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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 2, No. 3
June 1997

North Carolina's Families for Kids Counties: Looking at Diversity (Cleveland County)

Since this initiative began two years ago, people in the department of social services in the eight North Carolina's Families for Kids counties have been taking stock of what they do to see if there are better ways to work with families and each other.

It was in this spirit that the Cleveland County, North Carolina DSS began looking at how their agency handles issues of difference and cultural diversity.

Not Just a Buzzword

Why look at cultural diversity? What does diversity have to do with a county's ability to achieve the Families for Kids goals?

To Bob Hensley, Cleveland County's DSS Administrator, the relationship is clear: "What I know about how I respond to different types of people affects my practice. If I don't understand a family's values or customs, I may run into trouble helping them."

Convinced of the impact culture has on their work, Cleveland DSS set out to determine where things stood in their agency and how they could improve. Hensley called Robert Leibson Hawkins, a cultural diversity expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) School of Social Work, and asked for his help in putting together a plan. Instead of simply scheduling training, the two decided it would be more helpful--and cost effective--if the agency developed its own resources in this area.

As Hawkins explains, "If workers attend a workshop they may return to their agency with a new way of looking at their clients, their work, themselves. But if the prevailing views in their work environment haven't changed, then a few days or weeks later they may find that they have slipped back into their old, less effective way of working and thinking." Cleveland County wanted something more sustainable and comprehensive.

The Process

After talking with Hensley, Hawkins and Mary Anne Salmon, a reseacher at University of North Carolina (UNC), designed a survey to help Cleveland DSS determine how its employees thought the agency was doing in terms of cultural competency. Then they made the survey available on the world wide web; everyone in the agency was given access to a computer with an Internet connection, and a password, so that it would be completely confidential. Out of 180 people in the agency, 125 completed the questionnarie--a very high completion rate.

After the survey was completed, Hawkins conducted a series of cultural competency discussion groups, attended by most agency staff, where he presented preliminary results of the survey and provided basic instruction in cultural competency.

Next the agency created a Diversity Team composed of volunteers from the different specialized areas within the agency. Members of this team will identify training needs and make recommendations to the director, Lorene Rogers. Bob Hensley explains their role: "For example, we are seeing more and more Spanish-speaking individuals, and more Vietnamese individuals. This group would try to determine what we need to support our work with these families."

Hawkins and others at UNC will also conduct telephone interviews of 300 clients of Cleveland County DSS so the agency can get specific feedback about how it handles diversity. Interviewers will ask clients about their perception of the attitude within the agency and whether they feel there are barriers due to their age, race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic status.

This information will help Cleveland County build its growing expertise in diversity so that it can continually improve outcomes for families and children.

1997 Jordan Institute for Families