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2.2.2 Cultural Competence


This chapter was entirely revised and updated in October 2017 and should be re-read in full.


  1. Introduction
  2. Practice Principles and Cultural Competence
  3. Approach
  4. Tools and Resources
  5. Recommended Reading

1. Introduction

The Children Act 1989 makes it clear for all professionals that the child's welfare is paramount, i.e. that as stated in The United Nations Convention on Human Rights, this must always be put before consideration of the rights (and traditional cultural and faith related practices) of adult family members and/or the child's community (Dfe:1989).

Many recent serious case reviews across the UK identified common topics related to risks being missed due to workers not challenging assumptions about stereotypes in relation to families where children then died or were subjects to abuse and neglect despite professionals being involved in their lives. One issue frequently identified by front line practitioners is people whose first language is not English where the language barrier can prevent professionals from effectively assessing, supporting and protecting families.

Another example could be first generation immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees where published case reviews highlighted that professionals sometimes struggle to engage with them. Families are often unaware and/or wary of accessing services, and how important it is to put children's rights as children above any consideration of their immigration status, or culture, or beliefs held within the family. “Children need to be protected irrespective of cultural sensitivities. Different practices are no excuse for child abuse in this country”. (NSPCC:2015).

Locally, in 2012, the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board identified challenges in practice through its case reviewing work arising from organisations being ill-equipped to work with diversity, culture, ethnicity and identity in safeguarding work. Additionally, the rapidly changing demography of Cambridgeshire presents challenges to practitioners which can be overcome though the development of knowledge and skills and an approach to safeguarding practice which supports an effective response to the complexity and changing nature of the needs of children and families (Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board: 2012). Cambridgeshire's systemic training has cultural competence as integral to, and at the core of, all the courses.

Around 133,034 children and young people under the age of 18 years currently live in Cambridgeshire. This is 21% of the total population in the area and approximately 19% of the local authority's children are living in poverty. Children and young people from minority ethnic groups account for 10% of all children living in the area, compared with 21% in the country as a whole.

The largest minority ethnic groups of children and young people in the area are Asian or Asian British and of Mixed Origin. The proportion of children and young people with English as an additional language in primary schools is 15% (the national average is 18 %) and in secondary schools is 11% (the national average is 14%). There is also a large traveller and Eastern European population some of whom seek seasonal work in the agricultural parts of the county making up a third of the population in some areas such as Wisbech (Ofsted 2014:7).

Ofsted recognised the improvements our organisations have made but also identified a need to “ensure that assessments analyse and focus on the child's individual experience and needs, in particular evidencing meaningful consideration of the child's religious, ethnic or cultural needs and how these are going to be addressed.” (Ofsted 2014:5).

2. Practice Principles and Cultural Competence

This guidance sets out practice principles and an approach to support the best culturally sensitive and confident practice in working with children, young people and their families in Cambridgeshire and builds upon the LSCB Guidance for the Effective Safeguarding of Children from Minority Ethnic, Cultural and Faith Communities, Groups and Families. If workers are to be seen as culturally competent, then they need to be able to articulate what cultural competence is.

Further the aim of this guidance is to aid professionals in their development of cultural understanding and awareness and becoming culturally competent when working with children and families from minority ethnic, culture and faith groups and communities as the absence may lead to an inappropriate outcome for individuals within the family as well as overlooking safeguarding issues We all need to be aware that culture is an aspect of identity, which we all have. Culture is based on a number of things shared with others such as language, history, beliefs, attitudes, celebrations, musical taste, dress, diet and many others. Culture is involves a shared understanding with others of the same culture. Cultures are neither inferior nor superior – they are just different.

The LSCB guidance (2012:17) clarifies that the term 'culture' includes not only culture related to race, ethnicity and ancestry, but also the culture (e.g. beliefs, common experiences and ways of being in the world) shared by people with characteristics in common, such as people with disabilities, people who are Lesbian Bisexual, Gay and Transgender (LGBT), people who are deaf, members of faith and spiritual communities, people of various socioeconomic classes, etc.) It is important to recognise that culture is an aspect of a person's identity. It is not their 'whole' identity and it does not act as a predictor of how a person will behave and what they will believe. Everyone will choose which aspects of their cultural identity they will 'own' and which they will not. As such, each person will have a unique approach to their culture – leading to a complexity of ways in which culture will affect people's individual needs and preferences.

As Maclean and Caffrey (2009) recognised there has been a shift in social care recently towards 'cultural competence' as a key aspect of all professional practice. The idea of workers being 'competent' in working with others from different cultures is a step up from being 'sensitive' to the needs of other people. The notion that professionals need to be competent in working with difference and culture as opposed to being merely 'sensitive' about it has gained strength in recent years. The term cultural competence has therefore largely replaced the term cultural sensitivity or cultural awareness in social work and health care.

There is a long standing view that competence is made up of knowledge, values and skills (Maclean and Caffrey 2009). This can be represented in the following diagram:

Cultural Competence

We feel that a triangle provides a good representation of cultural competence because the skills (at the top of the triangle) are supported by a worker having the necessary knowledge and values.

Knowledge and understanding of:

  • Your own culture and what you bring in work every day;
  • Any culture bias you have whether consciously or unconsciously;
  • The concept of culture and how this can affect beliefs and behaviours;
  • Specific cultural knowledge.

A range of values and attitudes that are in line with our Cambridgeshire behaviours, including a commitment to:

  • Valuing and celebrating difference;
  • Respecting individuality and the role which culture plays in this.

A range of skills, including:

  • Culturally competent communication;
  • Culturally competent assessment;
  • Culturally sensitive care provision.

Culturally competent communication should not be any different from communication that professionals use to engage families as long as the additional needs (for example for an interpreter) are identified and respectful engagement adhered to lleading to professionals exercising their professional curiosity in respectful manner (for example respecting customs or religious observances) to enable free communication between them and families they are supporting.

The culturally competent assessment means that the professional is able to write not only about family and social relationships, social presentation and social skills in relation to child's identity but also is able to describe the child's own sense of self and the categories with which they can identify or not such as gender, and sexuality, family, ethnic and linguistic groups, religious groups and cultural groups as well as for example youth groups (Thomas and Holland 2010:2629).

By doing so they fully capture child's life and experience as expected in Working Together guidance that states that “…Every assessment should reflect the unique characteristics of the child within their family and community context and reaffirming the Children Act 1989 view that all children and their parents should be considered as individuals and their family structures, culture, religion, ethnic origins and other characteristics should be respected” and are more likely to analyse what culturally sensitive provision is adequate and proportionate to the needs of child.

3. Approach

Cambridgeshire Children's Social Care have adopted this approach when developing this guidance and training pathway so workers in social and health care are to be culturally competent. They need to have own self-awareness, knowledge and skills for effective practice and to be able to appreciate people's different cultures to be able to have good, meaningful and effective working relationship with families by recognising the cultural diversity within daily life rather than seeing it as something extraordinary. The way in which a person views themselves and their identity will be affected by their culture and their religion, but this can vary between different groups and according to individual personal preferences. The way we live our lives is affected by the environment in which we all live.

Within all cultures and religious groups there is wide variation in practice and it is important to realise that degrees of strictness and observance are individually defined. Culturally competent workers will appreciate that culture is not monolithic and it will be dangerous to provide services based on stereotypical concepts of, for example, “a Jew”, “Middle class British” “a Hindu”, or “a Muslim”. Some people born into a religious community may not consider themselves to be members of that community. For others their religion, traditions and rituals may be important, but they may not observe, say, strict dietary requirements. Therefore, it is important to allow individuals to define their own culture and religion.

If we accept that cultures are not better or worse than each other, but are just different, then we need to be clear that some of the ideas and 'truths' that we bring to our work are themselves culturally rooted. As workers in social and health care we also have our own culture, both as individuals in society and as employees of organisations and members of teams which have cultures. Culturally competent practice involves understanding the values we bring to our work, and a sophisticated awareness of how oppression, stereotyping of other people's culture and prejudice operate to disadvantage others. A competent practitioner is able to understand these concepts, see how they relate to their practices, and reflect on their own values and 'truths' about both their own and other people's cultures.

Every professional is expected to develop their knowledge base according to the needs of service and families they work with. They need to identify any gaps in their knowledge base and address these via either self-directed or corporate training and to be willing to take risks when exploring a new territory, challenging discriminating practice and using reflexivity to learn further. The Team model offers a safe environment where professionals are able to share and test ideas while building their expertise. A systemic approach offers a framework for this and in addition, training pathway has been developed in collaboration with Workforce Development Team to enable the less confident professionals to start their learning.

Every professional needs tools that are readily available if they are to be able to use them regularly and confidently. We have gathered, adopted and developed number of tools that are downloadable from this guidance to assist them in their work. We have also added resources according to subjects that have been identified as challenging for professionals who has never had first-hand experience of exploring these while working with families.

4. Tools and Resources

Cultural Awareness Self-Assessment Tool which promotes professional's growth in self-awareness and is attached to the guidance.

Diversity Wheel – a picture that manifests all domains of people's life including cultural aspects of their life and can serve as a prompt for exploration and discussions. There are number of versions available freely on the internet.

Cultural genograms – is a systemic tool used to capture family compositions including their cultural identities. Through its completion practitioner gains greater insight into and appreciation for the ways in which culture impacts their role as professional and influences the lives of their clients. The primary goal of genogram is to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity. It also illustrates and clarifies the influence that culture has on the family system and encourages discussions that reveal and challenge culturally based assumptions and stereotypes. The training and presentation on how to complete them confidently is available via Workforce Development Team and through the systemic courses.

Culturagrams - is a family assessment tool used in the practice of social work. Dr Congress developed it to "…help practitioners individualize families from diverse cultural backgrounds". Although the culturagram is most commonly discussed and applied within the context of working with immigrants and refugees, it can be used to great effect with people from the majority culture who are often mistakenly thought to be 'culture-free'.

Social Differences - often referred to a GGRRAAACCEEESSS (adopted from Burnham 1992, Roper-Hall 1998) is a practical tool that helps us to gain an insight how our understanding of world and others have been shaped. It is an acronym for Gender, Geography, Race, Religion, Age, Abilities, Appearance, Culture, Class, Ethnicity, Education, Employment, Sexuality, Sexual Orientation, and Spirituality.


Research in Practice which is available via internet on and Community Inform which you can also access via internet on if you are an employee of Cambridgeshire County Council are recommended as the sites for further research as well as Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board's website which can be accessed via Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Safeguarding Children Partnership Board.

Further training is available via Social Care Workforce Development and can be accessed via

5. Recommended Reading

Bowyer, S. (2015) Confident practice with cultural diversity, Dartington: Research In Practice. – Accessible via Research in Practice.

Specifically information in relation to the families coming from EU is available on EERC (East European Resource Centre) website.

CC Inform Resources

Other Resources

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board

For Cambridgeshire Children's Social Care procedures: