One of the foundations to being interculturally-responsive is building positive, collaborative relationships with children’s families.

Why building relationships with families is important

A child’s family members are the most important people in their life, and will have the greatest influence on their emerging cultural identity.

When health and community professionals, schools and families build positive working relationships, it shows children that their cultural background and language are accepted and valued.

Being accepted and valued helps children feel they are an important part of a community, which builds their self-esteem, helps develop a positive cultural identity, and supports their mental health and wellbeing.

Here’s four things you can do to build relationships with families:

It is important to be aware that a ‘one size fits all’ approach shouldn’t be taken when engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families and to recognise differences within cultural groups.

These are four broad things you can do to help build relationships with children and families from diverse communities:

1. Effective communication

When there is effective communication with families from different cultural backgrounds it leads to a shared understanding about supporting children.

Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively:

  • become aware of each family member’s verbal and written English skills
  • learn the meaning of nonverbal and indirect communication (eg. body language) in different cultures - sometimes nonverbal communication can carry more meaning than verbal communication
  • ensure a trained interpreter, bicultural worker, or community leader is present when meeting with the family
  • maintain awareness and sensitivity to nonverbal communication during discussions with families
  • be aware of any discomfort or inadequacies (which may lead to a feeling of shame) that family members might experience due to lack of English.

2. Learning about family needs and strengths

It takes sensitivity and time to relate to and learn about families from different cultures.

Sensitivities, such as past experiences, can make some people suspicious or cautious when it comes to talking with ‘authority figures’ or ‘institutions’.

Here are some tips to help you get to know a family’s needs and strengths:

  • be aware of your own assumptions and how your knowledge and experiences may have led to these assumptions
  • provide private spaces where families feel safe to discuss their needs and are confident that shared information is confidential
  • use culturally-appropriate and sensitive communication tools to learn about the backgrounds and experiences of each family.

3. Sharing perspectives and expectations

Another key part of building relationships with families and being interculturally-responsive is sharing different perspectives.

Each family member, due to their cultural background and experiences, may have very different expectations of the role they play in their child’s life, whether that is in their education or mental health.  

To share perspectives and expectations, you can:

  • learn about families’ expectations of their child
  • learn about families’ previous experiences in and outside Australia
  • develop skills to listen to and identify any conflicting ideas
  • develop skills to discuss differences in expectations with families.

4. Partnering with other agencies and organisations in the local community

Developing an awareness of and knowledge of the supports available in the community can help you better understand families’ perspectives and expectations. To build stronger relationships with a child’s family, you may want to partner with other agencies and organisations that provide services to CALD communities. This helps create support networks for the family, as well as giving you access to appropriate advice, consultation and language services. 

For more tips watch our video on building relationships with families