The Culturally Competent Professional Practice (C2P2) Project Team’s purpose in developing this set of tools to enhance cultural competence is ultimately through their use to mitigate the disproportionate representation of children of color in the various social service systems across the United States. By sharing our unique three year learning experience working with the Office for African American Children’s Services (OAACS), the only culturally specific public child welfare office in the nation, we hope the lessons learned, insights gained and tools developed will assist others in helping professionals to examine their practice models and enhance their cultural competence.
While the OAACS practice model was specific to both social work practice and African Americans, we quickly learned when presenting our operational definitions and findings to a broader audience that they could be generalized beyond social work (e.g., applicable to educators, health and mental health care professionals, etc.) and to other cultural contexts (e.g., Latino, Asian, American Indian, etc.).
Bridges to Engagement: Tools to Enhance Cultural Competence is a compilation of the lessons learned during a three and one-half year journey exploring the power of culture from both ethnic as well as organizational perspectives. This “tool kit” provides insights into some of the key components of cultural competence, provides snapshots of a culturally specific social work model, and shares tools developed to support culturally relevant professional practice.
As an organizational effectiveness consultant for the past 30 years I have worked with hundreds of organizations, and thousands of employees working on teams to accomplish their organizational missions and goals. I’ve consulted in the public, private and non-profit sectors, to Fortune 1000 firms, to high tech companies, public utilities, Wall Street law firms, public and private schools, early childhood education centers, to name a few, all exploring what is necessary to attain high performance and exceed their customers’ expectations, to utilize their workforce diversity as an asset and to effectively plan and implement large systems change initiatives.
For the past three and one-half years instead of consulting to a team, I have been a member of a high performing team the mission of which was to understand how culture (both human and organizational) could be effectively utilized to mitigate the disproportionality of African American children in a public child welfare system and in doing so (unbeknownst to me at the beginning of this journey) to contribute to the dialogue and the debate raging in the United States today relative to the need for and importance of cultural relevancy in professional practice arenas including social work, education, health care/mental health, juvenile justice, etc. where our outcomes as professionals fall short in meeting consumer needs.
The debate in one sense is about the legitimacy of utilizing different cultural ways of knowing, different belief systems and frames of reference to inform the way in which services are delivered to diverse populations. It’s also more importantly about sharing power, changing the way we engage with families and children, and implementing processes that support families and communities to become active participants in capacity building efforts versus passive recipients of services. Everyone learns and benefits from such a process. Here are some of the things I have learned.
¨ Mitigating disproportionality is hard work that requires highly skilled professionals, who are willing to try new approaches, take risks and share power by engaging in shared decision making to achieve shared goals.
¨ Cultural competence is hard work that requires vigilance in recognizing my preconceived notions, and having the discipline to manage them in order to mitigate decision bias; as well as the humility to learn about and effectively utilize the cultural norms of diverse children, families and communities in my professional practice.
¨ Partnering and collaborating is hard work that requires checking my ego at the door in order to listen and problem solve utilizing the synergy of multiple ideas; sharing power and engaging in shared decision making; releasing my need for individual recognition in order to take pride in shared accomplishments; learning from our mistakes as a team versus blaming individuals; and realizing we really do achieve more together.
¨ Systems change is hard work that too often requires failing in order to uncover the learning that is the key to success, the secret—don’t stop, don’t go backwards—just keep moving forward by engaging in the next indicated action.
My greatest learning, however, was the power of an organization’s values to shape individual perspectives and behaviors. I’ve taught this theoretically for years, but I experienced it during the life of this project. The more we understood the underpinning values—safety and respect through shared decision making—the more they became apart of our team’s frame of reference and operating norms. As I participated in the codification of this unique social work practice model, I realized how much I believed in its tenets. It became less about me and more about “us” and our shared goals. It became important to accomplish our goals within a relationship that was respectful, and empowering versus competitive. During the project the individual capacity of the partnership increased as well as our collective capacity.
"The Importance of a Culturally Competent Approach: A Learning Journey"
(Wanda L. Hackett, Ph.D. Organization Psychologist, Project Manager)
The attached document (please click the button below download), the C2P2 Manual - BRIDGES TO ENGAGEMENT - summarizes moments along the way of a unique expedition in systems change, which will continue as you, the reader, become a part of the process. As such, our contribution to systems change is not at an end—but at a beginning, with your work.