Wellness Integration for Students of Hillsborough (WISH)
What is Cultural Competence?
A person’s culture is made up of their external influences as well as their life experiences. Culture is not narrowly defined by "race" or "ethnicity". With regards to external influences, a person’s country of origin, family traditions, geography, religion and social class may be a contributing factor to culture. As a result of these external influences, a person develops their own cultural identity by shaping these experiences into personal beliefs and values. Of most importance is the consideration that cultural influences are constantly being changed by ongoing experiences. These cultural shifts are also occurring on an individual level as well as within the institutions and organizations which the person is involved. For example, a child’s first understanding of culture may be within their home. They may experience a different culture within the school environment which they attend. The process of coming in contact with differing cultures can be positive and enriching to children. However, it may also be difficult and cause problems with adjustment.
Cultural Competence and Children’s Mental Health
The United States currently has and is projected to have a culturally diverse population. Culture plays an important role in the perception and experience of mental health as well as coping styles and support systems. Cultural competency is particularly important when looking at children’s mental health. Culture plays a role in the accessibility of mental health services, mental health assessment, quality of mental health treatment and mental health research. Improving cultural competence can enhance children’s mental health and their well being.
Why Should Educators Care About Culture and Children’s Mental Health?
When a child enters the school setting they bring with them their own set of cultural values and beliefs. They are expected to merge their own sense of culture within the already developed culture of the school setting. Their ability to do so depends on a number of factors such as how similar the school culture is to the child’s home culture. Additionally, these children may also be attempting to deal with stressors or instabilities in other aspects of their life. These things all impact a child's ability to learn. By becoming more culturally competent we eliminate barriers to learning.
How Can Educators Promote a School Culture That Fosters Good Mental Health?
Educators can be culturally competent providers and foster good mental health by assessing their school as well as their own sense of cultural competence.
- Are student needs being met?
- Does the classroom environment provide an optimum experience for all students even though they may have individual needs?
- Are students being responded to as individuals and their experiences and culture being taken into consideration?
- As an educator am I familiar with this family’s beliefs, traditions and cultural practices?
- Use instructional strategies and curriculum that are sensitive to cultural differences.
- Promote tolerance and understanding of cultural differences.
- Develop an awareness of your own cultural background and acknowledge differences between your culture and those of your students.