Friday April 12, 2013 

Cultural competency and the CAC/CYAC

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The panel for this session included Lisa Whittaker, VP of Community Education, Counselling, Trauma & Victim Services for Family Services of Greater Vancouver;  Kevin Berube,  Director, Nodin Child and Family Intervention Services in Sioux Lookout, Ontario; and LaRee Walters-Boadway, Manager of the Safe Centre of Peel and Safer Families Program in Brampton. They all represent agencies that are involved in the development of CACs or CYACs in their communities.


Lisa Whittaker explained that they have just completed their Cultural Competency plan for the Vancouver CYAC. Two key needs are with their urban Aboriginal population, and with most recent immigrant and refugee groups.  Vancouver has the third largest Aboriginal population in Canada, and sits on the traditional lands of three different First Nations. While they represent 5{c0ca929c5633088f41a8b4e1efe5eb563b0a19a50230288a9321bd7f05521e0f} of the city’s population, 52{c0ca929c5633088f41a8b4e1efe5eb563b0a19a50230288a9321bd7f05521e0f} of the children in care there are Aboriginal.  Meanwhile, Vancouver has welcomed many successive waves of immigrant and refugee groups, mainly from Asia. Vancouver also has the largest LBGT community in Canada.

As only 50{c0ca929c5633088f41a8b4e1efe5eb563b0a19a50230288a9321bd7f05521e0f} of city residents claim English as a first language, translation into multiple languages is a major challenge for a CYAC in that city.  Translation needs have caused trials to be delayed, due to difficulty in finding a translator for a specific dialogue. Domestic cases become complicated when a unilingual immigrant mother does not want the accused father removed from the family home — because she is more socially isolated without him.

Whittaker said they have found that “old school” Cultural Competency training no longer applies. They are seeing more and more households that are multi-cultural — with blended families that include First Nations, Caribbean, Korean.

The Vancouver CYAC planning group has decided that “any model of Cultural Competency is OK — as long as it embeds a culture of learning in our organization.  Each person is expert in their own culture. We need to be listeners and learners. The people coming to our CYAC are the experts, so we need to listen to them.”  They have chosen a Cultural Competency model that includes these 5 elements, which must be applied to governance, services and management:

  • Value diversity – as a positive thing, as an opportunity
  • Conduct regular assessments of our own values and attitudes (by self-assessments and also by using outside assessors)
  • Constantly identify areas of need for growth and how to accommodate the changes to meet new needs
  • Implementing strategies
  • Evaluation must be part of everything we do  – keep the circle in motion — by constantly looking at new needs and strategies; monitor, implement, evaluate


The demands of translation costs will be a constant drain on their financial resources. Consequently, they are trying to ensure that the English on their website and in other documents is very simple. They have sought special assistance in re-writing legal terminology in very plain — but still legally accurate — English.


They have assembled advisory committees, using prominent elders from key ethnic groups, to help them prioritize which documents should be translated, and how they should be designed. This process has produced added benefits — as participation in preparing communication tools also creates more “buy-in” with the leaders in those communities.   Those people now want to do more outreach for the CYAC within their own groups.


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Kevin Berube  explained that his child and adult mental health program, which is developing CYAC services for the remote Ontario north,  has to serve  about 20,000 people, from 30 different First Nations,  spread out over 330,000 square kilometres.

Most contacts with their clients are by video conferencing technology, which is available at most nursing stations. But there are challenges — with unreliable technical connections, and with confidentiality. In a small community, everyone sees you walk into the clinic to do that teleconference call.

Unlike in most cities, family connections in native communities are extensive — one child could have 300 direct relatives at the basic level of grandparents-cousins-grandchildren.  Multicultural services and protocols designed for big cities down south will not work in the north. Customs and protocols in northern family and community groups include complexities that someone from the city cannot appreciate.

“There is a history of distrust of groups from the south who fly in, take what they need, and leave. So the community needs to be clear about what services you are offering and how it will benefit them. Each community has its own expertise — in terms of history, language, customs and geography. They will offer genuine warmth and generosity that grows over time.   But you have to spend time in the community. And you have to appreciate the importance of silence, listening, and watching. My learning curve is a straight line up.”

He offered these additional observations on Cultural Competency with First Nations communities in the North:

  • Evidence-based practice doesn’t work so well in northern communities.
  • Allow time to hear the stories. Those anecdotes will bring other information to life.
  • The means of achieving the result IS the end.
  • Trust is essential but takes time to acquire.  The impact of the residential school system cannot be underestimated.
  • Learn the local history – and always be prepared to continue to learn.
  • Create more opportunities to work with elders over time.  Make sure your plans are consistent with their goals. Respect what the community leaders have experienced and survived.
  • Position the work in a community context — more than an individual frame.  The issues often extend beyond individual mental health to broader community mental health. 80{c0ca929c5633088f41a8b4e1efe5eb563b0a19a50230288a9321bd7f05521e0f} of the people in some communities show the same symptoms.
  • The key to Cultural Competency is a lot of honesty.

“In the local language, the name of our team means ‘walking together.’  We have to be prepared to really do that.”

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LaRee Walters-Boadway explained that Catholic Family Services, which is the lead agency in the group that is developing the Peel area CYAC, has its own roster of Cultural Competency protocols.  But the challenge is to bring other agencies into the process.

The population in the Peel region is growing very rapidly, while funding for services has not kept pace. At least 43{c0ca929c5633088f41a8b4e1efe5eb563b0a19a50230288a9321bd7f05521e0f} of the residents were born outside Canada, representing 93 distinct ethnic groups and over 60 languages.  Many families are low income.   They have seen allegations of child abuse increase since the financial meltdown of 2008.

She offered these examples of how their centre is building Cultural Competency into their CYAC plan:

  • They strive to hire people who represent the various ethnic groups. Their current staff speak 13 languages.
  • Volunteers are helping to translate documents.
  • The photos of people in their brochures, and the dolls in the playroom, resemble the ethnic groups served.
  • An advisory committee assesses how they are meeting the cultural needs of their clients.
  • Staff receive feedback about how to improve their own Cultural Competency.
  • For more tools on how her group addresses Cultural Competency, see  .  Look under the menu called “Manager’s Toolkit,” then # 3: “Systemic barriers and competency.” This section of their website offers many links to online resources on the topic, from many other organizations.


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QUESTION: Where can people find the webinar on writing legal information in plain language?

ANSWER  (McDonald) – It’s actually on the Department of Justice Canada website. Susan McDonald has provided the presentation by Jane Withey, called Plain Language Writing, Public Legal Information and the Web


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QUESTION (to Walters-Boadway: Can you share your evaluation tools in multiple languages?

ANSWER – Those documents are not yet available in all the languages, but Peel will share with the group whatever they do have.


COMMENT (by Walters-Boadway) : One of the ironies in Peel is that, while we have materials in Punjabi and Hindi, we don’t have much in French — which is needed by Francophone African and Caribbean clients.


COMMENT (by delegate): Deaf people consider themselves to be a separate cultural community, with their own [sign] language.


COMMENT (by delegate):  a gender-neutral washroom is important to the LGBT community.


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COMMENT (Whittaker) :  The value of diversity can show up in surprising ways.  We took a group of senior city managers on a walk through some neighbourhoods — with people with disabilities, or recent immigrants as their guides. The guides talked about what made a place welcoming — or not  — for them. Afterwards, it was fascinating to see how much the city engineer was willing to change — because of what he had absorbed from that one walk.