• October 2009
  • Vol. 10, No. 8

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Cultural and Linguistic Competency in the Child Welfare System: State Strategies

Cultural and linguistic competency is an essential guiding principle to support the needs of families involved in child welfare systems, because children of color continue to be overrepresented in child welfare systems. As part of its A Closer Look report series, the National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Child Welfare Systems of Care Grantees recently published an issue on cultural competence. The report provides examples of strategies for achieving culturally and linguistically proficient child welfare systems by grantees of the Children's Bureau's Improving Child Welfare Outcomes Through Systems of Care Initiative. The strategies respond to four major cultural competence challenges in child welfare:

  • Limited baseline knowledge of agency cultural competence
  • Difficulties defining cultural competence and justifying training on the topic
  • Unclear connection between cultural competence and everyday decision-making by workers
  • Excessive employee turnover 

To address these challenges, the grantees developed a number of changes in practice, policy, training, and evaluation, for example:

  • The Kansas Family Centered Systems of Care used the results of a self-assessment to create short- and long-term strategies to improve cultural and linguistic competency throughout the agency.
  • The Jefferson County (Colorado) System of Care developed a training program to increase cultural and linguistic awareness for staff and the community.
  • The CRADLE in Bedford Stuyvesant (New York) trained over 140 staff and community members using a workshop to help understand racism, the impact of cultural biases on child welfare decisions, and how to reduce this impact.

Many grantees embedded cultural and linguistic competency objectives into federally mandated activities (e.g., Program Improvement Plans) and/or State reforms to reduce the impact of staff turnover and ensure there is a constant focus on cultural and linguistic proficiency.

The report concludes by stating that changing and strengthening how States provide culturally and linguistically competent services goes beyond direct services and into an agency's values, principles, beliefs, policies, and practices.

The full report, "Cultural Competency," is available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:
www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/acloserlook/culturalcompetency/culturalcompetency.pdf (1,360 KB)

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