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Creating cultural safety in speech-language and audiology services. Jessica Ball University of Victoria. “Cultural safety”. What do we need to understand about some peoples’ sense of risk or danger when bringing themselves or a family member for screening, assessment or therapy?

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creating cultural safety in speech language and audiology services

Creating cultural safety in speech-language and audiology services

Jessica Ball

University of Victoria

cultural safety
“Cultural safety”

What do we need to understand about some peoples’ sense of risk or danger when bringing themselves or a family member for screening, assessment or therapy?

What can we do to create culturally safe environments and encounters?

cultural safety in nursing practice
Cultural safety in nursing practice

Maori origins: Dyck & Kearns; Papps & Ramsden

UBC: Joan Anderson, Annette Brown, Vicki Smye, et al.

U Sask: Verna St. Denis

Assembly of First Nations Health Secretariat

Conceptualized within post-colonial,

post-national, feminist discourses.

Recognizing & re-dressing

power inequities

what do we mean by culture
What do we mean by ‘culture’

Culture - not just ‘dress, dinner, decorations’!

- embodied in our identities, values, beliefs, life styles, and the ways we raise our children.

Screening and assessment tools and interventions methods

are cultural artifacts.

cultural un safety what is it
Cultural un-safety: What is it?

A subjective sense that one’s cherished values, goals, language, identity & ways of life are denigrated or threatened in an encounter, or that one is being asked to venture into a foreign culture without knowing how to function in it and without positive accompaniment.

indicators of cultural un safety
Indicators of cultural un-safety
  • ‘Denial’ of suggestions that there is a problem
  • Low utilization of available services
  • Low ‘compliance’ with service referrals or prescribed interventions
  • Reticence in interactions with service providers
  • Anger
  • Low self-worth
deepening understandings two research studies
Deepening understandings: Two research studies

Problem: Perennial protests about lack of cultural relevance/appropriateness of tools & interventions transported from dominant culture to Indigenous children & families

Study 1: Survey of 90 Aboriginal Early Childhood Programs about tools used. Funded by First Nations & Inuit Health Branch, Maternal & Child Health Branch

Study 2: In-depth exploration in 4 Indigenous communities of whether mainstream tools can support family goals for children’s development (63 parents; 42 child development practitioners)

Funded by Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.

it s about the ways the tools are used
It’s about the ways the tools are used
  • The relationship context in which the tools are used

(trust vs fear)

  • Who decides a tool or intervention will be used (consent?)
  • What tools are used
  • For what purposes (‘ammunition’, pathologizing, apprehending??)
  • What happens, or fails to happen, afterwards
  • INCLUSION of key family members in the process.
acculturation assimilation through professional services
Acculturation / Assimilation through professional services

Contemporary context of rising:

  • ‘Standardization’
  • Universal surveillance
  • ‘Best practice’ models
  • One-size-fits-all

Technologies imported from the dominant (European heritage) culture perpetuate colonial imposition of policies, procedures, criteria, performance demands, and social exclusion of Indigenous caregivers of Indigenous children

how can our best intentions really seem so dangerous
How can our best intentions really seem so dangerous?

“My grandparents taught me that to truly understand the importance of something you must look back seven generations and you must look forward seven generations”

Debbie Jette

Cree Elder

it s about time
It’s about time!

(Chronosystem – Bronfenbrenner, 1979)

Once upon a time …pre-contact…intact cultures

Colonialism – disruption & resistance

Neo-colonialsm – resistance & healing

Silencing minority voices / Awakenings

Post-colonialism - revitalization of cultures

Post-nationalism – beyond racialization & us/ them

reflexive practice uses a critical socio historical perspective
Reflexive practice uses a critical, socio-historical perspective

Many Aboriginal parents want to preserve & protect their cultures and languages through child rearing & services

(16% Aboriginal children Canada exposed to Indig lang at home)

Protection of Indigenous language transmission falls within our scope of practice

Historical & ongoing significance of basing programs in schools, of government-contracted workers visiting in homes, of surveillance, or the words like “intervention” “disability” & “special needs”

a litany of woes
“A litany of woes”

“We hear a lot about what’s wrong with our kids. A lot of our kids know things that white kids growing up in cities don’t know. About who their ancestors are, and how they walked on this land. About living with nature. About where their food comes from. If they haven’t started learning the ABCs or having a big vocabulary by the time they go to school, it doesn’t mean they’re off track in their development.”

Avoid processes that inflame ongoing

negative stereotypes.

balanced perspective including strengths
Balanced perspective including strengths

“We believe that every child is a gift, and has gifts. Isn’t there some way to use these observations to focus in on a child’s skills – what they CAN do – because we could work with that. If they’re good at cooking and they enjoy it, then they can be cooks. Not everyone has to be brainy or a speaker in the Big House to be happy.”

so it s all about them
So, it’s all about Them?
  • Culturally sensitive
  • Culturally appropriate
  • Culturally informed
  • Politically correct
  • Making space for the ‘Other’

Risk: ‘politics of guilt & resentment’ –

polarities of ‘us & them’ / ‘perpetrators & victims’

it s about us
It’s about us!

Braiding histories & futures across cultural boundaries (post-nationalism)

Self-reflexivity – locating ourselves in terms of culture of origin, culture of choice, gender, age, income, education, creed

Individuals, families & communities, like ourselves, are diverse & hybrid.

Reflexive practice – understand the cultural embeddedness of our practice goals, methods, ‘norms’, frustrations, & what we construct as positive outcomes


English dialects – Do we interpret differences as defects?

Do we promote assimilation through insistence on the one and the only way?

Some First Nations ask us to preserve children’s home dialects of English while also teaching them to code switch into the English of the dominant culture (‘school English’)

cultural protocols
Cultural protocols

Seek cultural knowledge – ask questions

Show respect – ask permission

Demonstrate reciprocity – learning, services given & taken

Engage community accompaniment – find allies, colleagues, mentors in community of practice

personal reflexiveness
Personal reflexiveness

Relational practice is founded on authentic encounters.

Locate ourselves on cultural continuums.

Introduce ourselves in terms of how our identities intersect many categories

“I learned to leave my baggage at the door. Stopped needing to be the answer woman. Became open to what these women, these children, these Elders had to teach me. What we had in common was our desire to see them learn and grow to their full potential. What we needed to figure out was how to work together to see that happen.” (BH)


Good process is culturally appropriate practice

Grounded in relationships

Pacing: Is this the right time to be offering this particular form of service?


“I was contracted as an SLP to work at the band-operated preschool. I learned patience! I had to wait for parents to feel comfortable with who I was and why I was there. I sat quietly at the side of the room for a year before any parents would engage in conversation with me. I had been there for two years before I ever assessed an individual chld. But I had formed some positive relationships and was familiar to the children by the time I started delivering a service.” (AHF)


Creating & negotiating relationships:

  • child
  • family members
  • community-based program staff
  • community leaders

Knowledge sharing vs. informing

Collaborative problem solving vs. expert/authority

Reciprocal learning / mutual capacity building

Co-constructing ways to move supports into place

positive purpose
Positive purpose

Awareness of colonial interventions that have depleted cultures, communities, & roles for families

Informed consent

Focus on strengths

Avoid negative labeling



The so-what? factor

make it matter
Make it matter
  • Ensure there are real benefits that will follow from monitoring, screening or assessment.
  • If few or no services, invest more in community-based capacity development than in screening & diagnosis
  • Work with primary caregivers to enable them to support speech, language, hearing
    • parents, guardians, other family members
    • ECEs, Infant Development, Supported Child Development practitioners,nurses, teachers
  • Navigator model (D. Olds) ensures a firm handshake between client and services needed
cultural safety is respectful engagement that supports protects many paths to wellbeing
Cultural safety is respectful engagement that supports & protects many paths to wellbeing

“Finding our way to supporting wellness among diverse communities of children and families requires many pathways. No one approach, no one program model, will reach or work for everyone.”

Meadow Lake Tribal Council Administrator