Cultural Competency: A Cardinal Force in Social Work Practice and Service-A Cultural Practice Guide for Human Services and the Helping Professions

Hope Attipoe


Culture is a significant factor in human development, sustainability, and societal cohesion. It is greatly cherished and holds universal significance to individuals, groups, families, communities, societies, and nations. Culture affects how a victim, survivor, client, or family responds to life altering experiences such as domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, and trauma. It also influences how a client or family deals with loss and grief, resilience, and recovery. Hence, understanding different cultures and cultural practices, symbols, artifacts, the meaning they hold, and respecting and operating within the confines of a set culture is very important. Cultural competency is a key medium through which this need can be addressed. Cultural competency is a core principle that should undergird a social worker’s service/practice with clients as enshrined in the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Failure to execute cultural competency is detrimental to the delivery of appropriate and effective services to clients, and a digression from the code of ethics and professional standard of practice within the profession of social work. The execution of cultural competency in social work practice fosters a positive and enduring therapeutic relationship between the social worker and client, and lays the foundation for productive engagement, interaction, and intervention. From this perspective, this article embodies a review of the research literature on the topic of culture and culturally competent practice from different disciplines. The review and analysis include a study this author conducted in Ghana-Africa that examined the significance of culture and its impact on individuals and their perceptions as well as behaviors within a cultural context. Specifically, the study focused on the cultural effects on learning and the transfer of knowledge, and this paper relates its significant implications for understanding culture and responsiveness to cultural practices within professional practice. The findings from this original study revealed that culture impacts an individual’s perception and behavior significantly. The implications for culturally effective social work practice were discussed and recommendations for cultural competence, responsive, and responsible practices including anti-oppressive intervention strategies at the micro, mezzo and macro levels were put forward. In addition, a cultural conceptual practice model called GACIE was proposed for use in assessing and intervening with culturally diverse ethnic minority clients.

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