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Becoming culturally competent early intervention providers

5. Culturally competent early intervention providers use the skills of anchored understanding and 3rd space dialgoue to develop a concrete and empathetic understanding of a family’s cultural context. When differences inevitably arise among people from diverse cultural groups, providers commit to developing creative and inclusive choices with families and colleagues that honor all individuals involved.

Anchored understanding of diversity is the “experiential knowing” that accumulates while interacting with a particular family from a specific cultural group.

Bettina understood from talking to Klaus that he believed his son would learn to roll over and crawl on his own time table, just like his other children. His “typical” children developed age appropriate motor skills at various times, and so would this last child. Bettina understood Klaus’ experience, and accepted that he viewed her suggestions as “extra” assignments, which his son did not need. Klaus only wanted to play with this child like he had done with his other children.

Recognizing that family members are unique, yet also part of a larger cultural framework, without rejecting either component, takes some effort. Culturally competent early intervention providers recognize that they don’t have to admire the behavior of culturally diverse family members and colleagues as long as they believe that this behavior makes sense from another’s cultural perspective.

Using strategies for developing anchored understanding of diversity, culturally competent early intervention providers can begin to answer:

  • Does my perspective of a child complement that of family members?
  • Do I describe a child using words that family members can embrace?
  • Do I understand a family’s hopes and dreams for a child?
  • Can I describe what family and participation in family life mean to each family I interact with?
  • Do I recognize when a family’s “story” is not congruent with my “story” about their child, and actually sets up barriers between us?

The following internalized thoughts are signals that polarized understandings about early intervention and provider roles are evolving between Shawna, an early intervention provider and a young, first-time mother.

Shawna: “I seem to be more interested in helping JR than his mother is.”

Mother: “Shawna knows a lot more about babies than I do, so maybe I should just let her work with him.”


A second skill, 3rd space dialogue, can ease the tension generated by contradictions between different people’s behaviors and perceptions. If diverse perspectives can be viewed as complementary, new options/actions/viewpoints can be generated. Barrero and Corso (2003) use the following vignette to illustrate the concept of “3rd space”.


Betsy, an early childhood provider, visits Mayra, and her mother, Karen, a single mother who recently moved to from Puerto Rico. Betsy is frustrated because Karen views her as an “Expert”, and often leaves the room so Betsy can work with Maya by herself. Betsy wonders how she can culturally responsive when she goes into the homes of families from cultures that make sharp distinctions between parents and “experts.”


Using an analogy of connecting rooms is a helpful way to understand 3rd space dialogue. When Betsy is in a “room” all by herself (called singular space) with no input from others, only her own opinions and perspectives matter. She is by herself and doesn’t have to relate to Karen, or think about her perspectives.

If Betsy realizes that she and Karen each have their own perspectives, she now has a dualistic perspective about her relationship with Karen. They coexist in their own spaces, but hold on to their own opinions and values. Betsey may realize that Karen’s beliefs are as valid as her own. Yet Betsy’s behavior is limited by her polarized thinking (i.e., either Karen’s view or mine is the “correct” perspective). There is no room for alternate possibilities in dual space dialogues since each person remains in their own “room,” certain of her view.

A 3rd space perspective embraces the possibility that both Betsy’s and Karen’s perspectives could co-exist, without either one labeled as “wrong.” Betsy could ask herself, “In Maya’s best interests, how can I adapt my beliefs and values with Karen’s, emphasizing their collective strengths?” Once this possibility is embraced, Betsy and Karen could jointly explore different actions freed from their barrier of viewing early intervention as an either-or situation concerning how involved Karen is during Betsy’s visits.

Thus, 3rd space dialogue sets the stage for discussion by Karen and Betsy of the following possibilities:

  • Betsy could reframe her view of Karen’s “noninvolvement” in a number of ways:
    • as an opportunity for Maya to develop problem solving skills independent of her mother for a portion of each visit that she and Karen could talk about at the end of the visit;
    • that labeling Karen’s participation in early intervention as “noninvolvement” is really an inaccurate view of Karen’s behavior because she periodically listens and watches from the doorway, giving Betsy opportunities to ask Karen’s opinions and reactions to what is going on. Karen has specific ideas about what she wants for her Maya, and actually called the early intervention program on her own.
    • Karen’s style of parenting is supportive and facilitory rather than directive; Betsy’s suggestions for play and caring for with Maya are far out of Karen’s comfort zone and should be reframed in order to be embraced by her.
  • Betsy and Maya could accompany Karen on “field trips” to other parts of the house or places in the community, giving Betsy the opportunity to see first-hand what Karen’s day is like. Betsy then would have a much clearer idea of how to use natural learning opportunities to help Karen and Maya achieve specific outcomes for Maya’s participation in family life.

 


 

 


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