Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 393–417 | Cite as

Recommendations for Improving Cultural Competency When Working with Ethnic Minority Families in Child Protection Systems in Australia

  • Pooja SawrikarEmail author
  • Ilan Barry Katz


Australia’s research and knowledge base on cultural competency has been slow to develop. To help address this gap, the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) funded a large scale study in this area, which included a detailed literature review. The paper reports on key findings from that review including that collectivist values are at odds with ‘child-centred’ philosophies of child protection; there is an inherent tension between the right to equal protection from harm and the right for respect in cultural differences in parenting and family functioning (‘cultural absolutism’ versus ‘cultural relativism’); there are factors that uniquely characterise ‘the migrant context’ (especially lack of awareness of child protection laws and systems, economic disadvantage, and fear of authority); and that cultural competency is separable from cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity, and also different from addressing language barriers. However, in reviewing the literature it became apparent that the specific roles and responsibilities of workers, agencies, and systems were not clearly delineated. Thus this paper also aimed to address this unmet need. Identifying their unique roles and responsibilities can help ensure that the delivery of child protection services are efficiently and effectively mobilised from both the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ to benefit all ethnic minority families. Moreover, any implementation of cultural competency needs to move beyond the emphasis on culture and acknowledge the dimensions of inferiority and oppression to truly promote value for diversity and protect ethnic minority children from the dangers of systematic disadvantage that institutional racism represents.


Cultural competency Child protection Ethnic minority Racism Service delivery Collectivism 



We would like to acknowledge the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Community Services (CS) in Australia and the Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, who together provided joint funding for this project. The funding bodies were not responsible for any part of the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation or report writing; these responsibilities rest solely with the first author of this manuscript. This project was a large scale study into the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) children and families in the NSW child protection system, of which one part was a literature review. (The other parts were case file reviews and qualitative interviews with CALD client families and child protection caseworkers). The results of the literature review were written as a report to the Department. This manuscript is a short version of that literature review. Thus, this manuscript has not been published previously and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere but is part of a published Governmental report.

Conflict of interest

There is no known conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC)University of New South Wales (UNSW) AustraliaKensingtonAustralia
  2. 2.School of Human Services and Social WorkGriffith University (GU)BrisbaneAustralia

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