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IFSP Tutorial - Developing and Implementing

Implementing the IFSP:

Essential Content for Implementing the IFSP

Page 12 of 16

Understanding cultural competence

Cultural competence is the ability to see beyond the boundaries of one’s own cultural perspective to interpret and understand, without judgment or bias, the behaviors and intentions of people who come from different cultural groups (Walker, 1991). Becoming culturally competent is a process of learning “to craft respectful, reciprocal and responsive interactions across diverse cultural and linguistic parameters” (Barrera & Corso, 2003). In the following vignette, Sarah, an early intervention provider must take care to look beyond her first interpretation of a mother’s behavior in order to provide culturally competent supports and services.

On two out of four of Sarah’s first visits to Xee Ly and her family, no one was home at the agreed upon time. Sarah would like to communicate to Mrs. Ly the importance of keeping appointments so Sarah can assist Mrs. Ly in caring for Xee. Mrs. Ly is sorry she was not at home but she was visiting her aunt and uncle. It would be improper for her to say it was time for her and Xee to leave their home to meet someone else. Sarah's Story Part 1


If Sarah is to react to this situation as a culturally competent provider, she must first understand how “culture” influences her own behavior and perceptions, as well as the families she works with in her local Infants and Toddlers Program. Culture is broadly defined as a system of learned and shared standards for perceiving, interpreting and behaving in interactions with others and with the environment (Jezewski, 1990). Culture is learned and shared, and shapes the beliefs and behaviors of all individuals.

An individual’s culture comes from his or her race, ethnicity, age, education, socio-economic status, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Early intervention providers must be aware of their own familial and professional cultures, and be willing to explore their biases and values as the starting point for understanding people from other cultures (Wells & Black, 2000).

Sarah’s upbringing and professional culture value keeping appointments and doing what is agreed upon. She views Mrs. Ly’s missed appointments as “dropping the ball” for Xee. Mrs. Ly, on the other hand, feels pulled between two conflicting responsibilities- to her daughter, and to her aunt and uncle. Mrs. Ly has been taught to always honor the requests of senior family members. Her uncle is ill, and her aunt has called unexpectedly to ask Mrs. Ly to drive them to medical appointments. She is not sure how to explain to Sarah that she does not know when her aunt and uncle will ask for her assistance. Sarah's Story Part 2

Sarah’s first step is to acknowledge that her interpretation of Mrs. Ly’s behavior is based on her expectation that appointments should always be kept. Then she can begin to explore how Mrs. Ly’s culture may provide an alternative explanation for her behavior in this situation. Diversity i.e., differences in behavior, values and perception between two or more people/groups does not exist outside of a specific context. One does not simply assign another person as being from a diverse culture; it is the interaction between two or more individuals that creates the opportunity for diverse perceptions and expectations to arise. In this vignette, the context is Sarah’s and Mrs. Ly’s expectation about keeping appointments and meeting responsibilities. As a culturally competent provider, Sarah cannot view Mrs. Ly as “culturally diverse” without also seeing herself from Mrs. Ly’s viewpoint as also being “culturally diverse.” Thinking of an individual or family as “culturally diverse” without including oneself as also being diverse assumes a position of privilege and power in setting a standard for what or how can be considered “normal.”

Sarah incorrectly assumes that Mrs. Ly is not very interested in helping Xee because she does not keep her appointments. An opportunity is presented for Sarah to initiate “skilled dialogue” (described below) with Mrs. Ly to listen to her viewpoints and understand the multiple family responsibilities Mrs. Ly is trying to meet each day. This discussion can lead to an exploration of options for scheduling early intervention visits, including sometimes seeing Mrs. Ly and Xee at the home of her aunt and uncle, or scheduling around their medical appointments. Sarah's Story Part 3


Culturally competent early intervention providers understand that “culture” influences all partners in an interaction, and sets the stage for how each person perceives and interprets the other persons’ behavior. For further discussion about the influence of culture on early intervention supports and services:

Influences on a family’s decision to talk about priorities, concerns and resources;

Appreciating cultural beliefs and practices ;

Planning with families: Lee Family ;

Recommended Reading: Developing cross-cultural competence and The spirit catches you and you fall down.



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