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1.6.5 Culturally Appropriate Practice


This chapter was amended in February 2014. Section 14, Discrimination was revised to include reference to complaints procedures.


  1. Introduction
  2. Policy Context
  3. Policy Statement
  4. Meeting the Needs of Black and Minority Ethnic Children
  5. Heritage
  6. Religion
  7. Ethnic Origins
  8. Linguistic Background
  9. Cultural and Social Background
  10. Protecting Children from Forced Marriage
  11. Female Genital Mutilation (Female Circumcision)
  12. Institutional Racism
  13. Racial Harassment
  14. Discrimination

    Appendix 1: Terminology

1. Introduction

'Abuse is not condoned by any racial or religious group. We should not seek excuses for abuse. Children must be safeguarded. To work effectively and assess whether abuse is taking place we need to understand the context'. (Baldwin 1990).

The purpose of writing this practice guidance is to ensure that all agencies working with Black and Minority Ethnic children and families do so in a culturally appropriate manner. Moving towards culturally appropriate practice means being:

  • Knowledgeable about cultural differences and their impact on attitude and behaviours;
  • Sensitive, understanding, non-judgemental and respectful in dealing with people whose culture is different from your own;
  • Flexible and skilful in responding and adapting to different cultural contexts and circumstances.

Addressing issues of racism and culture are an integral part of working with Black and Minority Ethnic children and families.

Practitioners need to be aware that children from all cultures are subject to abuse and neglect. Culture can explain the context in which an abusive incident took place, but not the behaviour or action of an individual parent. For example, a parent who injures a child with a belt might say that this is 'cultural'. The cultural context might explain the parent's anger over the expectation he/she has of the child, but not the parent's action, which is abusive. Cultural factors neither explain nor condone acts of omission or commission, which places the child at at increased likelihood of suffering Significant Harm.

In order to make sensitive and informed professional judgments about the child's need and the parents capacity to respond to their child's needs, it is important that professionals are sensitive to differing family patterns and lifestyles, and child rearing practices within different racial and cultural religious groups. They should also be aware of the broader social factors that serve to discriminate against Black and Minority Ethnic children and families, i.e., racial abuse and harassment. Professionals should be aware of and be flexible and work with strengths and support systems available within families, ethnic groups and communities.

Professionals should guard against myths and stereotypes, both positive and negative of Black and Minority Ethnic families. Anxiety about being accused of racist practice should not prevent the necessary action being taken to safeguard children. A careful assessment based on well-documented evidence will enable the practitioners to justify their actions in an open and honest manner.

Although there are some specific factors that need to be borne in mind, when assessing Black and Minority Ethnic children's needs, the base line for assessing parenting capacity and the child's developmental needs, should be the same for all children. All children require their parents and carers to respond to the same fundamental care needs.

2. Policy Context

The Children Act 1989 is built on the premise that 'children and young people and their parents should all be considered as individuals with particular needs and potentialities' (Department of Health, 1989), and that differences in bringing up children due to family structures, religion, culture and ethnic origins should be respected and understood, and that those children with 'specific social needs arising out of disability or a health condition' have their assessed needs met and reviewed (Department of Health 1998). It is clear that on issue of service delivery the Council should 'give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origins and cultural and linguistic background'.

The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 places a duty to 'eliminate racial discrimination and promote racial equality' on all public bodies.

The Human Rights Act 1998 section 6(1) places a duty on all public authorities to act in a way that is compatible with the rights and freedoms of the European Convention of Human Rights. The convention rights include article 3 'no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment' and article 8 'everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence'.

Some vulnerable children may have been particularly disadvantaged in their access to important opportunities, such as those that have suffered multiple family disruptions or prolonged maltreatment by abuse or neglect and are subsequently looked after by the local authority. Their health and educational needs will require particular attention in order to optimise their long-term outcomes in young adulthood.

Ensuring equality of opportunity does not mean that all children are treated the same. It does mean understanding and working sensitively and knowledgeably with diversity to identify the particular issues for a child and his/her family, taking account of experiences and family context, cultural and religious beliefs.

No child or family, who qualify for service, should be refused a service or receive a diminished service, because services are not designed to meet their particular needs. The service should be flexible to change (as a matter of urgency) to meet their needs.

All agencies should monitor adherence to this policy and regularly review service provision to ensure that services are sensitive to and reflect the rich diversity of communities, groups and individuals in Leicester City, Leicestershire and Rutland, both in the way that services are provided and in their staff/carer recruitment. Monitoring ethnic origin, gender and religion of service users and staff/carers should be undertaken in order that reviews are based on accurate information.

3. Policy Statement

'All agencies must have non-discriminatory service delivery, recruitment and employment practices, which underpin a commitment to equal opportunities' (Excellence not Excuses 2001, SSI). The following points are the criteria, in order to meet this standard:

  • All agencies must have equal opportunity policies and action plans for service delivery, recruitment and employment;
  • Services for Minority Ethnic children take an holistic view of their individual needs, acknowledging their personal experience of family, parenting, social environment, culture, race, religion, language, disability and gender;
  • Professionals understand that the social implications of belonging to a Black or Minority Ethnic group vary depending upon the cultural, religious and social backgrounds of individuals;
  • Professionals receive training in anti-discriminatory practice, which addresses the knowledge, and skills required responding to and supporting the individual identity needs of each Minority Ethnic child;
  • All agencies must have a policy for dealing with racial harassment and abuse;
  • Professionals from Minority Ethnic groups have access to appropriate training and support.

3.1 Principles and Value Systems

Good working practice is based on a system of values, which recognises all individuals and groups and respects the heritage of all children and their families.

All children should have the opportunity to achieve optimal development, according to their circumstances and age.

It should be acknowledged that discrimination of all kinds is an everyday reality in many children's lives. Every effort must be made to ensure that we do not reflect or reinforce that experience and, indeed, should counteract it.

Different cultures, religions and classes have different systems of parenting and kinship. It is therefore important that stereotyped assumptions should be avoided.

It should be acknowledged that racial abuse damages children both physically and emotionally and as such warrants professional intervention to address the effects of this form of abuse, whether it comes from within or outside the family.

4. Meeting the Needs of Black and Minority Ethnic Children

This section highlights some of the issues, which need to be considered and addressed, when working with Black and Minority Ethnic families and children. It is important that there is recognition and understanding of the additional impact of racism on the lives of Black and Minority Ethnic families, and this should be taken into consideration by both managers and practitioners.

An understanding of the heritage of the family is important in terms of assisting any assessment and intervention. Both managers and practitioners, therefore, should consider the range of skills and knowledge needed to undertake work with Black and Minority Ethnic families.

5. Heritage

Leicester City, Leicestershire and Rutland are multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-language and multi-cultural Authorities. All our policies, procedures, practice and services should positively acknowledge, reflect and respect this fact.

Religion, ethnic origin, linguistic background and culture are of importance to the developing identity of all children. Leicester City has developed the Heritage model, which not only assists in the delivery of services which are appropriate to race, language, culture and religion but also takes account of age, sex, and background of service users. It is important to adopt this model as a base line or/and as a tool to implement this practice guidance. For further information please see Leicester City Council Heritage Model.

6. Religion

The right of children and their families to practice a particular religion, or no religion, will be respected and upheld. This principle will underpin all of our work with children and their families and has the following implications for good practice:

  • Where a religion, or sect within a religion, prohibits certain forms of medical examination or espouses disfiguring or disabling operative treatment, a delicate balance will need to be reached between the parents' legal rights and responsibilities towards the child and our view of the best interests of the child;
  • Staff need to ensure that they are familiar with information about service user's religious and cultural practices. Visits planned on religious days or during period of mourning may cause anger and embarrassment.

7. Ethnic Origins

All children should be able to feel pride in their ethnic origin. This should be on the basis of a feeling of self-affirmation and self-worth and a positive sense of identity.

All agencies with these children and families should be sensitive to their feelings and make efforts to affirm their value and worth. Black and other Minority Ethnic children and their family's self-esteem, aspirations and expectations will often have been further damaged and depressed by their experiences of racism. They may also feel justifiably suspicious or fearful of white organisations. It is essential that all agencies are able to counteract rather than confirm their fears and feelings by providing services that are sensitive to and understanding of their needs and which provide positive affirmation of their racial origins. This is likely to be achieved by:

  • Making strenuous and special efforts to recruit staff on all levels and carers from Minority Ethnic groups, to ensure that the services we provide are based on a real understanding of the needs, background and the effects of racism on Minority Ethnic families and to provide positive role models;
  • Ensuring that offices are non-racist and positively reflect our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. The display or circulation of racist material by adults or young people is totally unacceptable;
  • All agencies should ensure to develop non-racist attitudes and a positive appreciation of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in which they live;
  • Staff should always resist over-compensation on the basis of race or culture and should similarly avoid an over-simplistic and deterministic view, when investigating and assessing Black and Minority Ethnic families. Misplaced sensitivity to cultural factors on the part of professionals can expose children from ethnic minorities to risk of physical and emotional abuse.

8. Linguistic Background

Language and the ability to communicate effectively form an important part of a person's identity and their self-esteem. Good practice will recognise and accommodate the facts that:

  • English will not be the first language of a considerable number of our service users and carers and some will speak no English at all. It is essential therefore, particularly where important information and expectations are being conveyed, that this is done in the service users' or carers' first language. This should be through an approved interpreter. Children must never be used as interpreters;
  • Family members or friends should not be used to interpret unless this is the only option at the time and this is felt as appropriate;
  • Some of our service users and carers, although they may speak English, may not be literate in English. Where they are literate in a different language, important documents, and in particular signed agreements, must be translated into the language in which they are literate;
  • It should be remembered that there are many languages of people of African-Caribbean origin, which are commonly termed as Patois or Creole. Although some dialects have their base in English, the words, idioms, gestures and body language are different. The family may be forced to 'standardise' their English and this may, therefore, inhibit their ability to freely express their feelings. These differences may be sufficient to suggest that an interpreter should be considered to assist the flow of information to and from the family;
  • Wherever practicable the same interpreter should be used throughout the course of any involvement with a family, in order to ensure continuity and to encourage and establish an effective working relationship. Interpreting should as far as possible be a neutral communication channel;
  • When requesting an interpreter, consideration should always be given to gender;
  • When using an interpreter staff should ensure that they speak directly to the client when asking questions;
  • Children, professionals and carers should have the right to communicate with each other in the language in which they feel most confident and comfortable. Mother tongue conversation should not be treated as subversive or deviant.

9. Cultural and Social Background

It is important to have a good understanding of the heritage of the child and family. In this policy document, the term 'culture' describes the moral values, behavioural norms, lifestyle and social and artistic pursuits espoused by a family and taught to their children. A shared religious belief, ethnic background, language, history, or economic background will often lead to similar cultural norms and expectations.

Culture usually has many positive aspects. It gives a pattern and predictability to life, which makes children feel settled and secure. It teaches children ways to behave and a code of discipline, which means they will be accepted in the wider community. It gives children a sense of history and of their "roots" and is important in forming a positive identity. We should promote and preserve children's cultural background by:

  • Not assuming, often inaccurate, cultural stereotypes but finding out from the child and his/her family what their cultural norms and expectations are;
  • Recognising that some children will mistakenly see their cultural background as responsible for the treatment they have received because of negative experiences in their own family, and reject their background.

Such children are likely to need counselling and reassurance that staff, carers, and peers from the same background as themselves will be able to offer them positive experiences and role models.

  • It is important to take a great deal more care whilst placing children in care to ensure that placement of Black and Minority Ethnic children reflect their racial, religious, linguistic and cultural background (see Leicester City Council, Social Services Department's Policy on 'Meeting the racial, religious and cultural needs of Looked After Children').

9.1 Practice Standards for Working with Black and Minority Ethnic Children

Outcome for Service Users: Services provided for Minority Ethnic groups must be flexible, easily accessed and of good quality. Facilities must be available to address the special, physical and emotional needs of Minority Ethnic children.

Referrals and Assessment: All agencies must have coherent processes to respond to the initial contact or referral of Minority Ethnic children and assessment processes which involve families in deciding how their needs will be best met.

Planning and Review: Plans and reviews must be carried out in accordance with regulation and guidance and include objectives and steps needed to achieve them.

Communication: Communication needs of Minority Ethnic children and their families must be met when they have contact with any agency. All agencies must provide information about their services in ways, which they can understand.

Equality of Opportunity: All agencies must have non-discriminatory service delivery, recruitment and employment practices, which underpin a commitment to equal opportunities.

Management Arrangements: All agencies must have clear and comprehensive policies and procedures for provision of services to Minority Ethnic children and families.

10. Protecting Children from Forced Marriage

No major faith condones forced marriage. The freely given consent of both parties is a prerequisite of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages. For further information please refer to Forced Marriages Procedure.

11. Female Genital Mutilation (Female Circumcision)

This is a cultural, not a religious practice. For further information, please refer to Safeguarding Children at Risk of Abuse through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Procedure.

12. Institutional Racism

'Institutional racism is the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage Minority Ethnic people' (McPherson Report 1999).

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which recognises racially aggravated harassment, also places the onus on councils to work in partnership with the police, probation and health services in the implementation of crime reduction strategy. The Home Secretary's action plan in response to the McPherson report also includes local government and local agencies in the creation of a comprehensive system of reporting and recording all racist crimes.

13. Racial Harassment

As councils are now charged with the responsibility for tackling institutional racism, professionals need to be more responsive and deal with both overt and covert racism.

Racist incidents relating to children and young people or staff should be monitored and recorded.

Racial harassment should be recognised as a child protection issue and those victims of racial harassment are children in need.

Issues of racial harassment/abuse should be followed up when they are brought to attention.

14. Discrimination

Any discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation or sexual/racial stereotypes, whether direct or indirect, intended or unintended, must be quickly identified and acted upon. In no instances should discrimination be condoned.

Individual discrimination or prejudiced actions, statements, jokes etc., by professionals or carers towards children, their families, or other staff and carers are totally unacceptable, must always be challenged and may be subject to disciplinary proceedings. However, attempts would be made to pre-empt and prevent this kind of behaviour, both at recruitment stage and by providing appropriate in-service training.

If children discriminate against or display prejudice towards other children or adults, their behaviour should always be challenged and dealt with in an age appropriate way.

If parents or other adults associated with the child discriminate against or display prejudice towards children or other adults this must always be challenged. Where an adult applies for or is in receipt of a service for themselves and their children, but refuses to work with a particular member of staff or carer solely on the grounds of their ethnic origin, gender, disability or sexual orientation, and evidence proves that this refusal results from prejudice or discrimination, then the service could be refused or withdrawn, unless this would place the child/ren in danger or Significant Harm at any time.

Children and families should have easy access to an independent complaint procedure, supported by advocacy in the language of child's family. See also Complaints Procedure for Children’s Social Care - Leicester City, Leicestershire and Rutland Children and Young People's Service Procedures Manual. If a parent, carer or child wishes to appeal the decision of a Child Protection Conference they are involved in, see Appeals by Parents / Carers and Children against Child Protection Conference Decisions Procedure.

Appendix 1: Terminology

Terminology Explanation of its use
Asian Community The term 'Asian Community' will be used to cover people whose families originated from the subcontinent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and to people from East Africa whose families originated from the subcontinent. It does not imply that it is a homogeneous group and it is recognised that there are wide variations in language, religion, culture and historical values.
Black Throughout this report the term 'Black' is used to describe people of Africa, Caribbean and Asian descent. Whilst people within these groups may have different needs, cultures and traditions, they share the common experiences of racism and consequent discrimination.
Minority Ethnic The term 'Minority Ethnic' refers to people whose members share certain characteristics (common history, language, religion or family or social life) which distinguish them from the majority of the population. It covers not just Black and Asian groups, but also Irish, Jewish, travellers and other white ethnic groups.
Culture Culture will be defined as expected traditional customs to which individuals subscribe as members of particular society. These influence the way in which individuals perceive the world and the way in which they behave. Cultural identity may be expressed in a variety of ways including language, diet, dress and religion.
Heritage The term 'Heritage' is used for the family's race, language, religion and culture.
Dual Heritage The term 'Dual Heritage Children' is used for children born from inter-racial relationships.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a destructive, invasive procedure that is usually performed on girls before puberty. Part or all of the clitoris is surgically removed. This leaves them with reduced or no sexual feeling.
Forced Marriage A clear distinction must be made between forced marriages and arranged marriages. In the tradition of arranged marriages, the family of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice of whether to solemnise the arrangements remains with the spouses and can be exercised at any time. The spouse has the right to choose - to say no - at any time. In forced marriage, there is no choice.