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Becoming Culturally Competent - Effective Safeguarding of Children from Minority Ethnic, Cultural and Faith Communities, Groups and Families


This practice guidance has been written to promote the effective safeguarding of children from minority ethnic, cultural and faith communities, groups and families.

Culturally competent practice places children's wellbeing and protection within their cultural context and, by being culturally competent, practitioners can better identify which aspects of the family's difficulties are 'cultural', which are neglectful, and which are a combination of factors.

'What parents do is more important than who they are... the right kind of parenting is a bigger influence on a child's future than faith, culture (wealth, class, education) or any other common social factor' (Korbin and Spillsbury: 1999 in Stevenson (2007)

This chapter was added in January 2019.


  1. Introduction
  2. What is Cultural Competence?
  3. Culturally Competent Professionals
  4. Engaging with Families
  5. Culturally Competent Practice in Assessment
  6. Recognising and Responding to Safeguarding and Child Protection Concerns
  7. Seeking Specialist Support / Advice

    Appendix 1: Terminology

    Appendix 2: Faith and Culture Safeguarding Children Checklist

    Appendix 3: Local and National Useful Contacts

1. Introduction

The rapidly changing demography of Hull presents challenges to professionals when working with children and families who are living in circumstances which may appear to be complex because of their faith, culture, nationality and possible recent history.

Some of these challenges can be overcome by professionals understanding the underlying principles of good practice and developing the expertise and confidence to apply these alongside information, knowledge and understanding of a child's specific circumstances e.g. their family's culture and faith, language and relationship with the local community and wider UK society.

This practice guidance has been developed to support all professionals with their knowledge and skills, and an approach to safeguarding practice which promotes an effective response to the complexity and changing nature of the needs of children and families of Hull.

This guidance is consistent with and should be applied alongside Working Together to Safeguard Children which provides the statutory framework for protecting children and promoting their wellbeing regardless of their faith, culture and circumstances, and is supported by the Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Becoming Culturally Competent training (see HSCP Learning Programme).

The guidance seeks to assist practitioners, whatever context, to be clear about what constitutes risks from neglect and/or abuse. At the same time, it aims to equip practitioners with the skills needed to identify strengths and challenges within the child and family's lived experience which are related or attributed to the culture and/or faith of the child, the family and the group or community within which the family lives and which might increase or decrease any risk of abuse.

2. What is Cultural Competence?

Culture is evidenced in human behaviour and relates to thoughts, communication, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group.

Competence means having the capacity to practice effectively when working with families from any ethnic, religious or cultural background.

Culturally competent practice acknowledges and aims to understand the meaning of cultural identity within each individual’s and family’s lives. It requires that all organisations and professionals within them develop cultural knowledge and that the design and provision of services respond to culturally specific needs.

3. Culturally Competent Professionals

A culturally competent professional can understand the world view and culture of a family. They should develop an understanding of the cultural diversity in Hull today, and gain knowledge of the impact of relevant historical influences on the lives of children and families. For example, the impact of war and social unrest in the country of origin.

Professionals should also recognise that different families from the same Geographical area, cultural or religious group may have different language, beliefs and values. They should also recognise the importance of asking individuals and families about their experiences and what matters to them and not make assumptions.

4. Engaging with Families

The successful engagement of children and families depends largely on a respectful and culturally sensitive approach, rather than on the ethnicity and cultural/ religious background of the professionals.

Cultural competence is being responsive to the beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of children and families.

Essential elements of cultural competence that promote positive engagement include:

  • Valuing diversity and difference;
  • Ability to recognise how our own cultural identity impacts on others;
  • Being conscious of how cultures interact with each other and the significance and impact of this in practice (for example power imbalances and traditional boundaries within and between cultures);
  • Acceptance and openness to differences among people;
  • Commitment to develop specialised knowledge and understanding of the history, religions, traditions, values, family systems and languages represented in Hull;
  • Develop an understanding of communities and resources within communities and be able to make appropriate connections with these; and
  • Contributing to the development of practice in services that reflect understanding of diversity.
Reflecting on our own assumptions and stereotypes associated with any cultural, ethnic or religious group prior to engagement with children and families is essential.

5. Culturally Competent Practice in Assessment

Professional curiosity, respectful uncertainty, listening to the family, understanding our own unconscious bias, and treating each person and family is unique is the basis of any good assessment.

All assessments need to explore both the strengths and challenges that faith, culture, nationality, language and history may have on family functioning and child welfare.

The absence of cultural competence when working with children and families from minority ethnic cultures, faith groups or communities may lead to inaccurate assessments and decision making.

Information about newly arrived families can often prove difficult to source. Listening to the family perspective and having an understanding of the family journey can help to support professional judgement where other sources of information are not available.

Culturally competent assessments completed with families should include:

  • Acknowledgement and understanding of how language, cultural identity and belief systems impact on the children and adults within the family;
  • Analysis of how this impacts on the family's ability to safeguard their children;
  • Explicit links between the family's cultural beliefs and the safeguarding concerns. This requires analysis of the family's perception and understanding of the safeguarding concerns and whether these accord with wider cultural/religious values about child up-bringing the family might have;
  • Analysis of the family's engagement with Children's Social Care and the degree of recognition of agency concerns;
  • Analysis of the family's response to agency involvement, taking into consideration gender and cultural factors;
  • Consideration of the extent that any presenting behaviour or problem relates to the impact of social transition such as migration, lack of extended family support, discrimination, trauma etc.;
  • Utilising appropriate interpretation and translation services which take account of the specific geography of an individuals’ origin language (see also Working with Interpreters Procedure);
  • Exploration of whether any behaviour linked to safeguarding concerns may be considered 'acceptable' within the family's own culture;
  • Consideration of whether any difficulties in the family a result of lack of access to or knowledge of appropriate services or resources; and
  • Exploration of any cultural conflict within the family around identity, values or relationships of the individual members.
Reflecting on our own assumptions; stereotypes and unconscious bias associated with any cultural, ethnic or religious group prior to engagement with children and families is essential.

6. Recognising and Responding to Safeguarding and Child Protection Concerns

'Knowledge and understanding of culture and faith is critical to effective assessments of harm through neglect and/or abuse.

However, culture and faith should not be used as an excuse to abuse and must never take precedence over children's rights'

Safeguarding Children's Rights Special Initiative: Final Evaluation Report (Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust / University of East London Centre for Social Work Research, 2011)

Where there is a cultural explanation given in relation to significant harm, The Children Act 1989 is clear that the welfare of the child is paramount and should remain the focus of any professional intervention. Whilst an understanding of cultural context is necessary, this should not get in the way of measures to protect the child from significant harm.

Questions to consider which may help understanding of a family's cultural position in relation to safeguarding concerns

Assessing safeguarding concerns where cultural issues may be a reason/ excuse (e.g. physical chastisement justified through beliefs about child rearing)

  • Is there evidence that the safeguarding concerns will cause significant harm to the child?
  • Is there evidence that the safeguarding concerns are illegal or outside of UK legal parameters?
  • Do the adults in the family see the safeguarding concerns as a cultural norm?
  • Are the family demonstrating a willingness to change practices?
  • Does the child see the safeguarding concerns as a cultural norm?
  • Does the child want things to change?; and
  • Are there organisations/ people in the community trying to affect change in the family?

7. Seeking Specialist Support / Advice

All professionals working with children, parents or families whose faith, culture, nationality and possibly recent history differs significantly from that of the majority culture, must take personal responsibility for informing their work with sufficient knowledge of the relevant faith and/or culture to be able to effectively protect the child/ren and promote their welfare.

Having an understanding of when and where to go for expert / specialist advice on a particular culture and/or faith by which the child and family lives their daily life is one way in which professionals can do this.

This advice or expertise might come from a local or national source. Appendix 3: Local and National Useful Contacts contains links to local and national resources which may enhance understanding, and decision making in respect to specific cultural issues.

Section 11 of the Children Act 2004, places a responsibility on all communities, faith and community groups, and professionals to proactively safeguard and promote the welfare of children so that the need for action to protect them from harm is reduced.

Effective safeguarding children activity means not only partnership between the majority population and minority ethnic culture and faith groups and communities, but also between the different minority groups and communities.

Appendix 1: Terminology

'Ethnicity' refers to a group of people whose members identify with each other through a common heritage, such as a common language, culture (often including a shared religion) and ideology that stresses common ancestry and/or endogamy (the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group.) Everyone belongs to an ethnic group, whether it is the ethnic majority or ethnic minority.

A 'minority' is a sociological group which does not make up a dominant majority in terms of social status, education, employment, wealth and political power. An ethnic minority group or community may be recently immigrant or have been settled in the UK for quite a few years. Furthermore, within a group or community different families will have different histories of settlement in the UK. Families will also differ; some born outside the UK whilst others were born here. Minority status may reflect their faith-related or travelling culture. The group or community may have a long history of having lived in the UK

The term 'safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children' is defined in Working Together to Safeguard Children as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children's mental and physical health or development;
  • Ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care;
  • Taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

‘Culture’ can be understood as the social heritage of a group, organised community or society. It is a pattern of responses discovered, developed, or invented during the group's history of handling problems which arise from interactions among its members, and between them and their environment.

These responses are considered the correct way to perceive, feel, think, and act, and are passed on to the new members through immersion and teaching.

Culture determines what is acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, workable or unworkable. It encompasses all learned and shared, explicit or tacit, assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, norms, and values, as well as attitudes, behaviour, dress, and language.

Culture changes, reflecting a group's responses to new experiences between each other and between them and their environment. However, this usually takes time because changes become embedded only through being passed on to new generations.

Cultural identity based on ethnicity is not necessarily exclusive. People may identify themselves as British in some circumstances and as part of a particular culture (e.g. Gypsy/Roma, Pakistani or Bangladeshi) in other circumstances. They may also identify with more than one culture.

Cultural identity is an important contributor to people's wellbeing. Identifying with a particular culture helps people feel they belong and gives them a sense of security.

‘Faith’ is a belief system which forms attitudes and behaviours but crucially informs one's identity over a period of time. It can be understood as 'spirituality' - defined as searching for purpose, meaning and morality, which can often, but not always, be expressed as a 'religion' - which may include regular public worship such as church attendance.

Faith very often underpins culture. However, people from different cultures can have a strong allegiance through the same faith. If a parent is behaving / expressing attitudes towards children which raise serious concerns based on beliefs, to what extent is this behaviour supported by the faith group? If the individual behaviour is not being reinforced by the wider group, then might joint working with the faith group to help the parent prove a productive way forward?

On the other hand, if such practices / attitudes are being fed by the faith group who are essentially therefore part of the problem (with the potential for other parents being likewise influenced) can this be addressed more widely by engaging on the issues with faith leaders?

For children and their families whose faith, culture, nationality and possibly recent history, differs significantly from that of majority culture families, there are a range of issues which can potentially obstruct their ability to seek help, protect themselves or fulfil their role as protective adults. The majority of these issues have their basis in the culture and/or faith of the family and their community. However, there also issues relating to the families' recent history and current living circumstances.

‘Religion or spirituality’ is an issue for all families whatever the culture. A family who do not practice a religion, or who are agnostic or atheists, may still have a particular view about the spiritual upbringing and welfare of their children. For families where religion plays an important role in their lives, it will also be a vital part of their cultural traditions and beliefs. Some families may also have specific mores or belief systems that are not instantly obvious but may also impact upon their children's development.

‘Unconscious (implicit) bias‘ refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgements and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We can counter this by being aware, questioning ourselves (and others), using inclusive language and use supervision to reflect.

Appendix 2: Faith and Culture Safeguarding Children Checklist

Families from minority groups can live with circumstances that reduce or completely obstruct their ability, with or without a professional safeguarding support plan, to do the things they need to do to keep their children safe. Ask yourself the following questions:

If this parent…

  1. Cannot speak, read or write English, will they be able to e.g. get a job, arrange suitable childcare, register with a GP, pursue a legitimate asylum claim, understand the law etc.?
  2. Fears that the 'State' is authoritarian, will they be able to register with a GP, engage with the local children's centre, talk to the school about their child's progress/difficulties, call social services or the police if necessary e.g. for help with domestic violence?
  3. Lacks strong social networks; will they be able to cope with the stresses of child rearing and the tensions and emergencies of everyday living?
  4. Lives in temporary housing, e.g. B&B, will they be unsettled, moving at [irregular] intervals to new and unfamiliar areas, not able to begin building a supportive social network, needing constantly to engage with a new GP, children's centre, school etc.?
  5. Is living below the poverty line, will they have the added burden of not being able to buy enough food and clothing, keep warm enough, travel as needed or give things to their child as they would like, to add to the stresses of child rearing and the tensions and emergencies of everyday living?
  6. Has a child who is of a different appearance and culture to them, e.g. a single mother whose child has inherited their father's appearance (and as a young person chooses their father's culture), will the mother's skills and the child's identity and self-esteem be sufficiently resilient?
  7. Is living in a close-knit community, will they be too scared or ashamed to engage with statutory and other services for herself e.g. domestic abuse, sexual abuse/rape, repudiating female genital mutilation or spirit possession, or for their child e.g. honour-based violence or sexual promiscuity?
  8. Has a perspective on parenting practices underpinned by culture or faith which are not in line with UK law and cultural norms, will they put their child at risk of harm through e.g. leaving young children at home alone, exercising robust physical punishment, forcing a child into marriage etc.?
  9. Recognises their faith or community leader as all powerful, will they put their child at risk of harm rather than questioning the leader?
  10. Puts a very high value on preserving family honour, will they put their child at risk of harm rather than 'exposing the family to shame' in their community?

    and, if this young person…
  11. Is compromised in relation to their community, through being 'westernised' e.g. sexually active (incl. teenage motherhood), having a girl/boyfriend not from the same community; or by having a stigmatising experience e.g. sexual abuse, mental ill health or a disability, will they be able to seek help to keep safe from the community or statutory and other services?
  12. Has strong allegiance to a group or gang, e.g. radicalised, will this stop them from seeking help from the community or statutory and other services, to stay safe?

Appendix 3: Local and National Useful Contacts

Haven (Psychological Service for Refugees and Asylum Seekers)
Marvell House
Cranbourne Avenue
HU3 11P
01482 587550

Refugee Council - Yorkshire and Humberside
Centre 88
Saner Street
Main Office: 01482 421120

Refugee Council – Advocacy service for Hull children and young people
Oak House
94, Park Lane

0113 386 2217 / 07983 599908
Advice line 0207 346 1134
Advice e mail:

91 Princes Avenue
Methodist Church
Every Thursdays from 10am-2pm
01482 345132
Food parcels for destitute, clothes bank, Free breakfast and Lunch time meal, social gathering. Crèche and play space for very young children, ESOL classes for beginners. Small cash support, support and advice for Migrant Workers.

Maritime House
1 Kingston St
Tel: 01482 499830 / 07734 132448
Free advice and support around immigration issues (Level 1 OISC), family reunions, benefits and work.

HCAS (Humber Community Alliance Centre)
Centre 88, Saner Street, Hull
Monday 1-3pm
Wednesday 1-3pm
Friday 1-3pm
01482 236460
Free independent confidential advice and support with benefits, immigration issues (Level 1 OISC), housing issues, work related problems, Work placements, debt management.

Humber All Nations Alliance
44 Portland Street, Hull, HU2 8JX
Tel: 01482 491177

183 Beverley Road
East Yorkshire
HU3 1TY 
Tel: 07539321502  
Hull Sisters promote the independence and inclusion of all women from all backgrounds in Hull and East Riding.
We support women in challenging the discrimination and human rights abuse they face – allowing them to live a happy and fearless life.

Prince's Avenue Methodist Church,
Prince's Avenue,
Tel: 07480 317115
Drop in: Wednesdays 1-3pm
Advice for asylum seekers and refugees, Advocacy for individual clients, Housing advice, Legal advice.

20 Piercy St,
M4 7HY
0161 205 5940
AFRUCA is a UK charity, established in 2001 as by Modupe Debbie Ariyo OBE, as a platform for advocating for the rights and welfare of African Children in the UK and in Africa.

25 Wolsey Mews
London NW5 2DX
(Monday-Friday 1.30-4pm)
Tel: 020 7482 2496
Fax: 020 7267 7297
Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.
WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

FAMILY LIVES - (‘staying culturally connected’)
Tel: 0808 800 2222

REFUGE - (women and children against domestic violence)
Addresses modern day slavery, FGM, honour-based violence. Freephone Tel No. 0808 2000 247

Empathic support for UK Muslims.
Tel 02089048193 or 02089086715

Provides resources and help and advice relating to refugees.

Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC) specialises in law and policy affecting children and young people.