In recent years, the Chinese community has become one of the largest visible minority groups in Canada. It raises the importance of cultural competence in social services targeting this population. As the number of minority service providers increases, ethnic match (i.e., practitioner and client are matched based on their ethnic background) was made possible, and it was believed that ethnic match can ensure practitioners’ cultural competence and improve service quality. Nevertheless, such assumption was not consistently supported by empirical studies. Furthermore, there is a lack of research on ethnic minority practitioners’ lived experiences and their subjective interpretation of cultural competence regarding working with immigrant groups and clients with the same ethnic background. In order to fill the knowledge gap, the present study aims to understand the experiences of minority service providers (including Chinese and non-Chinese practitioners) serving Chinese immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
Using purposing sampling, we recruited participants who have frequent and direct interactions with the Chinese immigrants from various service settings, including settlement agencies, geriatric care centres, schools, churches, health and mental health agencies. Each focus group lasted for 1.5 to 2 hours with open-ended discussion topics related to participants’ experiences with serving the Chinese immigrants. Participants were arranged into different groups according to their language preferences (i.e., Mandarin, Cantonese, or English). Audio-recordings were transcribed in verbatim and analyzed using grounded theory approach.
Seven focus groups were conducted with service providers (n = 44) who had direct interactions with Chinese immigrants in the GTA. Among the participants, all of them are ethnic minority with 59.5% Chinese, 79.5% female and 88.6% immigrants. Four themes emerged: (1) Personal level: Practitioners were more emotionally devoted in serving clients with similar personal or cultural background; however, such professional relationship became overloading and overwhelming. (2) Interpersonal level: Practitioner-client ethnic match benefited service delivery due to language match, greater understanding of nuances and dynamics, and tacit knowledge of cultural norms; (3) Community level: Despite ethnic match, Chinese practitioners felt challenged to be culturally competent when serving Chinese clients due to intra-group variations. (4) Institutional level: Minority practitioners expressed institutional factors that affect their service quality, such as lack of resources, funding requirement, and tokenism.
Conclusion and Implications:
Our findings provide a strong evidence for the positive outcomes of practitioner-client ethnic match. However, there are substantial limitations in the such arrangement. While it is plausible to assume that service providers are more culturally competent in serving clients with the same ethnic background, individual differences in terms of political stance, sexual and gender identities, and socioeconomic status should not be overlooked. Institutions should be sensitive to such intra-group variations and avoid tokenism. Finally, service providers from different areas and career levels would be benefit from resources and training on improving both cross- and intra- cultural sensitivity for advancing service delivery.