Teaching Inter-Cultural Competence for Social Care Workers

The seven partner countries represent some very diverse national contexts within Europe. While countries such as Belgium and Wales have long established ethnic minority communities and more recent immigration from many different countries and ethnic and religious groups, Estonia’s only minority culture of any size is of Russian descent and has a particularly sensitive history and relationship with the majority population. Estonia anticipates that in the future more diverse immigration will take place in the future and for Greece, now seen by many as a gateway to Europe, immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon. While The European Union provides a framework for assimilating new citizens into member states, national legislation and social policy differ significantly. For these reasons, recommendations that can work for all national contexts will be limited and priorities will need to be judged against local conditions. Below are the recommendations that we believe apply to all national contexts within the European Union. More specific recommendations can be found in the partner country’s entries.

Some partners had already had experience of providing discrete training events on inter-cultural competence for social care workers and found them unsatisfactory in terms of time limits making any depth of coverage impossible, difficulties linking with other competencies and only attracting students who already grasped the need to develop skills in working across cultures.

1. We recommend that training in inter-cultural competence is seen as a core part of training for workers in the social field and is integrated into the curriculum of all training programmes.
This begs the question of what is involved in training for inter-cultural competence. The literature suggests the following elements:
1. Understanding the importance in human development of:
a) Language
b) Ethnicity
c) Religion
d) Individual identity including dual and multiple identities

2. Understanding one’s own culture and accepting it as one possible perspective among many.

3. Understanding the importance of anti-oppressive practice
a) Embracing a practice based on professional social work values. (IFSW, UNCHR)
b) Knowledge of relevant law and social policy
c) Understanding of the social context e.g., racism and cultural disrespect

4. Gaining knowledge of other cultures

5. Learning specific skills such as those involved in choosing and working through an interpreter.

The precise mix of these elements that need to be incorporated into social care training will vary according to local context, but some observations may apply generally. Often, as in our survey, students may believe that their main learning need is to learn about other cultures, but there are dangers in this approach. One or two sessions presenting a particular culture may lead to stereotyping and “cultural tourism” rather than providing a firm basis of understanding the people we work with. Each individual positions him or herself in relation to their culture, adopting some elements more strongly than others and even rejecting some. One impact of globalisation is that increasingly people create dual or multiple identities, presenting themselves differently and following different rules of behaviour at home and in the workplace. However, learning some contrasting aspects of other cultures can help us understand our own culture better and help us learn to view our own culture as one perspective among many.

2) We recommend that, particularly in multi-cultural contexts, learning about other cultures is seen as contributing to understanding one’s own culture and accepting it as one possible perspective among many, rather than as an end in itself.
However, in some countries such as Wales, Belgium, Estonia, Australia and New Zealand, there exist two cultural and linguistic communities which to some degree complete and conflict. In these situations there may be a need to develop greater understanding of the other culture and the difficult historical relationships between communities.

3) We recommend that in largely bi-cultural contexts, an added focus is needed on developing understanding and valuing of the other culture.
While respect for all cultures is essential, there are dangers for social care workers in cultural relativism unless this is firmly grounded in social care values. Behaviours that abuse, exploit or oppress vulnerable people must be challenged by workers even if the behaviours are seen as acceptable in a particular culture.

4) We recommend that inter-cultural competence must always be presented within the context of anti-oppressive practice, international definitions of the role of social work ([]) and national codes of practice and ethics.

5) We recommend that the teaching of inter-cultural competence seeks to prepare students to deal with the ethical dilemmas of working across cultures in a sensitive and assertive way in accordance with social care values.

In some countries it was felt that policies of the national and local administrations may exacerbate tensions between communities. An important element of the social work role is contributing to social change.

6) We recommend that training for inter-cultural competence includes preparing students with the knowledge and skills necessary for influencing social policy in their local and national contexts.

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