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The Provision of Culturally Competent Services in the School Setting


Culturally competent educators and related services personnel are aware and respectful of the importance of the values, beliefs, traditions, customs, and parenting styles of the children and families they serve. They are also aware of the impact of their own culture on their interactions with others and take all of these factors into account when planning and delivering services to children and their families.

At the Policymaking Level

Culturally competent policymakers:

  • appoint board members from the community so that voices from all groups of people within the community participate in decisions;
  • actively recruit multiethnic and multiracial staff;
  • provide ongoing staff training and support developing cultural competence;
  • develop, mandate, and promote standards for culturally competent services;
  • insist on evidence of cultural competence when contracting for services;
  • nurture and support new community-based multicultural programs and engage in or support research on cultural competence;
  • support the inclusion of cultural competence on provider licensure and certification examinations; and
  • support the development of culturally appropriate assessment instruments for psychological tests and interview guides.

At the Administrative Level

Culturally competent administrators:

  • include cultural competency requirements in staff job descriptions and discuss the importance of cultural awareness and competency with potential employees;
  • ensure that all staff participate in regular, inservice cultural competency training;
  • promote programs that respect and incorporate cultural differences; and
  • consider whether the facility's physical plant, hours, and staffing are accessible and whether its physical appearance is respectful of different cultural groups.

At the Service Level

Educators and related services personnel who are culturally competent:

  • learn as much as they can about a student's or family's culture, while recognizing the influence of their own background on their responses to cultural differences;
  • include neighborhood and community outreach efforts and involve community cultural leaders if possible;
  • work within each student's family structure, which may include grandparents, other relatives, and friends;
  • recognize, accept, and when appropriate, incorporate the role of community volunteers;
  • understand the different expectations people may have about the way services are offered (for example, a period of social conversation may be necessary before each contact with a person; or access to a family may be gained only through an elder); and
  • adhere to traditions relating to gender and age that may play a part in certain cultures (for example, in many racial and ethnic groups, elders are highly respected). With an awareness of how different groups show respect, providers can properly interpret the various ways people communicate.

Cultural Competence Checklist for Success

  • Make the educational environment more welcoming and attractive based on families' cultural mores.
  • Avoid stereotyping and misapplication of scientific knowledge.
  • Include community input at the planning and development stage of projects.
  • Use educational approaches and materials that will capture the attention of your intended audience.
  • Find ways to partner with the community.
  • Understand there is no recipe.
  • Hire staff that reflect the client population.
  • Understand cultural competency is continually evolving.
  • Be creative in finding ways to communicate with population groups that have limited English-speaking proficiency.

This fact sheet is based on a monograph, Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care, authored by Terry L. Cross, Karl W. Dennis, Mareasa R. Isaacs, and Barbara J. Bazron, under the auspices of the National Technical Assistance Center for Children's Mental Health at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (1989). Website: National Center for Cultural Competence