National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care
Defining Cultural Competency
The Child Welfare League of America defines cultural competency as "the ability of individuals and systems to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and faiths or religions in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, tribes, and communities, and protects and preserves the dignity of each" (Child Welfare League of America, 2001, Cultural Competence Defined). A definition of cultural competency in public child welfare should also consider age, especially concerning youth transitioning out of the child welfare system. A context of cultural competency means a commitment to re-evaluate the exclusive, adult-centered culture of child welfare agencies at minimum and an active agenda for empowerment and inclusion of youth at best (National Child Welfare Resource Centers, 2007).
Cultural and linguistic competence suggests more than just language proficiency, but a commitment to incorporate the cultural knowledge into policy and practice. Language is a crucial aspect of culture and a primary vehicle for transmitting knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and social expectations. Consequently, social service systems committed to cultural competency should consider linguistic and literacy issues in developing a comprehensive strategy. The National Center for Cultural Competence (n.d.) explains that to become culturally competent, organizations must have:
A defined set of values and principles and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally;
The capacity to value diversity, conduct self-assessment, manage the dynamics of differences, acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, and adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve; and
Incorporate the above in all aspects of policy-making, administration, practice, and service delivery, and systematically involve consumers, key stakeholders, and communities.
Cultural competence is a developmental process that evolves over time rather than being a static, one-time achievement (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989; McPhatter, 1997). Cross et al. described the process of becoming culturally competent as a continuum ranging from cultural destructiveness, cultural incapacity, cultural blindness to the ultimate goal of cultural proficiency.1 This cultural competence continuum takes into account the continuous organizational changes in child welfare agencies, as well as contextual changes affecting the communities served by child welfare systems, making cultural proficiency a desired goal in an effort to improve outcomes. Though knowledge about and research on cultural and linguistic competency are expanding and calls for change are increasing, considerable variability remains in system responses to effectively serving culturally and ethnically diverse populations (McPhatter & Ganaway, 2003).
"Cultural competency means being aware of your own cultural beliefs and values and how these may be different from other cultures—including being able to learn about and honor the different cultures of those you work with."
-Agency Staff Member