Julie A. Niven, LCSW, DCSW has worked throughout her career as a behavioral health therapist within government and nonprofit sectors, making significant innovative programmatic changes to benefit patients/clients as well as facility staff. Niven’s work has impacted individuals, groups, communities, and the macro and micro practices of several systems with a consistent focus on preventative health.
Niven has worked most of her social work career in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). She was commissioned as a lieutenant in 2002. Prior to this, Niven worked at the Arkansas State Hospital and at a community mental health center. Over the course of her career, she has worked tirelessly to fill resource gaps both to enhance patient care as well as to assist staff with orientation, training and service delivery.
While assigned to the Whiteriver Indian Health Service Hospital Suicide Prevention Task Force, which necessitated making home visits to at-risk community members, Niven discovered there were no maps of the Apache reservation area. To alleviate the difficulty of staff finding community members’ homes, she drew a total of 27 maps which were used by the Whiteriver IHS Hospital. Niven also produced a culturally sensitive activity books on topics of stress management, self-care for caregivers and managing grief and loss.
From 2004 and 2007 Niven worked on the Mobile Adolescent Treatment Team (MATT) in Nome Alaska and developed a Suicide Screening Form and other communications materials that were incorporated in the Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC) Health Aide Certification Training and ultimately used in NSHC’s 20 village service area.
She reestablished the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) phone line throughout the NSHC region and was elected to the NASW Alaska Chapter State Board in 2006. She established a distance learning CEU teleconference line for social workers working in remote village settings and reestablished local NASW meetings in Nome. She participated on the NASW External Review Panel (2005) and earned the NAADAC Masters Addiction Counselor (MAC) certification. From 2006 through 2008, she participated with the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) as an Item Writer. In 2008, she was chosen to participate on the NASW Transporting Evidence to Social Work Practice Advisory Committee.
From 2009 to 2011, Niven served at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC) in Los Fresnos Texas. In addition to her primary duty of assessing and treating male noncitizens within a large housing facility, she created a multi-language noncitizen lending library, housed within the Mental Health Department and still in use today. The Mental Health Library also aimed to reduce self-harming behaviors and increase overall safety of the facility for noncitizens and staff alike.
Also during her tenure at PIDC, Niven partnered with DIHS Infection Control at the headquarters’ level to expand the database of HIV referral sources world-wide. She provided frequent training sessions within PIDC to ICE officers and contract detention staff on suicide prevention and how to manage hunger strikes. She increased sexual assault awareness resources while serving as the ICE Medical Liaison for Sexual Assault Prevention.
In 2009, she participated with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Committee to co-develop the first guidelines for advanced practice in military social work (2010). From 2009 to 2011, Niven worked with ASWB reviewing clinical items for the committee. Niven was promoted to Lieutenant Commander during her tenure at PIDC.
From 2011-2014, Niven served as an Embedded Behavioral Health Provider at Fort Lee Army Post in Fort Lee, Virginia. Most notable of CAPT Niven’s initiatives at Fort Lee is the activity booklet she created specifically to decrease suicidal and homicidal thoughts/actions within the 75,000 Advanced Individual Training (AIT) troops that circulated through the post annually. This booklet, Welcome to AIT!, helped to ease the stress of youth transitioning from civilian to service-life by promoting mental health self-care and filling a need for outreach to this vulnerable population. Welcome to AIT! was professionally printed and distributed post-wide and named a “best practice” by the U.S. Army Command in 2013.
Niven also worked with her leadership to overhaul/streamline the Kenner Army Health Clinic (KAHC) and the Troop Medical Clinic (TMC) behavioral health intake forms to capture essential psychosocial data, bring the departments into HIPAA compliance, meet Joint Commission standards, and standardize department-wide documentation. She assisted with the KAHC Commander-driven project, in line with then-First Lady Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, by designing art to encourage use of the stairs. All of these initiatives were outside of Niven’s regular duties of assessing and treating service members seeking mental health services. Niven was promoted to Commander while stationed at Fort Lee.
From 2014 to 2016, Niven worked within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Rochester Minnesota. She completed at FMC include dissemination of outreach-oriented bilingual mental health information throughout the institution, the creation of standard operating procedures for onboarding social work staff and co-creation of the standardized Social Work Re-Entry Plan form. Niven was promoted to Captain while stationed with the BOP.
From 2016 to 2019, Niven worked at the Four Corners IHS Clinic in Red Mesa, Arizona. In addition to her practitioner work, she produced 45 Ways to Avoid Self-Harm and assembled a small lending library open to all patients and clinic staff at Red Mesa as the closest public library was over 50 miles away. Niven also led a staff campaign to gather food and clothing for the homeless and initiated a clinic-wide recycling program with bins and departmental “Recycling Champions” to decrease refuge headed to the landfill.
From 2019 to 2021, Niven worked at an ICE detention facility in central Louisiana. She created a bilingual “Most Common Questions Asked” to facilitate communication between noncitizens and custody staff. She also developed a quality assurance process aimed at ensuring that noncitizens are seen for BH services in a timely manner.
Niven plans to retire from her social work career in 2024. Her most significant contribution outside of her regular duties at current duty station is the creation of the Kindness Challenge. The Kindness Challenge, within the medical department at Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma Washington, is an ongoing staff-interactive project comprised of multiple self-care and other-care affirming kindness tools such as mindfulness activities, “Everyday Hero” certificates staff used to recognize exceptional acts in the department, random acts of kindness activities, posters promoting kindness, live plants to increase a sense of calmness, etc. All of these tools are aimed at increasing staff satisfaction in the workplace and staff retention overall.
Niven was born in Mississippi in 1960, the daughter of an Air Force pilot and elementary school teacher. She earned a BA in English from the University of Arkansas in 1983 and a MS from the University of Arkansas in 1998.
Significant Recognition and Awards
Niven has been recognized within each agency for which she worked. Most notable among her awards are the Department of the Army Meritorious Service Medal (2014), Army Commendation Medal (2014), Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (2014, 2012) and the Presidential Unit Citation (2021, 2015).
Niven has written extensively throughout her career. The peer-reviewed journals, professional newsletters, agency newsletters and local newspapers in which she has published include: Commissioned Officers Association (COA) Frontline, American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, USPHS Health Services Professional Advisory Committee Newsletter, ICE Health Service Corps Communicator and Rapid Pulse, USPHS Social Work Professional Advisory Group Newsletter, Red Mesa Unified Sch. Dist. #27, Redskin Reporter, Shiprock Service Unit News, Navajo-Hopi Observer, Four Corners Regional Health Center Four Directions of Wellness Newsletter, Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Federal Medical Center, Rochester Holistic Prescription Newsletter, Federal BOP Social Work Newsletter, Fort Lee Army Post Fort Lee Traveller, Corrections Today, Social Work Today eNewsletter, Social Work in Mental Health, National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors Addiction Professional, Luke Air Force Base Thunderbolt, The IHS Primary Care Provider, NASW HelpStartsHere website, USPHS Commissioned Corps Bulletin, Whiteriver, AZ The Fort Apache Scout.