Culturally Respectful and Competent Practice: What It Looks Like for Organisations Providing Services to Migrant Youth within the Illawarra Region of New South Wales, Australia

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Social Sciences


The question of culturally respectful and competent practice is important for human services, particularly in Australia, which is characterised by a highly culturally diverse population as a result of migration. On arrival in Australia, migrants start using local services which they anticipate to be appropriate to their culture, situations and aspirations. This study explored what culturally respectful and competent practice looks like for organisations working with migrant youth in the Illawarra region of the state of New South Wales using in-depth interviews and focus groups. Although our focus was youth, responses were more broad to reflect the day-to-day roles of participants. From the responses, themes that came out included awareness of own culture as a practitioner and understanding the cultures of service users; paying attention to service user views of the dominant culture; employing staff from refugee and migrant communities; interpreter services; supporting practitioners in addressing agency limitations; and use of a strengths-based approach. What is central to these themes is capacitating human resources with cultural knowledge and a tendency towards prioritising service users’ interpretation of their culture and addressing the disadvantage and injustice that arise from cultural differences. For the organisations, a key barrier to achieving this is inadequate financial resources. In view of these findings, we conclude that, in relation to the topic and organisations we investigated, culturally respectful and competent practice means embedding service user cultural interpretations and priorities in organisational employment practices, staff skilling and service delivery in order to achieve the best and sustainable cultural, social and economic settlement outcomes.

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Funding Sponsor

University of Wollongong



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