally competent standards, principles and practices throughout AIR’s organizational infrastructure and operations intended to support overall organizational focus, growth and outcomes. Karen is also chair of AIR’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and leads AIR’s Cultural and Linguistic Competence (CLC) Workgroup.

Dr. Francis is a medical sociologist by training and has grounded her work in the principles of cultural competence and a commitment to address disparities across social, health, juvenile justice and educational service systems. She has more than 30 years of experience managing, planning and delivering training and technical assistance (TTA) at national, state and local levels that have also been accompanied by countless presentations to national, state and local leaders, policy makers and practitioners. Her expertise spans a variety of issues including juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, children’s behavioral health, gender responsive programming, rural behavioral health, youth violence prevention, safe and supportive learning environments, health disparities, cultural and linguistic competence, and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Karen served as the AIR task lead for the Rural Behavioral Health Initiative in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. HHS. In this capacity, she led efforts in providing content area expertise for the development of resources, virtual learning and delivery of technical assistance and for children, youth and families in rural communities.

Through initiatives funded by SAMHSA, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Karen has worked to address the many needs of youth in communities with some of the worst poverty and highest rates of violence anywhere, which place these young people at risk for system involvement. She has worked with multiple school districts for the U.S. Department of Education to disaggregate data about students who have been involved in the school-to-prison pipeline, illustrating bias by race, gender and disabilities. For over a decade, she led strategies on cultural competence, youth and family engagement under the Technical Assistance Partnership for Child and Family Mental Health, SAMHSA, intended to shape policy, program and service delivery.

She has authored and co-authored publications focused on issues such as effective culturally competent practices across child and social service systems, addressing disparities in social services systems, family and domestic violence, and leveraging community assets to build safe and supportive environments for children, youth and families.

Dr. Francis is also active in her community as evidenced by her service on the Montgomery County, Maryland Commission on Juvenile Justice. As a commissioner on the Maryland Governor’s Commission on Caribbean Affairs, she led initiatives to promote health literacy and access to health and behavioral health services.

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