The National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2015) defines cultural competence as “the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures” (p. 13). While there has been an increasing voice on de-centering the focus on client’s culture (Park, 2005), the majority of studies on cultural competence have been focused on exploring professional interventions in working with racial/ethnic minority clients. When focusing solely on racialized clients’ culture, (1) key interactional processes occurring within the dyad with differences on other dimensions of culture are erroneously missed and (2) social workers were assumed to come from the “majority” group, which makes it difficult to transfer the findings from the studies of these dyads to work with other compositions of cross-cultural dyads (i.e., minority workers – majority clients or minority workers – minority clients) and makes social workers of color and/or of other minority status invisible in cross-cultural competence scholarship.
To re-new cross-cultural competence scholarship focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, this presentation describes a critical review of empirical research on culturally competent practice in social work and related fields conducted in the past six decades, between 1980 and 2019. A critical review is one of the systemic literature review methods, aiming to revisit the existing data, to expand conceptual clarity, and to promote a new platform for future research (Grant & Booth, 2009). Thus, this review examined empirical research on cultural competence, focusing on ‘various compositions of dyads’ with ‘multiple intersectionality’ and ‘process research’ in cross-cultural interventions. To locate the literature, we used multiple databases – Applied Social Sciences Index & Abstracts, ERIC, OVID MedLine, PsycARTICLES, PsycINFO, Social Services Abstracts, and Social Work Abstracts.
From the 80 studies included, findings identified increasing cross-cultural research with (1) various diverse and rigorous research methods (e.g., from case study to discourse analysis to quasi-experimental to randomized controlled trials), (2) actual clients and workers (i.e., only 4 analogous studies); and (3) clearer demographic information (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, class, etc.) of research participants in most studies. However, it is worth noting that the predominant dyads were focused on (1) the “majority” workers-minority clients; (2) giving more clients’ demographic information than therapists’; and (3) only three studies on racial ethnic minority therapists (4%). Furthermore, 56 studies (70%) documented information related to intervention, most of which are minimum descriptions such as, a number of sessions and worker’s orientation of treatment model. Only eight studies (10%) provided somewhat detailed descriptions of cross-cultural interventions, mainly culturally adaptive studies.
Findings of the review suggest that cross-cultural social work scholars need to shift the focus on ‘descriptors of participants’ to ‘actual interactional indicators of addressing diversity, equity and inclusiveness’ as the manifestation of cross-cultural practice. Social work educators should be more intentional of creating an educational space in classroom to elicit voices of students in marginalized positions, given the lack of evidence that reflects and guides their experiences. Last, social work practice should locate voices of all social workers/clients in knowledge construction.