Note: After a brief introduction to "culture" this section focusses on Aboriginal culture (The Dreaming, the Land, etc);
Torres Strait Islander culture has some similarities, but very significant differences.

The role of culture

All of us are cultural beings. All of us have culture. Our culture shapes how we see the world and make sense of it. Culture influences all of our behaviours and interactions.

Culture is acquired - we learn about culture from others in our community, including our parents

Culture is shared - culture does not exist in a vacuum, it is shared amongst a group of people

Culture defines core values - because we have been taught our culture and share it with our cultural group, we tend to form the same core values

Cultures resist change but are not static - culture does and can change, but change is usually slow and gradual.

Good community services will be culturally appropriate.

For community services to be culturally appropriate the service providers and the workers must be culturally competent.

Cultural competence is not just knowing about other cultures, being culturally aware or being sensitive to other cultures. 

Cultural competence is the knowledge, behaviours, attitudes, policies and systems that enable service providers and workers to work effectively in cross-cultural situations and respond to the needs of a culturally diverse population.

Cultural competence is required at both the organisational and individual levels.




Culturally competent  service provider:

Signs of a culturally competent  service provider include:

  • Value diversity by accepting that the people they serve are from different cultural backgrounds and will make different choices based on culture?
  • Acknowledge and accept that cultural differences exist and have an impact on service delivery
  • Believe that diversity within cultures is as important as diversity between cultures
  • Respect the unique, culturally defined needs of various client populations
  • Recognize that concepts such as "family" and "community" are different for various cultures and even for subgroups within cultures
  • Incorporate cultural knowledge into all levels of service planning, delivery and evaluation?
  • Understand that people from different racial and ethnic groups and other cultural subgroups are usually best served by persons who are a part of or in tune with their culture

Culturally competent workers

Signs of culturally competent workers:

  • Understand the concept of culture and how it influences behaviours, as well as interpretations and evaluations of behaviours?        
  • Demonstrate an openness and willingness to identify and explore one's own cultural values, beliefs and attitudes?
  • Demonstrating an openness and willingness to explore the same things from the perspective of people from cultural backgrounds other than their own?         
  • Demonstrate the ability to identify useful and culturally appropriate strategies for working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds?

Building cultural competence

See: Self Study Module


Cultural Knowledge

Cultural Knowledge is familiarization with selected cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviours of the members of another ethnic group (Adams, 1995)

Cultural Awareness

Cultural Awareness is developing sensitivity and understanding of another ethnic group. Awareness extends to special foods, manners of dress, language, religious preferences and observances, and differences in communication styles. As an example, in some cultures it is impolite to make eye contact, especially with someone you do not know well. Cultural Awareness also involves changes in attitudes and values and reflects an openness and flexibility in working with others of another culture.

Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural Sensitivity is recognizing and knowing that both cultural differences as well as similarities exist, and not making value judgments of good or bad, better or worse, right or wrong (Texas Department of Health, National Maternal and Child Health Resource Center on Cultural Competency, 1997). It is important to be familiar with and sensitive to special events, activities, meaning of holidays, and other ethnic celebrations and the special foods that are served at these times.

Cultural Competence

Cultural Competence is a set of congruent behaviours, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, and Isaacs, 1989). Cultural competence also refers to a set of academic and interpersonal skills that allow individuals to increase their understanding and appreciation of cultural differences and similarities within, among, and between groups. This requires a willingness and ability to draw on community-based values, traditions, and customs and to work with knowledgeable persons of and from the community in developing targeted interventions, communications, and other supports.