ERIC Identifier: ED455972
Publication Date: 2001-08-00
Author: Bruns, Deborah A. - Corso, Robert M.
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Working with Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Families.
The United States is one of the most culturally, ethnically, racially, and
linguistically diverse countries in the world. During the 1990s, there was a
heightened awareness among early childhood researchers of the need to examine
efforts to provide programs and services responsive to the needs and preferences
of families of young children from diverse cultural and linguistic groups (Lynch
& Hanson, 1998; Quintero, 1999; Tabors, 1998). Because one approach may not
be successful with all groups, researchers advise early childhood teachers and
service providers to examine a range of strategies to enhance their
relationships with families from a variety of cultural and linguistic
backgrounds. It is useful for professionals to develop a common foundation of
knowledge and practical strategies to address the needs of the families they
serve, especially when the families' backgrounds are different from their own.
This Digest presents strategies supported by the research literature to enhance
interactions with families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
SUPPORTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELATIONSHIPS
A variety of
interrelated issues and personal characteristics influence the development of
relationships between professionals and those they serve, including family
structure, age, length of time since immigration, and cultural expectations
about early childhood services and outcomes. Researchers report the following
areas as some of the most critical that affect the formation of effective
helping relationships between families and early childhood professionals:
* Differences in roles and expectations (Kalyanpur
& Harry, 1999)
* Differences in personality characteristics (e.g., comfort in new situations,
input in decisions) (Dinnebeil & Rule, 1994)
* Differences in worldview associated with cultural beliefs and acculturation
(Lynch & Hanson, 1998)
* Differences in background of family and professionals (e.g., age, training)
(Kochanek & Buka, 1998)
STRATEGIES FOR WORKING TOGETHER IN EARLY EDUCATION
consideration of these areas of possible conflict, the following strategies are
available to reduce the impact of these differences:
The Uniqueness Of Each Family System"
Characteristics of the family system are often heavily influenced by a
family's cultural values and beliefs. For example, researchers have found that,
in some cultures, the family unit includes extended family members or clans
composed of several households of relatives with a commitment to a family-based
support network, while other families tend to focus on the immediate family and
utilize external support networks (Gonzalez-Alvarez, 1998; Joe & Malach,
1998). Knowledge and understanding of the variety of family structures and
systems increase the professional's ability to respond to the family's needs. In
turn, respect for the diverse systems of family organization enhances a
professional's effectiveness. "Develop A Personalized Relationship with
Families are more likely to develop effective working relationships with
professionals they trust (Dinnebeil & Rule, 1994). Yet, this relationship
may be forged in different ways. Some families may prefer a more formal
relationship with early education professionals (Schwartz, 1995), while others
may prefer a more informal, friendly relationship (Gonzalez- Alvarez, 1998). In
some cultures, the father may be considered the head of the household and,
therefore, may be responsible for making decisions for the rest of the family.
In other cultures, the oldest female member of the household may hold the
position of authority. Researchers in the early education field suggest that
these issues need to be considered on a family-by-family basis, because
intra-group differences are as great as inter- group differences (Lynch &
Hanson, 1998). Awareness of these differences increases the likelihood of
building effective relationships. "Communicate in Culturally Appropriate Ways"
Cross-cultural differences in communication may also affect
professional-family relationships. For example, researchers note that if
professionals assume a dominant role in conversations, the submissive role in
which the family is placed may be a source of tension and may result in family
members withholding information (Dennis & Giangreco, 1996; Gudykunst,
Ting-Toomey, & Nishida, 1996). Communication of this type may be
particularly offensive to some families from traditional Hispanic, Native
American, and Asian backgrounds (Gonzalez-Alvarez, 1998; Joe & Malach, 1998;
Schwartz, 1995, respectively). As discussed in the literature, knowledge of
issues related to the use of translators and interpreters is important for early
education professionals because communicating with linguistically diverse
families often requires individuals fluent in the family's primary language to
explain or clarify information related to programs and services (Ohtake, Santos,
& Fowler, 2000).
It is also critical to maintain open, ongoing communication with families
from diverse linguistic backgrounds. This communication may take the form of
home-program notebooks, oral exchanges, or other modes of communication based on
each family's preferences. "Recruit Staff Who View Diversity as an Asset"
Efforts should be made to hire bicultural and bilingual staff to increase an
organization's ability to create trust between families and professionals.
However, researchers note that what is even more essential is to hire staff who
embrace diversity as an asset and demonstrate a willingness to learn about the
experiences and traditions of individuals whose backgrounds are different from
their own (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). By recruiting such individuals, early
childhood programs will substantially enhance their ability to work with
families from diverse cultural backgrounds. "Create Alliances with Cultural
It is important to encourage the participation of community leaders as
"cultural guides" to facilitate communication and understanding between
professionals and families (Lynch & Hanson, 1998). The literature describes
several roles these individuals can play:
* Provide professionals with insights concerning community beliefs, values, and
communication style (Dennis & Giangreco, 1996).
* Offer families information about programs and services in a culturally
sensitive and responsive manner (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999).
* Act as facilitators to bring families and professionals closer together to
reach desired outcomes (Joe & Malach, 1998).
Examples of cultural guides include community leaders, members of the clergy,
and business leaders who are from the family's cultural group or who speak the
family's primary language. "Evaluate Process and Outcomes"
The final strategy addresses the need for ongoing evaluation of early
childhood programs that serve diverse families. Evaluation can take several
forms, such as asking families to complete surveys or sharing information
through face-to-face or phone interviews. Early education professionals may also
participate in program improvement activities by conducting a needs assessment
to identify areas for training and then self-evaluating their knowledge and
skills in those areas. As the research literature indicates, with collaboration
from bicultural/bilingual staff and cultural guides, information can be
collected in ways that match families' preferences (Schwartz, 1995, Tabors,
1998). In turn, early education professionals can use this information to
improve their programs and their interactions with families.
The preceding discussion describes strategies to
support the development of relationships and enhance communication between early
education professionals and families. It is only through developing a better
understanding of the beliefs, values, and preferences of families that early
education professionals can gain a broad perspective and offer effective
programming (Quintero, 1999). Just as young children develop and grow, early
education professionals must continually work to heighten their awareness of
cultural and linguistic diversity, improve their professional skills, and work
to develop a shared vision of early education with all families.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dennis, R. E., & Giangreco, M. F.
(1996). Creating conversation: Reflections on cultural sensitivity in family
interviewing. EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN, 63(1), 103-116. EJ 529 426.
Dinnebeil, L. A., & Rule, S. (1994). Variables that influence
collaboration between parents and service providers. JOURNAL OF EARLY
INTERVENTION, 18(4), 349-361. EJ 511 832.
Gonzalez-Alvarez, L. I. (1998). A short course in sensitivity training:
Working with Hispanic families of children with disabilities. TEACHING
EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN, 31(2), 73-77. EJ 571 917.
Gudykunst, W. B., Ting-Toomey, S., & Nishida, T. (1996). COMMUNICATION IN
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS ACROSS CULTURES. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Joe, J. R., & Malach, R. S. (1998). Families with Native American roots.
In E. W. Lynch & M. J. Hanson (Eds.), DEVELOPING CROSS-CULTURAL COMPETENCE:
A GUIDE FOR WORKING WITH YOUNG CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES (pp. 127-164).
Baltimore, MD: Brookes. ED 346 190.
Kalyanpur, M., & Harry, B. (1999). CULTURE IN SPECIAL EDUCATION: BUILDING
RECIPROCAL FAMILY-PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
Kochanek, T. T., & Buka, S. L. (1998). Influential factors in the
utilization of early intervention services. JOURNAL OF EARLY INTERVENTION,
21(4), 323-338. EJ 581 686.
Lynch, E. W., & Hanson, M. J. (1998). DEVELOPING CROSS- CULTURAL
COMPETENCE: A GUIDE FOR WORKING WITH YOUNG CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES (2nd
ed.). Baltimore, MD: Brookes. ED 346 190.
Ohtake, Y., Santos, R. M., & Fowler, S. A. (2000). It's a three way
conversation: Families, service providers, and interpreters working together.
YOUNG EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN, 4(1), 12-18.
Quintero, E. (1999). The new faces of Head Start: Learning from culturally
diverse families. "EARLY EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, 10(4), 475-497. EJ 593 721.
Schwartz, W. (1995). A GUIDE TO COMMUNICATING WITH ASIAN AMERICAN FAMILIES:
FOR PARENTS/ABOUT PARENTS. New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. ED
Tabors, P. O. (1998). What early childhood educators need to know: Developing
effective programs for linguistically and culturally diverse children and
families. YOUNG CHILDREN, 53(6), 20-26. EJ 576 002.