Karen Francis, PhD

CRPC Board Member

Dr. Karen Francis is a Principal Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  Dr. Francis is a Medical Sociologist 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. Dr. Francis has more than 28 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. Her current research is focused on addressing health disparities in Mid-life and Older Black Women.


Dr. Francis is the AIR Task Lead for the Rural Behavioral Health Initiative in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), US HHS.  In this capacity, she leads 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 a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Francis works with multiple local health departments (LHD) nationally, to address youth violence prevention and provides TTA for the development of strategic plans and implementation of evidenced based programs.   Through initiatives funded by SAMHSA, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Dr. Francis has worked to address the many needs of youth in communities with some of the worst poverty and highest rates of violence anywhere that place these young people at risk for system involvement.  She has worked with multiple school districts for the US 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. And has developed several tools and resources to guide jurisdictions as they attempt to address these issues.


As Co-Director of OJJDP’s National Girls Initiative (NGI), Dr. Francis was focused on addressing the needs of girls at risk or involved in the juvenile justice systems.  She has senior roles on other national training and technical assistance centers at AIR and has served in leadership positions for several federal technical assistance center’s prior to her tenure at AIR.  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.  For eight years, Dr. Francis served as an on-site Cultural and Linguistic Competence (CLC) consultant to the Child Adolescent and Family Branch (CAFB), SAMHSA, U.S. HHS and provided technical assistance to system of care (SOC) communities.  In this capacity, she coordinated the development and dissemination of information, best practices, assessment tools and other resources to ensure implementation of effective strategies to reduce racial/ethnic disparities. 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 serves as Chair of AIR’s Diversity and Inclusion Council (D & I Council), and leads AIR‘s Cultural and Linguistic Competence (CLC) Workgroup.  In these capacities she provides guidance for activities focused on implementation of AIR’s diversity and inclusion strategic plan and the integration of CLC standards, principles, and practices throughout AIR’s organizational infrastructure and operations.   Dr. Francis is also active in her community as evidenced by her service on the Montgomery County, Maryland’s 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.  Dr. Francis, holds a Ph.D., Medical Sociology, Howard University, MA, Sociology, American University and BA, Sociology, Catholic University of America.