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The importance of cultural competence for compassionate social care

Listen to people and be kind to yourself – they were among the key messages at a seminar on cultural competency at the recent COMPASS Jobs Fair.

08/01/24

The importance of cultural competence for compassionate social care

Mary Bamgbade-Ogunlayi, Head of Surrey County Council’s Social Care Academy, said that cultural competence is at the heart of effective and compassionate social care.

She began the seminar by highlighting the diverse elements in the audience: some spoke a language other than English at home; some usually ate non-traditional British food; some had names with a religious connotation, and some had been born in a different country to the UK.

‘Culture is dynamic. It is about behaviours that are shared between groups of people. It can be in food, music, traditions, age groups… It is about respect and dignity for the person,’ she said.

‘A lot of what we do as practitioners is about building relationships. A lot of people we see are marginalised already. Cultural competency is about being sensitive to their unique cultural values. About building trust and rapport. About the quality of care and effective communication.

‘The best way to be culturally competent is to have a conversation and listen to the person,’ she said. ‘It is about being able to adapt through having a knowledge of the person’s background.

Cultural competence was essential in reducing disparities and iniquities in health. ‘Someone who cannot speak English may not know what is available. It is our job to bridge that gap. Cultural competence means empowering individuals so they say “I can do this”.’

Language was an obvious barrier but others were less so: ‘when I was very young and new, we went to see a client who did not look me in the eye. I felt that we were not building a relationship but for them, it was about being from a culture where to look at someone directly is disrespectful,’ she said.

‘My parents come from Nigeria. In Nigerian culture, people very much believe in superstition and religion, so they might think that someone is being punished for something. Even if we don’t believe it ourselves, we must be aware and respond to [people’s cultural beliefs].’

Barbara Anu, EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) manager for the council, discussed some of Surrey County Council’s initiatives to promote EDI. The aim, she said is to create a safe space for everyone. ‘We have an EDI hub which has a one-stop shop for resources such as translators,’ she said.

‘There is a listening box where you can be anonymous, and share feedback, issues and concerns.

‘We have reverse mentoring – junior staff meeting with senior leaders and junior staff, telling leaders” this is what I want when I am going to see people”. The idea is to create a safe space for everyone.

‘It is about experiential learning. Everyone has a different journey and a different story to tell. Be aware of your unconscious biases. Be willing to ask questions and listen to other people’s stories. It is important to recognise that you are not the expert. Be kind to yourself.’

To discover more innovative practice, you can register for free to attend the next COMPASS Jobs Fair in Birmingham on 18 March: https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/Birmingham/Book-Tickets

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