To improve mental health services and outcomes in northern New Jersey by enhancing the cultural competence of mental health professionals and their organizations.
Niki Stromko is FAMILYConnection’s Manager of CultureConnections. She is also the co-chair of the Cultural Competence Committee and has been with the agency since 2012. Niki is an active member of New Jersey’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ Multicultural Services Advisory Committee. Niki holds a BA from Tufts University and a Masters of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management from Seton Hall University.
CultureConnections is managed by FAMILYConnections, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) community-based mental health, substance abuse and family service agency with over 35 specialized programs for all ages from infants to seniors. Licensed by New Jersey’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Department of Children and Families, FAMILYConnections delivers research-based therapeutic services in our offices and on-site in preschools, schools, and directly in the home.
CultureConnections’ approach to cultural competence has evolved from FAMILYConnections own journey toward cultural competence, which began in 2006 with the formation of our Cultural Competence Committee (CCC). As part of the Agency’s Quality Assurance Program, the CCC grew out of our staff’s desire to improve cultural awareness and sensitivity for both staff and consumers. Since then, FAMILYConnections has maintained a committed effort to promote cultural competence in all aspects of the agency, based on the following:
- Culture is defined broadly and not limited to race and ethnicity. When we use the word “culture”, we are including age, race, ethnicity, language, religious beliefs, ability, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
- It is important to learn about various cultures but not to restrict ourselves to the categorical and stereotypical knowledge we may gain from our eagerness to learn. In working with individuals, it is important to gain insight into their worldview. Worldview is defined by Merriam Webster as the way someone thinks about the world and by Free Dictionary.com as a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. It is the intersection of all of the cultural aspects of an individual that shapes that individual’s worldview. Cultural competence is a cornerstone of client and family-centered service delivery.
- Many people think that cultural competence means learning about others. We believe that cultural competence means learning, first and foremost, about ourselves. Without an understanding of our own culture and worldview, we cannot effectively learn about and connect with others.
- Cultural competence in mental health services involves respecting and effectively engaging individuals from all backgrounds while fostering empowerment.
- Successfully integrating cultural competence into an agency’s culture is best achieved by incorporating it into an organization’s existing infrastructure (under Quality Assurance, for example) or creating a new cultural competence-specific infrastructure which formalizes cultural competence activities planning, reporting, and accountability.
- Support from the top of an organization is critical to improving an organization’s cultural competence.
- Once support from the top is secured, staff at all levels of an organization need to be engaged and to recognize the role that cultural competence can potentially play in improving outcomes and overall quality of care.
- Getting staff buy in works best when cultural competence learning experiences are varied, interactive, and fun!
- To ensure that staff embraces a cultural competence program, it is important that all training and activities are conducted in a safe, incremental, and thoughtful way, taking into consideration that culture can be a complex and sensitive topic.