Achieving Cultural Competence

"Cultural competence" is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.

Achieving cultural competence is a process, not an end point. There are no pat answers or a cookbook model that can help organizations achieve this end. Organizations achieve specific goals and outcomes for cultural competence by engaging in such activities as:

  • Developing a process for self-assessment at the organizational and individual levels;
  • Developing and implementing policy and guidelines;
  • Conducting and participating in training and professional development activities; and
  • Providing a forum for safe and honest dialogue with and among agency personnel and the diverse communities they serve.

These activities must be an ongoing process and integral to the organization's or program's core functions. Organizations or programs, and their personnel will develop a different set of actions based on where they are to whom they provide services and supports. There is much room for creativity and accomplishment on the road to cultural competence.

Major Values and Principles of a Culturally Competent System

  • The family as defined by each culture is the primary system of support and preferred intervention.
  • The system must recognize that racial and ethnic populations have to be at least bicultural and that this status may create a unique set of issues to which the system must be equipped to respond.
  • Individuals and families make different choices based on cultural forces; these choices must be considered if education/service delivery are to be helpful and appropriate.
  • Practice is driven in the service delivery system by culturally preferred choices, not by culturally blind or culturally free interventions.
  • Inherent in cross-cultural interactions are dynamics that must be acknowledged, adjusted to and accepted.
  • The system must sanction and in some cased mandate the incorporation of cultural knowledge into policy making, education and practice.
  • Cultural competence involves determining an individual or family's cultural identity and levels of acculturation and assimilation in order to more effectively apply the helping principle of "starting where the individual or family is."
  • Cultural competence involves working in conjunction with natural, informal support and helping networks within culturally diverse communities ( for example neighborhood, civic and advocacy associations, ethnic, social and religions organizations, and where appropriate, spiritual healers).
  • Cultural competence extends the concept of self-determination.
  • Cultural competence seeks to identify and understand the needs and help-seeking behaviors of individuals and families. Cultural competence seeks to design and implement services that are tailored or matched to the unique needs of individuals, children and families.
  • An agency or education program staffing pattern that reflects the make-up of the population within the geographic locale helps ensure the delivery of effective services.
  • Cultural competence embraces the principles of equal access and non-discriminatory practices in service delivery and education.
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Guide to PT Practice