Equity in Child Welfare Services

Combating Oppression, Striving for Justice

A Closer Look is a series of short reports published by the National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care that spotlight issues addressed by public child welfare agencies and their partners in implementing systems of care approaches to improve services and outcomes for children and families. This March 2009 issue of A Closer Look provides information on cultural competency.

Download the issue from the Child Welfare Information Gateway here or see the attachment below.

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This was a good idea Jon.

Now what I would like to see is for everyone to move past Cultural Competence into Cultural Awareness and Acceptance. Cultural Competence has been a nice 'buzz' word that going around for the past few years, but no one can ever be 'competent' - so therefore I think the bar has been set so high that achievable, and measurable results are unobtainable. I don't know about your county, but with the recent cutbacks in CoCoCnty, the attitudinal difference among staff are really showing. I am seeing more division/separation among staff and I wonder if we as professionals cannot tolerate/respect each other, what is going on with the families. '

I would like to know if the same is going on in your county.
Jeri, I love that you're diving in with your observations, thoughts, etc. I'm excited at the prospect of more members to this site following your example!

I've seen a number of people bristle at the term "Cultural Competence." I suppose that it really depends on how someone defines it. I'd be interested to know more about what you mean when you use the terms "Cultural Awareness and Acceptance" and what "Cultural Competence" means to you.

When I think of Cultural Competence, I just think of it in terms of being able to work in a way that is respectful and effective with people of all cultures in a manner that affirms dignity and self-worth. It's true that the world is way too diverse for anyone to know exactly how to approach every situation, every group, every individual. To me, Cultural Competence doesn't mean being 100% free from making mistakes, experiencing awkward moments, feeling uncomfortable or being free from ever having to learn anything new. I mean, I think someone can be a "competent" basketball player and not make every single shot from the line. To me, Cultural Competence does mean that you can deal with, work through and overcome those times when you experience mistakes, awkward moments, etc. and still be respectful and effective with people, even though we're different from one another. I think of Cultural Competence not so much as the destination, but the journey.

As far as the attitudinal differences, division and separation among staff, well sure, when there are cutbacks, the anxiety, fear and pressure that people feel at those times can easily bring out the worst in people. I think as individuals, everyone, professionals in particular, has a responsibility to try to recognize and work through those divisions and separations that exist so as to achieve the goals we are all supposed to be working toward. I also think that the leadership in an organization has to be aware of when tolerance and respect are ebbing and act to address that. Because, as you alluded to, when respect between staff members breaks down, that is bound to play out in interactions with families as well!

I think any large agency is bound to experience some of the division you describe. We've had our share of struggles with that sort of thing over the years and we're not immune to it now. But some of the dynamics are a bit different for us. Those problems aren't being exacerbated by cutbacks for us in the same way that other jurisdictions are getting hit. We've been buffered against the full impact of the budget crisis in California. It feels at times like being in a lifeboat that is weathering the storm while other vessels are getting pummeled against the rocks. We still have our share of division, but it seems that our leadership is really focused on addressing teambuilding and professional development in an earnest way. Being woven into that is some of the work around disproportionality. I would expect that as this work progresses, more of those conflicts and divisions will surface, but I'm 'hopeful,' if not confident, that we'll work through those things and come out the other side of it being a better organization for having faced them.

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