Cultural competence

"All of us want to ensure that the children and their families, who attend our services, feel welcome, enriched and settled. Because of the rich diversity of our communities, it is important we support children to be able to grow and flourish in a multicultural society."

- Cultural Connections Booklet - www.childaustralia.org.au

What does it mean to be "Culturally competent"? Cultural Competency is a lifelong journey. It brings together knowledge and skills in many key areas:

The following learning topics and resources will introduce you to these key areas, as they relate specifically to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other diverse population groups in Australia. These topics will discuss your role as both:

  1. an educator of the children at your service, and
  2. a member of, and colleague in your workplace.

An introduction

Terms and definitions

Terms and definitions

Australia is home to people from over 200 countries, providing children with many opportunities to learn about cultures. However, ‘culture’ is not limited to a person’s ethnicity.’ It is related to ‘who we are on the inside.’ ‘Culture is transmitted through families, language, communities, within generations and from one generation to the next.

 Lets look at some of the key terms used through out this learning:

  1. Cultural Awareness - raising awareness and knowledge of cultural norms, values and practices different from one’s own.
  2. Cultural Safety – the provision of an environment where there are no challenges to a person’s identity, culture or needs. It is also the provision of an environment where there is inter-cultural collaboration, partnerships and shared understandings.
  3. Cultural Competency – the organisation and its staff, Board, students and volunteers behaves in a way that is congruent with its diversity and inclusion vision, objectives and goals. Organisational attitudes reflect the diversity and inclusion values contained within the vision, objectives and goals. (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011)
  4. Diversity is defined as: “…the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.” (Mirriam-Webster, n.d.) Diversity incorporates a broad range of differences or attributes in our population, such as ethnicity, age, gender (including transgender), sexuality, politics, philosophy, religion, disability, community identity and subcultural activity. Diversity as a concept includes an ideology that fosters acceptance, respect and values these differences.

Cultural awareness, safety and competency principles should be applied to all diverse groups.


Defining Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people

Defining Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural people

Cultural safety extends beyond cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander cultural safety is when you as the educator provide the child, family or colleague with a safe environment that respects their aboriginality and therefore encourages their sense of self and identity.

In this topic you'll be introduced to the concepts of cultural safety and competence as they apply in an early childhood education setting.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the first peoples of Australia. They hold a unique place in Australian history and continue to make an essential contribution to our ongoing national development and identity.

Over time the following definition has been agreed within the community and Australian Government to identify when someone is an Aboriginal and /or Torres Strait Islander person. The person:

  • Is of Aboriginal and /or Torres Strait Islander descent
  • Identifies as an Aboriginal and /or Torres Strait Islander person, and
  • Is accepted as an Ab Is original and /or Torres Strait Islander person by the community in which he or she lives.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples retain their cultural identity whether they live in urban, regional or remote areas of Australia. There is a great diversity of cultures, languages, kinship structures and ways of life among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have distinctcultures. Aboriginal peoples are comprised of many different language and/ortribal groups, while Torres Strait Islanders are from the Torres Strait Islandsregion. Some Torres Strait Islander peoples have moved to mainland Australiaeither through forced removal or for employment and education. 

Although the terms ‘Indigenous’, ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘TorresStrait Islander’ are commonly use now, it is important to note that that thesenames are the legacy of colonisation. Before, during and after invasion theFirst Nations people of Australia identified themselves by their country suchas Darug, Gandangarra, Tharawal, Eora, Kamilaroi, Wiradjuri, Bundjalung and soon. The names Indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are coloniallabels imposed on a range of people with diverse cultures and languages. (NSWDepartment of Community Services 2009)

The term ‘Indigenous’ is generally used when referring to both First Nations’ people of Australia – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. You will find that Indigenous is generally used by the Commonwealth Government as they have a charter of providing services and programs to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at a national level. (NSW Department of Community Services 2009)

The Aboriginal flag

The Aboriginal flag was designed in 1971 by Harold Thomas an artist and Luritja man, originally from Central Australia. The black represents the people, the red the earth and their spiritual relationship to the land and the yellow the sun, the giver of life. The Aboriginal flag was first raised in Adelaide on National Aboriginal Day in 1971 but was adopted nationally by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in 1972


The Torres Strait Islander flag

The Torres Strait Islander flag is attributed to the late Bernard Namok of Thursday Island, and was flown for the first time in 1992. The flag is emblazoned with a white Dari (headdress) which is a symbol of Torres Strait Islanders. The white five pointed star beneath it symbolises the five major island groups and the navigational importance of stars to these seafaring people. The green stripes represent the land, the black stripes represent the people, and the blue the sea. The flag as a whole symbolises the unity of all Torres Strait Islanders.

In July 1995 both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were proclaimed as official flags in section 5 of the Flags Act 1953.

Cultural safety

Cultural safety

Cultural safety is a term that emerged in New Zealand in the 1980’s. The concept of cultural safety came about by midwives who wanted to ensure that their practice was consistent with the objectives of the Treaty of Waitangi. These midwives found that "...any individual who feels safe and supported responds better to treatment' (Richardson, 2009, pp. 27-36)

Cultural Safety is “more or less - an environment, which is safe for people; where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what, they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning together with dignity, and truly listening”. (Williams, 1999, p. 214)

Cultural safety extends beyond cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity. That is, being culturally aware is the initials point of gaining a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues so that you are more culturally mindful. Cultural safety on the other hand is when you as the educator provide the child, family or colleague with a safe environment that respects their aboriginality and therefore encourages their sense of self and identity. It empowers individuals and permits them to contribute to the accomplishment of positive outcomes.

Other terms and their definitions that are also used refer to aspects of cultural safety include:

Cultural awareness - sensitivity to the similarities and differences that exist between two different cultures and using this sensitivity to effectively communicate with persons of another cultural group.

Cultural respect- involves the recognition, protection and continued advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and traditions of a particular culture.

Cultural competence- is an awareness of cultural differences that exist, appreciating, understanding and accepting the differences.

Cultural security - imposes a stronger obligation to move beyond ‘cultural awareness’ to actively ensure that cultural needs are met. This extends to ensuring cultural needs are included in policies and practices so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have access to this level of service. (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.) and (Health Education and Training Institute, n.d.)



Legislative context for cultural safety

The federal law that supports cultural safety is the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Under this act, grounds of discrimination are on the basis of “…race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin and in some circumstances, immigrant status. As well as racial hatred, defined as a public act/s likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of race, is also prohibited under this Act unless an exemption applies”. (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.)

Each state also has laws that relate to anti-discrimination or equal employment opportunity (EEO), state and territory equal opportunity and anti-discrimination agencies have statutory responsibilities under these laws

  • Australian Capital Territory – Discrimination Act 1991
  • New South Wales – Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
  • Northern Territory – Anti-Discrimination Act 1996
  • Queensland – Anti-Discrimination Act 1991
  • South Australia – Equal Opportunity Act 1984
  • Tasmania – Anti-Discrimination Act 1998
  • Victoria – Equal Opportunity Act 2010
  • Western Australia – Equal Opportunity Act 1984.


Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples

In September 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Australia Government officially endorsed the Declaration on the 3rd April 2009.It affirms the right to free, prior or informed consent. When making policies or laws that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, governments and other parties should negotiate with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the goal of obtaining their consent. This should result in processes of collaboration and equality to arrive at solutions and agreements that all parties can accept.

National Quality Standards and cultural safety

National Quality Standards and cultural safety

The National Quality Standard sets benchmarks for the quality of education and care services. The standards can assist education and care services in the guidance and importance of promoting aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural safety.

Quality Area 1 Educational Program and Practice focuses on ensuring that the educational program and practices is stimulating, engaging and enhances children’s learning and development. In school aged care services, the program nurtures the development of life skills and complements children’s experiences, opportunities and relationships at school, at home and in the community (Guide to the National Quality Standard, 2011). It focuses on the importance of an approved learning framework that informs the development of a curriculum that contributes to each child’s learning and development in relation to their identity, connection with community, wellbeing, confidence as learners and effectiveness as communicators (NQS Element 1.1.1). An approved learning framework is an important tool for enabling educators to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families to achieve the best learning and developmental outcomes for children and families. Working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, educators make curriculum decisions that uphold all children’s rights to have their cultures and identities acknowledged and valued.

Relationships with children is reflected in Quality Area 5 of the National Quality Standard. Knowing where and with whom you belong is integral to human existence and a sense of belonging for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. When children and families experience respectful relationships their sense of security, wellbeing and self-esteem are promoted. Within relationships with children is the importance that the dignity and rights of every child are maintained at all times. This standard is set out in the United Convention on the Rights of the Child and founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, regardless of race, colour, gender, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability. Australia has agreed to undertake this obligation and has committed to protecting and ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s rights.

Positive learning outcomes for children and families are likely to be achieved when educators work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and those within their communities. Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard highlights the important role families play in children’s lives. Families are the primary influence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives and they have strong beliefs and values in relation to their cultural identity. Educators need to nurture the important attachments that exist in children’s lives in relation to extended families and kinship ties.


Approved frameworks and cultural safety

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the My Time Our Place - Framework for School Age Care (MTOP) outline principles, practices and outcomes to support and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s learning and wellbeing. Pedagogical principles can be incorporated into curriculum implementation to promote children’s learning by adopting holistic practices, being responsive to children, creating meaningful learning environments and valuing cultural and social contexts of children’s lives. Educators can further promote children’s learning through the participation of secure, respectful, reciprocal relationships and partnerships, demonstrating equity and by respecting diversity through ongoing learning and reflective practice. In order to put the concept of cultural safety into action, you must be able to ensure your own educator practices are grounded in awareness of cultural bias. Reflective practice is fundamental to having an awareness of your own cultural lens and how this influences your educator practices in an education and care setting.Cultural safety is principally about examining our own cultural identities and attitudes. Being open-minded and flexible will improve with reflective practice. Understanding our own culture, and how it influences the way we think, feel and behave can be a difficult task. However, in the increasingly diverse environments in which we work, the importance of being culturally safe in what we do cannot be underestimated.The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and My Time Our Place (MTOP) highlights the importance of cultural competence and reflective practice. Educators are encouraged to ‘uphold all children’s rights to have their cultures, identities, abilities and strengths acknowledged and valued’, and they must ‘respond to the complexity of children’s and families’ lives (Department of Education , Employment and Workplace Relations {DEEWR}, 2009, p.14)Reflective practice allows educators to build on their cultural safety capabilities. By reflecting on relationships, interactions and experiences with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and through self-evaluation (i.e. what was the ”positive” and “negative” aspects), we are able to improve the way we embed cultural safety and therefore better meet the needs of our Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander children and families.

A key principle of the EYLF and MTOP is Respect for diversity. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s personal, family and cultural histories shape their learning and development. Children learn best when educators respect their diversity and provide them with support, opportunities and experiences. It is our role as educators to promote cultural awareness in all children, including the understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being and to develop a sense of identity and connection to the land. Each child has a unique experience of context and culture. One of the key factors in diversity practice is to avoid stereotyping children and families based on their race, culture or other attributes. In a study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perspectives in primary schools, the following story highlighted the image that some children constructed about who Aboriginal people are;An Aboriginal principal at one school told the story;I said to the kids at the assembly, ‘Would you recognise an Aboriginal person if they walked in here? What would they look like? The kids replied, someone dark, someone from the NT (Northern Territory).He then announced to the assembled children, ‘well one just walked in five minutes ago’And the children all looked around to see where the Aboriginal person was. The principal then added, ‘that Aboriginal person was me” (Harrison and Greenfield, 2011, p.69)This story highlights the need for Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives in education and care services that are both culturally relevant and local. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to feel supported, educators need to support children’s sense of place and connection, families sense of welcome and safety and demonstrate respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perspectives.Educators must also reflect on and challenge the dominant discourses that may discriminate against or restrict the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Educators have a responsibility to recognise the myriad of historical and present day barriers to equity and social justice in service delivery. Creating safe and welcoming space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families requires reflection on these issues and action to combat the complex nature of discrimination and disadvantage.A practice of the EYLF and MTOP is learning environments. The learning environment needs to be a welcoming space that reflects and enriches the lives and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities of children and families participating in the education and care setting. Both the physical and human environments are required to be responsive to the interests and abilities of each child. Play spaces in natural environments include plants, trees, edible gardens, sand, rocks, mud water and other elements from nature to enable the connection back to country. Understanding, valuing and supporting the rich and unique aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture helps all education and care services encourage and support inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families whilst strengthening the awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures for all children. By focusing on children’s individual, family, community and cultural identity education and care services help to build children and families’ confidence and self-esteem which develops their sense of belonging, being and becoming and a strong sense of identity.Focusing on relationships with family, community and nature helps children to be connected with and to contribute to their world. Learning environments with a focus on connection with nature through gardens and outdoor play spaces help children to develop environmental responsibility and a connection with nature through animals educates children about compassion, nurturing and connects them with the world. Enabling children and families to feel connected with and contribute to their world includes supporting them to develop a sense of social responsibility and an awareness of the impacts of their actions on others including respect for cultural, family and individual diversity.Wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families encompasses social, emotional, creative, cultural, physical and cognitive development. Relationships with educators that are secure, respectful and reciprocal enhance children’s social and emotional wellbeing. With the importance of family to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, children’s wellbeing needs to also be linked to the wellbeing of their family and community. A holistic approach to meeting children’s wellbeing recognises the importance of a range of additional programs such as health, dental, nutrition and parenting programs and services.There are a variety of ways educators can support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to become confident and involved learners through educators having high expectations of children’s capacities and learning through play. Confident learners evolve when supportive and stable relationships with educators are formed with an emphasis on focusing on children’s strengths, abilities and the opportunity for children to direct their own learning.Effective communication encompasses many interactions and learning experiences and is vital for all learning outcomes, principles and practices of the EYLF and MTOP. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be effective communicators, positive educator engagement is required with the opportunity for individual and group oral communication,  opportunities for language and literacy experiences such as reading books and storytelling and the chance to engage in a variety of texts and media to express ideas, thoughts and opinions.

Activity

An introduction to Cultural Safety and Cultural Competency in an early childhood setting

Watch the following videos from Early Childhood Australia on Cultural Competency.  It is essential that early childhood educators understand culture and continue to develop cultural competency as they work with children and their families.

 

Check your understanding - terms and definitions

Match the following key aspects of cultural safety for service delivery to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people to the correct explanations.
  • Reflective practice
    Allows workers to build on their cultural safety capabilities. By reflecting on experiences or interactions with clients and through self-evaluation.
  • Anti-discrimination laws
    Laws that support cultural safety and make it illegal to discriminate.
  • Cultural security
    Imposes a stronger obligation to move beyond ‘cultural awareness’ to actively ensure that cultural needs are met. This extends to ensuring cultural needs are included in policies and practices so that all ATSI people have access to this level of service.
  • Cultural competence
    An awareness of cultural differences that exist, appreciating, understanding and accepting the differences.
  • Cultural safety
    Where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what, they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning together with dignity, and truly listening.
  • Cultural respect
    Where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what, they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning together with dignity, and truly listening.
  • Cultural respect
    Involves the recognition, protection and continued advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and traditions of a particular culture
  • Cultural awareness
    Sensitivity to the similarities and differences that exist between two different cultures and using this sensitivity to effectively communicate with persons of another cultural group.

Diversity

Legislative context for cultural safety

The federal law that supports cultural safety is the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Under this act, grounds of discrimination are on the basis of “…race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin and in some circumstances, immigrant status. As well as racial hatred, defined as a public act/s likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of race, is also prohibited under this Act unless an exemption applies”. (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.)

Each state also has laws that relate to anti-discrimination or equal employment opportunity (EEO), state and territory equal opportunity and anti-discrimination agencies have statutory responsibilities under these laws

  • Australian Capital Territory – Discrimination Act 1991
  • New South Wales – Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
  • Northern Territory – Anti-Discrimination Act 1996
  • Queensland – Anti-Discrimination Act 1991
  • South Australia – Equal Opportunity Act 1984
  • Tasmania – Anti-Discrimination Act 1998
  • Victoria – Equal Opportunity Act 2010
  • Western Australia – Equal Opportunity Act 1984.


Untitled content

Reflecting on your own experiences

Untitled content

In the work place

ATSI cultural safety in the workplace

Appreciate diversity and inclusiveness, and their benefits

Communication

Seeking assistance