Social workers ‘need cultural competence training’

Lack of cultural awareness among professionals a key barrier to support for learning disabled people from black and minority ethnic communities and their families, finds government-funded study.

Building relationships with families was essential for professionals, said the report

Social workers need training in “cultural competence” to ensure learning disabled people from black and minority ethnic (BME) get the support they need, a study has concluded.

Professionals needed to have an awareness of families’ cultural practices and norms, particularly to ensure assessments identified the needs of service users from BME backgrounds, the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities said.

Today, the foundation reported on its Reaching Out project, commissioned by the Department of Health, which examined access to support for BME learning disabled people and their families in three areas. 

The research found that families needed support to understand what they were entitled to, negotiate the system, speak up where they were dissatisfied with services and, in some cases, access translation and interpretation support. However, families said that staff from statutory agencies did not provide them with the information they needed, were too reactive and did not follow up on agreed actions.


Tips for working with BME learning disabled people

 Find out about cultural etiquette the family may follow and make sure you follow it unless the family invites you to do otherwise;

 Find out in advance whether an interpreter is needed to aid communication;

 Explain to families how assessments or reviews work, and about entitlements to support, and make sure this has been understood;

 Tell the family what will happen next after an assessment and make sure it happens;

 Don’t make assumptions, such as that families will not accept support or want to “look after their own’;

Source: Guidance for practitioners from social care and health services in developing culturally competent practice


It said building trust between professionals and families was essential but families felt staff moved on too quickly before this could be developed and lacked necessary cultural knowledge. The foundation said social care staff should receive mandatory and regular training in cultural competence, and produced an accompanying guide to culturally competent practice with a series of tips on how social workers should work with service users from BME backgrounds and their families.

The report also called for action to ensure BME learning disabled people could benefit from personalisation, particularly by helping family carers to understand how personal budgets worked, for instance through carer consultation meetings, and using self-assessments to identify people’s cultural needs.

The study also said local community organisations often provided service users and their families with the flexible and tailored support that they needed; however, the development or sustainability of these groups were not helped by trends in council commissioning to procure services from fewer, larger providers.

“Such organisations and key staff (often volunteers) should then be protected and sustained by the statutory agencies,” the report said. “In particular they should not be passed over by procurement processes that favour large scale organisations without community roots.”

Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults’ editor.

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