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Cultural Competence: About this Area of Focus


The Division of Cultural Competence is responsible for the development and implementation of cultural competence program principles, goals, operational objectives, and activities for CWLA staff and member agencies. The Division coordinates CWLA's disproportionality efforts, conducts cultural competence assessments, develops curriculum, and provides resources and training support when necessary or when requested by CWLA staff, member agencies, or the Board of Directors.

Why is cultural competence important?

The principles of cultural competence define the lives of children, families, communities, tribes, member agencies, and ultimately the work of child welfare and social service agencies. In addition, cultural issues are central elements of the Five Universal Needs of Children outlined in Making Children a National Priority: A Framework for Community Action. These needs are, The Basics (Meet Basic Needs), Opportunities (Provide Opportunities for Optimal Development), Safety (Protect from Harm), Healing (Ease the Impact of Harm), and Relationship Ensure Nurturing Relationships). In order to integrate these concepts, we need to advance our way of thinking to gain a fundamental understanding of cultural competence and its importance to children and families. It is not a matter of convenience or an additional duty; children and families are depending on service providers, policy makers, and government. 1

Cultural Competence Defined

Culture: The thoughts, ideas, behavior patterns, customs, values, skills, language, arts, and faith or religion of a particular people at a given point in time.  2
  • Culture defines us as individuals; it makes us who we are.

  • Everyone has culture, which influences how each of us sees others.

  • Organizations have distinct cultures that are developed by their mission and goals.

  • Communities have different cultures influenced by their members, the environment, and socioeconomic conditions.
Cultural Competence: 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. 3
  • Cultural competence is a continuous process of learning about the cultural strengths of others and integrating their unique abilities and perspectives into our lives.

  • Cultural competence is a vehicle used to broaden our knowledge and understanding of individuals and communities.

  • Cultural competence or the lack of it will be reflected in how communities relate to and interact with service providers and their representatives. 4

  • Cultural Competence is having the knowledge, ability and skill necessary to identify and address the issues facing organizations and staff, that have cultural implications, and the ability to operationalize this knowledge into the routine functioning of an agency.

Ten Things You Should Do To Promote Cultural Competence

  1. Make a commitment to expand knowledge about culture, cultural competence and the various dimensions of culture in your organization.

  2. Make a commitment to develop an understanding of the various cultural groups within communities served by your agency.

  3. Include culture and cultural competence principles in the strategic planning, policy development, program design, and service delivery process. Increase the organizational and individual understanding of how the various dimensions of culture impact the families the agency serves and the staff that works with them.

  4. Be committed to promoting cultural competence. Develop this commitment through staff development and training, hiring, retention, career advancement, performance evaluations, and employee policies that support culturally competent and linguistically appropriate practice.

  5. Create a safe, secure, and supportive environment where staff can explore and develop an understanding for all cultures. Create formal partnerships with community organizations and encourage staff to actively engage communities and families in the development of policy, program design, and service delivery models.

  6. Be active in local communities. Engage communities by recruiting local citizens for the Board of Directors, in voting positions, and on advisory teams and task forces. Encourage and support staff to become involved in community boards and cultural activities.

  7. Be an example to tribes, communities and families that work with your agency by making hiring decisions that are reflective of the diversity of those populations. More importantly, make sure that staff develop an understanding and respect for the richness, strength, and additional capacity culture and diversity bring to the workplace.

  8. Advocate for the development of cultural competence principles in other groups to which your agency belongs. Include criteria in Requests for Proposals and other contracts that place emphasis on the ability of the applicant, contractor, or consultant to demonstrate the capacity and ability to achieve positive results that are culturally competent and linguistically appropriate, and applicable to the needs of children and families being served.

  9. Become more proactive about recognizing and resolving conflicts that can occur when differing cultures interact. Encourage staff to speak out when they recognize intolerance whether or not they are the targets.

  10. If your agency provides educational and/or recreational opportunities for the community and families served, make sure that they include experiences that are reflective of all cultural groups. For instance, many tribes and communities have museums or cultural centers that host a variety of events throughout the year and on holidays. Also, during the summer many communities have various festivals that celebrate the culture, traditions, artwork, and dance of racial and ethnic groups. Encourage children and youth to share their knowledge about the cultural groups to which they belong.

Micro-Cultural Competence Assessment

  1. Would an accreditation entity give your organization a high rating for cultural competency?

  2. Do the tribes, communities, and families you serve feel that they receive culturally applicable and appropriate services that meet their needs?

  3. Does your staff feel valued, respected and appreciated?

  4. If asked to rate the cultural competence of your organization, what would your stakeholders say?

Thinking About Moving Forward

Cultural competence is an ongoing process, not a destination. By actively working on cultural competence and including its principles in our daily work, we enhance our ability to meet the needs of families, tribes and communities. Organizations that strive for cultural competence consistently work to achieve a better understanding of the needs of their stakeholders. These organizations realize that their mission is to assist children and families to reach their goals by developing policy, program, and practice which is culturally competent and linguistically appropriate for the diverse families found in today's child welfare system.

For more information, to schedule a consultation or to have a private, confidential consultation via telephone, please contact:

Andrea Bartolo
Child Welfare League of America
1726 M St. NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC, 20036
Phone: 978-929-9333


  1. 2000 Census: Quick Facts, U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau (2001).
  2. Adapted by CWLA (1981) revised (2001).
  3. Adapted by CWLA (1981) revised (2001).
  4. Toward the Scientific Practice of Professional Psychology: Methodology for the Local Clinical Scientist, Plenum Press, chapter 2, p. 27.

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