I think I am Culturally Competent Therefore I am ….
Fiona McColl – PeakCare Queensland Inc.
Exploring the Implications of Cultural Competency in Child
Protection Assessment and Intervention with Culturally and
Linguistically Diverse Communities and Families.
Culture Matters is an ongoing, three phase, research project which
is examining the inter-relationship between culture and current child
protection policies and practices in the Queensland non-government
and government sectors.
and families
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CaLD) is a
popularly used term to denote communities and
individuals who identify themselves as having a
culture, distinct from that of the country in which they
reside. Not all people identify with the term CaLD, and
may more readily identify with other terms such nonEnglish speaking, bi or trans-cultural, etc.
Having the awareness, knowledge, and skill, necessary to
perform a myriad of tasks that recognises the diverse worldviews
and practices of oneself and of clients from different
ethnic/cultural backgrounds (New Zealand Psychologists Board,
The ability of individuals and systems to respond respectfully and
effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic
backgrounds and religions in a manner that recognises, affirms,
and values the cultural differences and similarities and the worth
of individuals, families, and communities and protects and
preserves the dignity of each (Seattle King Country Dept of
Public Health, 1994).
Child protection is frequently seen to be tertiary
interventions such as notifications, assessments and
removal of children. Child protection will be used
contextually for this project to mean all supports and
services provided to vulnerable children and their
families, whether the resources are preventative, early
intervention, secondary or tertiary.
UN Convention of the Rights of the Child
(Human Rights Framework)
Multiculturalism: A position paper by the Acting Race
Discrimination Commissioner
(Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission)
The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s
Cultural Diversity Statement and Multicultural
Action Plan 2005-2009
(Department of Communities)
Multicultural Action Plan 2007-2009:
Multicultural Queensland – making a world of
difference (Department of Child Safety)
The Queensland Compact
Phase One
• Consisted of the development and piloting of the cultural
competency surveys across a sample of NonGovernment organisations in Qld.
Phase Two
• Involves undertaking a series of ‘guided conversations’
with CaLD communities in Queensland about ‘How
culture may influence how we keep children safe’
Phase Three
• Will explore the experiences of CaLD families and
children who have been involved with child protection
assessment and intervention.
Phase One of this project consists of the development and
piloting of a survey, which measures the cultural competency
of non-government organisations and practitioners and their
capacity to deliver supports and services to CaLD children
and families.
This Phase explored cultural competency at an
organisational/policy level juxtaposed against a practice level
to provide indication of areas where NGO’s can improve
service provision to the CaLD community.
A survey was developed for piloting, which engaged the NGO
sector and allowed for preliminary collection of ‘evidence’ of
need around cultural competency education and training.
The review involved a substantial search of International,
Federal and local State writings on the subject of cultural
competency terminology, measures and current child
safety/protection initiatives for CaLD communities,
children and families.
Despite the fact that Australia places itself amongst
the most dynamic and diverse countries in the world,
(Sawrikar & Katz, 2008) government services are still
struggling to ensure culturally sensitive and competent
services and practitioners.
There is a large body of professionals and
practitioners who work with CaLD people across many
fields. The literature demonstrates the need for
professionals to better understand the culture, religion,
history and attitudes of others, in order to increase
their effectiveness.
In order to do so, the practitioners need sound measures of
cultural competency for undertaking assessment, appropriate
intervention and evaluating policy, service system design, and
the delivery of services (Geron, 2002).
In Australia, there is limited research about the intersection of
CaLD communities, children and families with continuum of
supports and services. There is even less information available
on the link between CaLD communities and statutory child
protection agencies (Kaur, 2009).
In addition, there are no standard cultural competency tools for
analysing child protection issues for CaLD families in Australia.
At the time this project was conceptualized it was recognized that many of the
non-government organizations had signed undertakings to demonstrate cultural
competency as part of their service agreements. Despite the requirement to
demonstrate cultural competency compliance as part of licensing agreements, it
was generally agreed that there were vastly differing ideas of what constituted
cultural competency and no ready means to evaluate whether a service is
culturally competent or not.
The Department of Child Safety (DoCS), Queensland has acknowledged an
increase in child protection notifications, however the number of these
notifications, which pertain to CaLD children and their families, is unknown. To
date DoCS cultural data collection has been confined to Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children and families. Consequently there is little means to
identify whether there has been under or over reporting of child protection
concerns in CaLD communities. Without an evidence base to demonstrate
need, policies and practices, which impact CaLD children and their families,
have been largely neglected.
Frameworks for best practice in child protection reflect
complexity. This complexity is heightened by the consideration of
working across cultures, which may involve different languages,
religions, ideas about identity, child-rearing practices, different
understandings about family, community, massively different life
experiences and histories and very different ideas about external
intervention into family matters.
This complexity can be so overwhelming that the resultant
immobilization can become an excuse to do nothing at all and
becomes a risk factor in and of itself.
Finally, there was ongoing discussion about what sorts of
education or training might be most useful to assist an
organization to become culturally competent from policy through
to direct practice.
In total 68 individuals participated in the pilot process.
4 non-government organisations from the Brisbane regions and a number of
organisations from Cairns.
• Centre Against
Sexual Violence
• Inala Youth Service
• Boystown
• QPASTT (Queensland
Program of Assistance to
Survivors of Torture and
• Cairns Regional Council
• Tableland Women’s Centre
• YETI (Youth Empowered Towards
• Women’s Centre Cairns
• Ruth’s Women’s Shelter
• Relationship Australia
• Migrant Settlement Service
• Department of Communities
• Lifeline
• Cassowary Coast Regional
• Innisfail Youth & Family Care
• Kullun Youth Service
• Department of Education and
• Marlin Coast Neighbour Centre
• CRDVS (Caboolture Regional
Domestic Violence Service)
• Community Services Tablelands
How often do you come into contact with CALD clients
through your current work?
A few times
each year
About once a
About once a week
We can see that 51% of our survey participants identify themselves as
working with CaLD children and families on a daily basis.
Relationship between educational attainment
and cultural competency
It is often supposed that if a child protection worker
has a higher level of education, cultural competency
training is unnecessary.
One of the interesting findings in our pilot was the
minimal evidence that educational attainment was an
indicator of the ability to practice in a culturally
competent manner.
For instance, 62% of respondents had a Bachelor
Degree or higher yet still struggle to cultural
competency in their practice.
Have you received training offered
through your current organization which
addresses working with CALD clients?
62% of participants identified that they had received at least some training in working with
CaLD children and families, yet in a qualifying question, many of the participants refined their
answers to indicate that the training did not occur, was ‘surface level’ or only somewhat met
their needs whilst working with CaLD service users.
Qualitative questions further clarified this data. Participants identified that as part of
routine induction, CaLD issues were identified, however, very little specific information
was provided that would assist participants to better work with CaLD service users.
Training occurred in one-off, one or two day training workshops, with very little follow
How advanced was the training you received in preparing
you to work with CALD clients?
I have not had
any traning
No Answer
Despite 62% of participants having accessed cultural
competency training it was not a good indicator of the
capacity to manage or practice in a culturally
competent manner.
Further research would need to be undertaken about
the content of training people have received both as
part of their educational foundation and professional
development types of training.
Robert Bean has undertaken a excellent body of
Australian research in the area of training.
How often do you reflect on your own cultural values and
beliefs and how these may impact your work?
(NB: This question from Cairns)
no answer
Although a significant number of respondents identify that they
regularly practice critical reflection in the course of their work,
qualitative questions did not bear this out.
A number of respondents who had received little or no cultural
competency training, viewed themselves as ‘culturally competent
enough’ to undertake their roles with CaLD children and families.
Other participants who identified having had advanced cultural
competency training, rated their cultural competency as lower.
This suggests that ‘the more you learn, the more aware you become of
how much more there is to know’ – and highlights the need for cultural
competency as part of ongoing professional development.
It also clearly demonstrates the need for robust supervision which is
grounded in cultural competency.
We acknowledge that as in many research
endeavours, Phase One of the Culture Matters
Project has raised as many questions as it has
answered. There are, however, some early
recommendations that can be made from the work
we have undertaken to date.
If we are to work effectively with CaLD children and
their families we must work collaboratively, with our
communities, in a flexible, respectful and ‘culturally
curious’ manner.
We must be prepared to engage with CaLD
communities and service users to better understand
how to offer our services in culturally appropriate
ways. We will need to understand that culture is
incredibly complex, and the only real way forward will
be to undertake this learning, one person, one
relationship at a time.
Cultural competency and training needs to be
incorporated into degree curriculum requirements in a
more robust and considered manner. The AASW are
in the final stages of drafting suggested cultural
competency curriculum guidelines and various
Australian universities and TAFEs are demonstrating
leadership by upgrading their curriculums.
Cross cultural education and training needs to be
embedded into other certification programs, which
accredit child protection workers across the service
delivery spectrum, from prevention to tertiary.
Organizations need to critically reflect on the
organisational and social factors influencing the
organizations capacity to support practice to be
culturally sensitive and safe.
If cultural competency is to be a part of service
agreements, we must have a standardized tool,
which allows for regular and considered evaluation
and is part of a continual improvement framework.
Managers and supervisors of organizations need to
receive robust and ongoing professional development
in the area of cultural competency. This will best
ensure that supervision may be used to facilitate
critical reflection about cross-cultural issues emerging
in practice.
The capacity for culturally competent practice is
intrinsically related to the ability to critically reflect on
personal and professional cultural identities and the
influence they have on practice. Therefore, we need to
see learning organizations, which are capable of
encouraging and supporting critically reflective
We need to ensure the cultural context and
experiences of clients are part of all assessment to
understand the ways these are influencing current
well-being and/or difficulties.
We need to ensure that the potential barriers to
effective communication are carefully considered.
Organisations need to be prepared to work
effectively with interpreters and bicultural workers.
Phase Two will look to undertake a series of ‘guided
conversations’ with Queensland CaLD communities.
This component of the research project will attempt to
create opportunity for CaLD communities to contribute
their experiences and views about how the Australian
context of child well-being may be impacted by
diversity of cultural orientation.
A series of community focus groups are in process of being organised
where the following questions will be used to guide discussion.
In your own culture, what are the responsibilities of families and
communities in raising children and ensuring their well-being and
What do you see as the similarities and differences between your
culture and Australian culture with regards to raising children?
What do you feel are the difficulties your community faces in raising
children in Australia?
What would social services need to look like to be relevant and
appropriate to your culture?
How could organisations best get information regarding their services
out to newly-arrived immigrants from your culture or country?
The final phase of Culture Matters project seeks to
explore how culture and the perception of culture, may
shape the experiences of CaLD families and children
who have received child protection assessment and
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1990). UN Convention of the
Rights of the Child. From http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/crc.pdf
Commonwealth of Australia. (2009). Protecting Children is Everyone’s Business: The National
Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020. From
Queensland Government. (2008). The Queensland Compact: Towards a Fairer Queensland. from
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (2007). Multiculturalism: A position paper by
the Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner. From
Department of Communities. (2005).Cultural Diversity Statement and Multicultural Action Plan
2005-2009. From
Department of Child Safety. (2007). Multicultural Action Plan 2007-2009. From
Bean, R. (2008). The Effectiveness of Cross Cultural Training in the Australian Context. Cultural
Diversity Service Pty Ltd.
Fiona McColl (Training & Development Manager)
Phone: (07) 3368 1050
Fax: (07) 3368 1160
Mobile: 0408 699 159
Email: fmccoll@peakcare.com.au
Web: www.peakcare.com.au
Address: 17 Ross Street, Paddington QLD 4064
Postal Address: PO Box 159, Paddington QLD 4064
Research Assistants
• Leanne Vines (PeakCare)
• Kathryn Mettler (University of Queensland)
• Candace Bool (Griffith University)
• Yoon Jung, Oh (University of Queensland)

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