Featured Articles

Friday, October 10

The Importance of Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice

NASW Illinois Chapter

As social workers, practicing in culturally sensitive ways is of the highest importance. The NASW Code of Ethics refers to cultural competence in section 1.05 that reads as follows:

1.05 Cultural Competence and Social Diversity

(a) Social workers should understand culture and its function in human behavior and society, recognizing the strengths that exist in all cultures.

(b) Social workers should have a knowledge base of their clients’ cultures and be able to demonstrate competence in the provision of services that are sensitive to clients’ cultures and to differences among people and cultural groups.

(c) Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability.

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) recently amended the continuing education rules to the requirement that 3 of the 30 hours for continuing education units (CEUs) must include content related to cultural competence in the practice of social work. NASW advocated for this change and supports this movement to ensuring culturally sensitive practice.

NASW Illinois Chapter Recommendations for Cultural Competency Continuing Education

The NASW Illinois Chapter provides the following definition of culture as a suggestion for CEU trainings as supported by the ten standards from the NASW Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice:

“Culture is the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, behaviors, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group. Social groups may include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, people with a disability, older adults, military families, and immigrants and refugees.”

While the chapter provides the above suggested definition of culture, it should be noted that the NASW Illinois Chapter is not the Illinois regulatory board.

Standards for Cultural Competence Continuing Education in Social Work Practice

The National Association of Social Workers Standards for Cultural Competence and the Indicators for the Achievement of the NASW Standards for Cultural Competency should be consulted when developing any continuing education program on the topic of cultural competency. The documents can be found at the following links:



The NASW Standards for Cultural Competency include 10 standards to guide social work practice. Continuing education opportunities should enhance a social worker’s knowledge, skills, and values in order to promote practices that are responsive to the needs of diverse populations. The following are suggestions on content for cultural competence CEU professional development:

Standard 1: Ethics and Values

  • Exploration of areas of conflict and accommodation between personal values, professional values and those of other cultures
  • Understanding of the convergence and disparity between values of the dominant society and those who are marginalized or oppressed

Standard 2: Self-Awareness

  • Examination of self-awareness of biases, prejudices, stereotypes, judgment, power and privilege
  • Examination of cultural humility. Cultural humility is at the heart of being aware of our biases, prejudices, and privileges. Cultural humility is collaborative, other-oriented, and egalitarian. Individuals and communities that have typically been oppressed should be seen as rich sources of expertise and teachers on the content of their culture, while people or organizations that work with these communities are seen as students or learners.

Standard 3: Cross-Cultural Knowledge

  • Examination of cultural values and worldviews such as:
    • Collectivist vs. individualistic culture
    • Expressive/demonstrative in relational style vs. reserved/subtle
    • Low contact vs. high contact
    • Collaborative vs. achievement-oriented
  • Examination of customs, traditions of family, community
  • Examination of cultural influence on family structures such as the following:
    • Hierarchical
    • Egalitarian
    • Patriarchal
    • Matriarchal
    • Filial piety
  • Examination of the intersectionality with other minority experiences (such as gay and Latino, or Muslim and a woman, etc.)
  • Understanding of the level of acculturation to dominant group
  • Understanding of the definition and meanings of health, illness, and psychological disorders
  • Examination of learning styles of various cultures

Standard 4: Cross-Cultural Skills

  • Understanding of how cultural values or experience of oppression impact the following:

    • Methods of engagement
    • Cultural expression of help-seeking
    • Methods for assessment
    • Methods for intervention

Standard 5: Service Delivery

  • Establishment of social service delivery systems (agencies) that are inclusive and welcoming to diverse clients/consumers
  • Establishment of agency physical environments that are welcoming and inclusive of diversity
  • Establishment of policies and processes in agencies that reflect inclusion and validation of all people from all social locations

Standard 6: Empowerment and Advocacy

  • Explore the socio-political history of group and how this impacts their experience of privilege or oppression
  • Explore experiences of structural issues of institutionalized “-ism” from policy and other social structures

Standard 7: Diverse Workforce

  • Explore how cultural competency can foster a work culture that promotes respect for difference
  • Explore how agencies can recruit and retain a diverse workforce
  • Encourage bi-/multilingual people to pursue social work as a profession

Standard 8: Professional Education

Instill the value that cultural competence is never fully achieved and that professionals should always be open to learning new information and challenging existing assumptions

Standard 9: Language Diversity

  • Understand the role of language, speech patterns, and communication within cultures and between cultures
  • When translation or interpretation is needed, ensure timely and professional response

Standard 10: Cross-Cultural Leadership

  • Instill the professional value that social workers have the responsibility to model and promote cultural competence within the profession, in organizations, in communities, and within the socio-political structures of society.

Please note that the NASW Illinois Chapter is not the Illinois regulatory board and is only providing suggestions for CEU trainings that fulfill the cultural competency standards. Providers for CEU trainings may contact the NASW Illinois Chapter office if there are any questions regarding relevant content that qualifies for cultural competence CEUs. 

Posted on 10/10/14 at 01:00 PM


Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

Photo Gallery »

Calendar »

Become a member of NASW today!


Visit the CEU Opportunities page to find free CEU events for NASW Illinois members!

Continuing Edcuation

Consider joining one of our social networking groups.