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Involving the family

Understandings of abuse and neglect

The concepts of child abuse and neglect are very much western constructs, and it may be difficult for family members to understand the basis for the department’s involvement with their child or young person.

To ensure we are practicing in a culturally responsible way, it is important that we ensure the young person and their family understands the purpose of our involvement with them. We need to be aware of the barriers that someone from a different culture may experience when they come into contact with Child Safety so families can meaningfully participate in child protection processes and maintain their relationship with their young person.

When working with families during the transition to adulthood phase, we may need to ensure that family members fully understand what worries are held about the young person when building connection, arranging face-to-face contact and involving family in safety and support networks.

Culturally sensitive engagement

It is not possible to become an expert on every cultural group. It is, however, possible to become a culturally competent worker and networker.

The following advice can assist when working with families in safety and support networks and when planning for young people:

  • Your first contact with a family plays a pivotal role in how your relationship unfolds over time. Being culturally sensitive and respectful will have a direct impact on the potential for trust in your relationship with family members and will influence the overall outcome for the young person and family.
  • Making sure the family understands what is happening is essential. Ensure the right interpreter is available. Culturally diverse communities can be very small, and confidentiality will be very important to the family, who may feel ashamed at Child Safety involvement in their lives. Therefore, sourcing an impartial interpreter with a sound appreciation of a particular dialect is very important, even if this slows down Child Safety processes. The Queensland Language Services Guidelines describe how an interpreter can be engaged. 
  • Be aware of cultural differences and the role culture may play for all members of the family. Be genuinely curious about cultural differences, seek to ally with the family, engage in understanding the cultural differences by asking the family and utilise this information to overcome barriers to understanding or participation.,
  • Think about who you could speak to who has the cultural authority to help you understand cultural perceptions of gender roles, marriage, relationships, raising children and becoming an adult. Explore any community organisations with knowledge and experience of the culture that you are working with. Cultural consultation can also help you identify the way gender, culture and class (or socio-economic background) intersect.
  • Learn about the geographic, demographic and political circumstances that the family left and learn and adhere to cultural dos and don’ts. This demonstrates an appreciation of culture and valuing  diversity.


An example of cultural dos and don’ts for the Karen people of Myanmar:

  • Do take your shoes off before going inside a Karen home, even if you are told it is okay to leave your shoes on or if people in the home are wearing shoes. (Some Karen have separate house shoes they only wear inside.)
  • When talking with Karen who do not speak English well, speak clearly and slowly, and check that information is understood.
  • Someone who smiles, nods and just says ‘Yes’ may not understand what you are talking about but may be too polite to say so.
  • Do shake hands. Do not hug or kiss a Karen, unless they are a baby.
  • Do not go into the bedroom or kitchen of a Karen home unless you are specifically invited.
  • Always keep in mind that Karen are strong, resilient people who have survived life in war zones and refugee camps. While some Karen may struggle to learn English or adjust to life in a western country, this does not mean they should be treated like children.

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