Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with one in four Australians born overseas and nearly 20 per cent of Australians speaking a language other than English at home (Australian Bureau of Statistics, April 2013).
This rich cultural diversity throughout Australia means that many health and community professionals will have clients, and also interact with children and families, from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Health and community professionals like psychologists, counsellors and social workers can play a critical role in supporting children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities and make a positive difference to their mental health and wellbeing.
Cultural identity and children’s wellbeing
A strong cultural identity is important to a child’s mental health and wellbeing. Having a strong sense of their own cultural history and traditions helps children build a positive cultural identity for themselves, gives them a sense of belonging and self-esteem and supports their overall wellbeing.
When children have a strong cultural identity, they are well-placed to make social connections with others and develop a sense of belonging to their community, even if the community's cultures are different to their family culture.
Having a positive sense of belonging in both settings helps children move between cultures with greater ease and confidence, and can increase their engagement.
In turn, belonging builds children’s self-esteem and resilience, and reduces the likelihood they will experience depression and anxiety.
To be able to get on well in a culture that is different to their family culture, children often need to understand and respond to different expectations. For example, the expectations around body language can be very different across various cultures. In many Asian cultures, making direct eye contact with an adult is viewed as a sign of disrespect or a challenge to that adult’s authority.
It can be complex, and sometimes confusing, for a child from a different cultural background to their school culture to make sense of the different expectations.
In some cases children may experience ‘cultural conﬂict’ and feel that they have to choose one culture or the other, even though they have to live in both.
This can be stressful for children and have negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing.
However, when children have a positive sense of belonging to both cultures, their mental health and wellbeing is supported and so is their learning.
Watch our video 'Thinking about cultural diversity' to find out more about why cultural identity matters
What can health and community professionals do to support cultural diversity?
The experiences of children and families in a health and community setting can also have a positive effect on their sense of belonging and engagement with the wider community.
A child’s sense of their own cultural identity is also strengthened when this diversity is recognised, respected and valued in their interactions with health and community professionals.
Here’s some ways for you to support cultural diversity in your professional life:
- Talking directly to people to find out how to best include children from diverse cultural communities and how to respect their cultural needs.
- Respecting individual differences – don’t assume that membership of a cultural group means everyone within that group has the same values and needs.
- Promoting and modelling inclusive behaviour, for instance, by providing information in a number of appropriate languages for parents and carers.
- Working with interpreters or multilingual aids to ensure accurate communication with children, parents or carers whose English language skills are limited.
- Reflecting on how your own cultural values can impact your approach to understanding and working with CALD communities.
- Effectively addressing problems of discrimination when they occur.
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