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Fostering Cultural Competency

Service providers working with diverse populations need to understand their clients’ cultural values in order to effectively provide services and appropriately address any misunderstandings or issues that may arise.

Special Note:  

The products offered on this page and through the Resource Center are intended to address the cultural nuances associated with various populations in an effort to support service providers in building effective relationships and providing culturally competent services. Any references to religion or religious beliefs provided by the authors of these products are there to assist the reader in understanding the basis for associated cultural practices. Such references are in no way intended to reflect endorsement or promotion of any religion or religious practice by Resource Center.

Federally funded grantees are also subject to the requirements of 45 C.F.R. Part 87.1(c), Equal Treatment for Faith-Based Organizations, which says, "Organizations that receive direct financial assistance from the Department under any Department program may not engage in inherently religious activities such as religious instruction, worship, or proselytization as part of the programs or services funded with direct financial assistance from the Department." Therefore, organizations must take steps to separate, in time or location, their inherently religious activities from the services funded under this program.

Relationship education must be integrated into services in culturally appropriate ways because culture

  • affects how individuals and families pass values, behaviors, and attitudes from one generation to the next;
  • shapes how people view the world and their relationships; and
  • influences how individuals behave within their romantic relationships.

When a service provider sets aside preconceived ideas and seeks to learn more about a family’s cultural values and collective experiences, the family will be more receptive to the program’s message, an effective client-provider partnership based on mutual respect can be established, and the family’s likelihood of success in reaching their goal of self-sufficiency will be higher.

We offer several free Resource Center products and publications that are designed for service providers looking to learn more about cultural competency:

Considering Culture When Integrating Healthy Marriage Education Skills (PDF, 347 KB) is a  tip sheet that provides information on culturally appropriate ways to integrate healthy marriage and relationship education concepts and skills into services.

Working with Couples and Families in the Orthodox Jewish Community (PDF, 1.53 MB) is a research brief that provides an overview of the religious and cultural practices in the Orthodox Jewish community and discusses how to make relationship education programs appropriate to the cultural sensitivities of young Jewish adults and families.

Working with Muslim Couples and Families (PDF,1003 KB) is a research brief that provides an overview of the history of Muslims in the United States and discusses cultural and religious nuances to keep in mind when working with Muslim families.

Expand an item below to view resources that will be helpful for service providers seeking to increase and develop their capacity to work with African American, American Indian, and/or Latino individuals, couples, and families.

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These free Resource Center resources will be helpful for service providers seeking to increase and develop their capacity to work with African American individuals, couples, and families.

Working with African-American Individuals, Couples, and Families: A Toolkit for Stakeholders (PDF, 13 MB) is a toolkit that

  • uses a backdrop of significant historical events as a foundation for understanding perspectives, improving communication, and strengthening relationships with those in the African American community;
  • is grounded in current research and draws on the experience of practitioners to provide practical suggestions for engaging and serving this population, particularly for incorporating healthy marriage and relationship education skills into service delivery systems as part of a comprehensive family-centered approach to promoting self-sufficiency; and
  • has a free tutorial in our Virtual Training Center.

Dispelling the Myth: Black Couples Are Not Interested in Marriage (PDF, 347 KB) is a fact sheet that examines seven common myths about black marriage and provides accurate information about demographic trends in black relationships. You can also view the video version in our Media Gallery.

Understanding Distinct Marital Separation Patterns Among Black Couples (PDF, 292 KB) is a fact sheet that describes unique patterns in marital separation among black couples, highlights factors linked to marital separation, outlines consequences of marital separation, and offers strategies that safety-net service providers can use to empower clients experiencing marital separation.

The Expert Panel: Working with African American Individuals, Couples, and Families webcast was a moderated panel discussion that brought together nationally recognized experts and practitioners to address cultural competencies, discuss strategies to improve services, and highlight free resources to support efforts to strengthen families.

On the go? Working with African American Individuals, Couples, and Families is a podcast that features highlights from the webcast. The podcast includes information on the importance of cultural competency in program delivery, federal initiatives and priorities on healthy marriage and relationship education, and the role of relationships and marriage in the African American community.

These resources will be helpful for service providers seeking to increase and develop their capacity to work with American Indian individuals, couples, and families.

Working with American Indian and Alaska Native Individuals, Couples, and Families: A Toolkit for Stakeholders (PDF, 2 MB) is a toolkit intended to

  • educate service providers on the context of engaging AI/AN families;
  • increase collaboration between mainstream safety net service providers, tribes, and AI/AN organizations;
  • maximize providers’ recruitment and retention of AI/AN families and the impact of the services they provide; and
  • encourage the integration of healthy marriage and relationship skills into existing service delivery systems as part of a comprehensive, culturally appropriate, family-centered approach to promote self-sufficiency.

The Resource Center’s Working With American Indian and Alaska Native Individuals, Couples, and Families webinar provides information and input from experts in the field to help service providers acquire cultural competence and cover important topics.

The Context and Meaning of Family Strengthening in Indian America  (PDF, 2 MB) is a research report from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which concludes that the framework for “family strengthening” in Indian America is built around Native self-determination at both the personal and community level.

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of American Indian children and families by helping tribes and other service providers implement services that are culturally competent, community-based, and focused on the strengths and assets of families. This work includes collaborating with Tribal and urban Indian child welfare programs to increase their service capacity; enhancing Tribal-State relationships; and providing training, technical assistance, information services, and alliance building.

The following free resources will be helpful for service providers seeking to increase and develop their capacity to work with Latino individuals, couples, and families.

Working with Latino Individuals, Couples, and Families: A Toolkit for Stakeholders (PDF, 18 MB) is a Resource Center toolkit designed to help service providers acquire cultural competence through the discussion of important topics in the research literature with input from experts in the field. Each chapter highlights program development and implementation recommendations, including case studies with discussion questions. A free tutorial on the toolkit is also available in our Virtual Training Center.

Our Tip Sheets for Service Providers and Tip Sheets for Families are available in Spanish and are designed as companion pieces to help service providers better understand these core relationship skills, as well as share the information with the families they serve.

Tip Sheets for Service Providers in Spanish. These tip sheets provide more in-depth information regarding each of these skills and their importance to the families being served:

Tip Sheets for Families in Spanish. These tools are a companion to the Service Provider versions above and offer simple tips in easy-to-read handouts for families:

Watch the Resource Center's Working with Latino Individuals, Couples, and Families video series. This series features a focus group with four Latino couples discussing their different cultural experiences. Each video explores cultural factors that service providers may encounter when working with Latino families and couples. Topics include:

  • Acculturation: including the four stages of acculturation—acceptance, assimilation, separation, and integration.
  • Cultural Components: including views on traditional gender roles, the importance of religion, non-verbal communication, education, and work and money.
  • Family Issues: including family goals, the role of the extended family, and the impact of immigration.
  • Immigration: including how many families are affected by changes in immigration policies, even if they are legal immigrants.

Successful Strategies for Working With Latino Families is a Resource Center webinar that explores Latino culture and values, discusses best practices for engaging and retaining Latino families in services, and explores strategies for integrating healthy marriage and relationship education into safety-net services.

Developing Culturally Responsive Approaches to Serving Diverse Populations: A Resource Guide for Community-Based Organizations was created by the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families to help organizations to define and understand cultural competency and identify easily accessible resources for adapting or developing interventions, conducting a needs assessment, selecting appropriate measures, collaborating with other organizations, ensuring workforce diversity, and budgeting for culturally competent programs. 

A Guide to Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Programs for Hispanic Couples and Families (PDF, 1 MB) is an extensive guide for Federally- and Non-Federally-funded Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education and Responsible Fatherhood programs serving Hispanic couples and fathers. This guide summarizes the various aspects of these programs and facilitates their comparison.

Visit our curricula page to download Long Live the Healthy Family! A Program for Building and Maintaining Strong Latino Marriages and Families, An Instructional Manual for Community Family Life Educators (PDF, 2 MB) in Spanish, and to find more guidance on selecting appropriate curricula for your program.