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ASU helps meet growing demand for bilingual, culturally competent social workers

October 19, 2012

A coalition of Arizona community-based health and human service providers has teamed with Arizona State University to advance efforts to increase the flow of diverse, bilingual and culturally competent professional social workers into Arizona’s behavioral health network.

The Multicultural Collaborative for Community Health is a scholarship initiative dedicated to expanding the state’s social services workforce and enhancing the delivery of culturally and linguistically responsive care needed to address the health disparities of diverse people and communities.

Nearly 100 Valley human services professionals gathered Oct. 15 in downtown Phoenix for an event hosted by ASU’s School of Social Work to announce the new initiative established in July 2012.

The shortage of diverse, bilingual and culturally competent health professionals to staff Arizona’s community health services system is widely recognized.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, more than 205,000 individuals were enrolled in the public behavioral health system in 2011, and of those individuals, nearly 45 percent were of racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds. 

“As we move into an increasingly multicultural society, cultural competence – understanding the specific cultural, language, social and economic backgrounds and concerns of the people and families we serve – is more important than ever before,” said Tomás León, CEO of People of Color Network, Inc. 

“Culturally competent care can mean the difference between a person receiving the vital services they need or slipping through the cracks,” León said. “This reality was the inspiration for establishing the Multicultural Collaborative for Community Health. It is the result of our shared belief that we can provide leadership and solutions to address this urgent need in our community and provide a model for others in our field to follow,” said León, who worked closely with local human services providers and ASU to help establish the scholarship initiative.

The partner agencies have made a multiyear commitment to establish the scholarship program through the ASU Foundation for a New American University. The seven agencies include: Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc., Magellan Health Services of Arizona, Native American Connections, People of Color Network, Inc., Terros Behavioral Health Services, Valle del Sol and The Victoria Foundation.

The School of Social Work, within ASU’s College of Public Programs, has provided matching funds to support the initiative and awarded the first 12 scholarships this fall in the amount of $5,000 to each recipient.

“We could not be more excited about this initiative and are indebted to all of the partner agencies for coming forward and contributing their time and significant financial resources to this important initiative,” said Steven Anderson, director of the School of Social Work. “We are committed to working with all of our partners to advance this effort.” 

Among the scholarship recipients is Master of Social Work student Jesenia Valdez, who received the Terros Behavioral Health Services Scholarship. Valdez aspires to become a licensed social worker and one-day operate a transitional housing program using her English and Spanish language skills to provide care for domestic violence survivors.

“I have always been intrigued and passionate about empowering individuals with psychosocial issues to seek positive change in their lives,” said Valdez, whose experience serving as a compassionate client advocate spans nearly a decade and includes her service as a bilingual community resources liaison, referral coordinator, family support partner, case manager and life coach mentor.

Valdez, who is raising her five children as a single parent, said the scholarship funds will enable her to pay for a range of essential school-related expenses that she could not afford otherwise, including a computer, books, and supplies. 

“A major challenge in recruiting students into social work education programs is the high cost of professional education,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of ASU’s College of Public Programs.

The College of Public Programs is home to ASU’s most diverse student body, with programs serving the university’s highest percentages of minority, transfer and working students, and the largest community of first generation college students.

“We embrace our diversity as a strength that enables us to be a leader in understanding the important role culture and diversity plays in building communities that are successful at improving conditions and resolving problems,” Koppell said.

“Through the leadership of this community-driven collaborative, new funding is now available for dynamic social work students, like Jesenia, who aspire to careers serving children, youth, families and adults of diverse backgrounds and are committed to meeting our society’s  rapidly increasing need for culturally competent health care,” he said.

The 2012 Multicultural Collaborative for Community Health Scholars include:

Native American Connections Scholarship
Adrian Hendricks
Erika Hawkins

Valle del Sol Carillio Torres Scholarship
Ben DeJesus
John Sullivan

Magellan Health Services of Arizona Scholarship
Alejandra Lara
Jennifer Premer

People of Color Network Scholarship
Gaylon Calahan
Julie Jackson

The Victoria Foundation Domingo Rodriguez Scholarship
Kiyara Iranvanian
Robert Robertson

Terros Behavioral Health Services Scholarship
Bernardo Paralta
Jesenia Valdez