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Being culturally capable and responsive

You do not need to be an expert in culture. You do, however, need to be culturally respectful and work to build your cultural capability.


"As we respectfully journey together we will act in the spirit of reconciliation, learn from the past and positively engage in the present to build a trusting and respectful future."

Michael Hogan, Director-General, Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women (2015)


"Importantly, for individuals, cultural competence requires far more than becoming culturally aware or practising tolerance. Cultural competence is the ability to identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs. It is about developing empathy and connected knowledge, the ability to see the world through another’s eyes, or at the very least to recognise that others may view the world through a different cultural lens."

Stewart, as cited in Walker, Schutz and Sonn (2014).

Building cultural capability

Families and communities are the best source of cultural information, but no one can know everything about another person’s experience.

We each need to develop our own ways to build our understanding about other people’s experience and culture. For example, you could say to a family ‘There may be things about you, your family and your culture that I do not understand. When I find that I don’t understand, would it be okay if I ask you, or one of your family or community members, about these things?’

Building cultural capability is important for all those working in child protection, and practitioners are encouraged to foster relationships with their local communities to develop and build cultural knowledge.

This could include meeting with Elders, Indigenous family support agencies, the local Family Wellbeing Services or Family Participation Program providers to make connections. It may also involve reading and researching information about the local community or communities you are working with.


Ways in which you can build your cultural understanding include:  

  • completing the Starting the Journey iLearn module
  • regularly completing Our Journey, My Story
  • consulting with cultural practice advisors, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practice leaders and colleagues
  • building partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and workers. While this can take time, the effort will be worth it
  • attending cross-cultural workshops
  • developing creative ways to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in existing programs/projects
  • attending and becoming involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural celebrations
  • becoming an ally. Educate your colleagues; don’t just rely on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in your service centre to do it all.


Developing cultural competence is a continuous learning journey, not a destination. It requires a change in attitudes and practices through which individuals and organisations demonstrate genuine respect and value for a culture that is not their own.

Resources to help build cultural capability

You can access cultural training modules via iLearn such as Starting the Journey, Continuing the Journey, The Local Journey. You can also access the SBS Cultural Competence Program

Contact your local Child Safety Training Officer or go here for more information.

Further reading

To assist with embedding culturally responsive practices into your Child Safety work, read:

Applying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural lens in practice

Applying the knowledge lens can be done in many ways, for example:

  • building your own cultural capability and applying the five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle in all your work
  • using the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in your work. It provides a range of useful prompts to help you bring a cultural lens to our work.
  • engaging the expertise of the cultural practice advisors and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practice leaders and staff to assist you in bringing a cultural perspective to a range of Child Safety meetings and processes.

Check your biases and assumptions


‘Unconscious or hidden beliefs—attitudes and biases beyond our regular perceptions of ourselves and others—underlie a great deal of our patterns of behaviour about diversity.’

2008 Diversity Best Practices: Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the workplace. As quoted on DiversityAustralia

As representatives of Child Safety, we have power, and in many cases, our own backgrounds have given us relative privilege.

In our dealings with our clients we will exhibit behaviours that display (sometimes subtly) this privilege and power.

No matter how well-intentioned we are, these behaviours can continue the historical power imbalance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and deny them equal access to opportunity and to self-determination. (Refer to the practice guide Power, privilege and use of self in child protection.)

The following table lists behaviours that can be oppressive, and alternative behaviours that can be used when being an ally. Keep in mind that when you show up differently (and behave differently) people will respond differently.

Alternatives to behaviours that can be seen as oppressive


Alternative (ally) behaviours

Dysfunctional rescuing

This involves making decisions about those you are working with and about how things will work/happen (and not believing they can do it themselves). 

Functional helping

This is the opposite to dysfunctional helping.

Ask the people you are working with what will work for them and ensure they guide the actions.


This involves blaming 100% of challenges on the oppressed and being unable to relate of empathise.

This could be demonstrated by questions like:

  • You have a plan, why aren’t you following it?
  • Why don’t you leave him? (domestic violence incident)

Problem solving/50% responsibility

When things go awry, be honest and clear with others (and with yourself).

Avoiding genuine contact and content

This involves not wanting to address the issue or content.

Making mutual authentic contact (instead of avoiding) by:

  • making contact and ask questions
  • naming your difference
  • not being naïve and just assuming that your solution will work for them.

Denying difference (also known as ‘colour blindness’).

This can show up in thoughts and words such as:

  • We are all the same.
  • I don’t see any difference.

Noticing difference (between self and others)

Recognise your responsibility (from your position of privilege) by:

  • naming the differences
  • respecting the differences
  • talking about the differences.
Denying the extent of the fiscal, emotional, psychological, physical, political (etc.) differences of those experiencing oppression.

Learning, asking about, and noticing the impact.

Adapted from © VISIONS, Inc. by Amy Cipolla Stickles-Wynen, Oct 2015

Kelly (2018) in the article How to check your unconscious biases offers 4 tips to help you uncover and overcome your brain’s blind spots. These are:

  • acknowledge you have them
  • learn what your biases are
  • ease into new waters
  • use tact when talking about biases with others.

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