Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents

CFCA Practitioner Resource – April 2015

Intake/assessment with a young person from a CALD background

Although there is no one rulebook when interviewing culturally and linguistically diverse adolescents, research has demonstrated a number of effective culturally aware practices for working with young people from CALD backgrounds, as showcased throughout this guide.

Each young person adopts and expresses their culture/s differently, and practitioners should adapt a flexible approach to their work to promote dialogue that is sincere. The effectiveness of an Intake interview in building trust and receiving information is affected by the worker's ability to ensure the young person is comfortable, and to be responsive to the individual's communication needs.

The intake/assessment process is critical to establishing a trusting relationship with clients and demonstrating a capacity to identify and respond to issues they present with. If clients feel unsafe or unwelcome, or do not clearly understand why they are attending the service, they may be reluctant to share information. It is important that professionals assure the young client that a translator is available to them; that their private information is protected; and that their family is welcome to participate in the Intake process, should it benefit the young person.

As with most young people, the CALD adolescent's connection to family is crucial to navigating adolescence. For this group, however, cultural beliefs, gender roles, and compliance to religious practice can place additional demands and expectations on their time and behaviour, and potentially their capacity to participate in a service. Workers who take the time to understand how the young person and their family identify problems (and how they seek help) will more competently support the client to engage in treatment.

Appreciating that culture, religion and individual life experience affects each person differently, is a key principal of cultural awareness. Examples of cultural considerations when working with CALD adolescents include:

  • accepting that communication and authenticity is a fundamental key to providing a welcoming and trusting environment;
  • awareness of personal cultural biases, and avoidance of benchmarking others' behaviours or beliefs against personal experiences;
  • understanding adolescence to be a time of identity formation and that not all young people share the beliefs of their family's cultural or religious background;
  • appreciating that culture itself is fluid, and the young person and their family may be undergoing transformations through the migration experience;
  • avoiding generalisations about culture, language or ethnicity. Cultural particulars should be confirmed or conveyed by the client.

In an Intake interview, workers can begin to build trust through dialogue that explores the client's understanding of the service being provided and the role of the worker. This is also an opportunity for the client to better understand their obligations and expectations when participating in the service, such as arriving on time, or attending court or related appointments, which is particularly important if the intervention is mandated.

How to use this component of the resource

The information in the following practice examples was developed by identifying key messages through existing literature on cultural awareness when working with CALD adolescents. Links to Australian research and practice-related literature are presented throughout this resource.

The following extracts of a typical Intake scenario are intended to highlight the sensitivities and awareness required to create a welcoming environment for young CALD clients. Each practice example includes evidence-based reasoning, a "Worker checklist" of pre-interview considerations, and some examples of relevant questions or statements for the young person. Workers are encouraged to use the scenarios as suggestions only, and to trust in their existing professional interpersonal skills. It is recommended that workers gauge the need for an interpreter prior to an initial meeting with the young person or their family.

Support the young person to attend the appointment

Many cultures operate within a different concept of time and clients may not be aware that timeliness and "appointments" are very much a part of the service delivery system in Australian culture.

Clients that are not aware of the notion of appointment times may arrive late and be surprised that they are unable to access the service, or that their meeting time has been cancelled.

Arriving after the specific time allocated for an appointment may have consequences for the young person and may jeopardise any statutory obligations in place.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Are you confident your client is aware of their appointment time?
  • Are there any consequences of lateness or non-attendance of appointment?
  • Are you certain your client is able to locate the place of your meeting?
  • How will the young person arrive at their appointment?
  • Is the client familiar with modes of local public transport?
  • Do they have sufficient funds to travel?
  • Are they familiar with the ticketing system?
  • Do they have access to a timetable, or alternate route, should a hiccup occur?
  • How will your client secure/store your contact details?
  • What means will they use to contact you, should they need to?

Examples of interview questions:

"I have emailed/sent a map to you that shows the details of the (train/bus/tram) you will need to catch."

"My day is arranged by appointment times. It is important that you arrive 10 minutes before our meeting, otherwise you may not receive support on that day."

"I noticed you have a mobile phone. Are you able to store my number in your phone? That way, if you are running late, or need to cancel an appointment, you can phone or text me."

"If you text me, I will call you back. If you do not have credit, you can ring my phone, then hang up. When I see your missed call, I will phone you back."

"If you do not attend the appointment, you will have broken a rule of your order, and we must notify the court, who will discuss the issue with you."

Establish trust through a comfortable and welcoming environment

The initial meeting with a service is critical to building trust with a young person.

Young refugees and migrants often have complex issues, and may be asked to recall traumatic experiences. Allowing time for such responses - not rushing the client - will demonstrate empathy and respect.

Clients will present with their own biases, influences and judgments. They will form an opinion of practitioners' experience based on their own values or life experience, which may influence how they respond to questions, or participate in the service. It is critical that practitioners present themselves in an impartial, approachable manner.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Have you allowed ample time for your interview?
  • Is the meeting space comfortable and free of interruptions?
  • Are there any images in the room that may be offensive or upsetting to your client (e.g., many human rights posters depict images of torture, such as person with a gun to their head, or hands that are tied up - which is likely to be confronting or re-traumatising for a young person who has experienced similar violence)?
  • Have you familiarised yourself with culturally appropriate greetings? How should you address the parents or family members? Is a handshake suitable? Eye contact?

Examples of interview questions:

"Welcome. My name is (state first name). I have prepared a quiet room for us to talk."

"Is this seating arrangement suitable? Would you like me to move the chairs around?"

"As I mentioned, my name is XXX, how do I pronounce your full name?"

"How would you prefer to be addressed?" Thank you (repeat their response)."

"If at any stage you have any questions, or feel uncomfortable throughout today's session, please let me know."

"How will you let me know if you are uncomfortable?"

Be yourself

While practitioners are trained to be open-minded and impartial, it cannot be expected that they be void of emotions, or refrain from expressing empathy in their communications with clients. Speaking informally and genuinely, and articulating compassion and empathy to clients can be particularly useful in building rapport with young people. By presenting in a sincere and caring manner, clients (and their family) are more likely to feel safe and trust practitioners with their life story.

The language of the service may often include acronyms or sector-specific slang or jargon. Using simple and common words will support the client's understanding of the situation and encourage participation.

Young people and families will be naturally cautious and curious of new practitioners. Be prepared for personal questions to be asked, often as a way to establish credibility, or to measure their trust.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • What information could you share about yourself to build trust with the young person and their family?
  • Are you sensitive to gender issues? How will you respond to a client who may have expected, or preferred, a worker of a certain gender?
  • Will you be able to recognise the impact of your own culture and beliefs when interacting with the client and their family?
  • How will you respond if you are asked questions about your personal life? Questions may reflect the young person's natural curiosity (e.g. "Are you married?"; "Where does your family come from?"), or may directly relate to issues currently affecting them (e.g. "Have you ever taken drugs?").

Examples of interview questions:

"Thank you for the interest in my life experience. So that I can be the most help to you, it is important that I stay focused on your needs at the moment."

(You may wish to share an anecdote or some general personal information that supports your rapport with the adolescent.)

"Please know that I am qualified to discuss these issues with you, and can connect you to other services if further assistance is needed."

"I do not have my own children; however, my studies and life experience provide enough information to know how to support your child."

Ensure your client understands the purpose of intake and assessment, and how it will be delivered

Clients must be aware that the intake/assessment process involves being asked personal questions and depends on their ability to respond to them truthfully. By providing context to the Intake process, the adolescent (and any family members) will better understand the need to gather information, and how it directly relates to service provision.

Adolescent refugees or migrants may have experienced dangerous or distressing interactions with "officials". They may be suspicious of answering personal questions, seeing note taking, or anxious about their information being recorded.

Young people and their families may find the worker's enquiries into their family histories and personal matters to be disrespectful or culturally inappropriate. The questioning component of an assessment may be associated with interrogation; seen to be authoritative; or daunting to young people or their families.

It is essential that clients understand that formal records will be kept, and how they will be stored and used.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Have you provided the client with an overview of the organisation, and the support/services that will be available to them?
  • If you are not the person who will provide the treatment/service, have you identified yourself as the Intake worker, and how your roles differ?
  • Have you explained how the session will be delivered? What will be asked of your client? What questions they can ask?
  • How will you explain confidentiality to your client? CFCA has developed a poster on Privacy, Referrals and Duty of Care
  • Have you described how information will be stored and accessed?
  • What written/visual information can you provide to empower your client to understand:
    • the assessment process;
    • the service/s available to them;
    • record taking and confidentiality; and
    • their consumer rights?
  • Have you outlined the service and support available to your client? Have you discussed your role, and its limitations?

Examples of interview questions:

"Our discussion today will be private. I will take notes to help me to develop a Support Plan with you." (Explain what a Support Plan is.)

"Your information will be stored on the computer - which is safe, and can only be accessed using a password."

"If a referral to another service is required, some of your personal information will need to be shared with their Intake worker. I will not share any of your information without speaking to you first."

"Once I have completed your assessment, I will share your information with our team, and we will match you to a caseworker. Your caseworker will contact you directly."

Avoid assumptions about the young person's cultural identity, connection to family or community, cultural influence and experiences

Asking specific questions that relate to the client's ethnicity, language, family and support systems will prevent typecasting and ensure accurate information is received. Asking specific questions will demonstrate respect and compassion for the unique experiences of your client.

Interviewing from a family-aware approach acknowledges and addresses the role of the family in the young person's life and advocates that families (where appropriate) could be, and should be, part of the young client's support (Jesuit Social Services, 2009).

By working from this approach, the practitioner can demonstrate cultural sensitivity and acceptance of young people and their families, and can empower clients to share their own perspectives.

Acknowledging young people's connection to culture will empower them to balance their family's expectations with their own interests, and to develop an understanding of their cultural identity.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • How will your interview prompt questions about your client's culture as it may relate to their current circumstance? Areas to explore are:
    • cultural identity;
    • connection to culture and cultural community;
    • religious identity and practice;
    • family composition (here and overseas);
    • preferred language;
    • settlement process (places, length & experiences);
    • education history and any disruption from migration;
    • domestic responsibilities, and role within the family;
    • level of independence;
    • how decisions are made in the family; and
    • list of current family and community supports.
  • Are you willing to discuss your client's cultural background and its influence on their current circumstance and future goals?
  • Are you aware of your own cultural biases and perceptions?
  • Can your client express their view of the world, and their situation in it?
  • How is your client's connection to family and/or culture supporting or hindering their life at the moment?
  • What flexible arrangements are in place to build a relationship with the family, should it benefit the client?
  • Are there any real or perceived cultural restrictions that may affect your work with your client?

Examples of interview questions:

"In my involvement with other refugees, I have learned that many people have experienced frightening or traumatic events. I do not want to upset you by asking questions about your migration but it is important to understand your history so that we can work toward your future."

"What are your interests in remaining connected to your culture?"

"Would you like to (attend church/improve your native language/attend cultural celebrations)?"

How can I help you to reconnect with your community?"

"Would it be appropriate for us to speak with your family about your connection with our agency?"

"What is the most appropriate way for me to make contact with your mother/father/sibling?"

"It is not my intention to separate you from your family. Rather, I am here to provide expertise to support your wellbeing. I would like to explore your family's involvement, and how this may be helpful to your current situation."

"Since you are required to go straight home from school, could it be possible to negotiate with your parents that I meet you at your home?"

Highlight protective factors using a strengths-based interviewing technique

Strengths-based practice is an approach that recognises the resilience of individuals and, rather than focusing on limitations or challenges, centres on the person's capacities and potential (Scerra, 2011). Refugee and migrant young people often present with remarkable resilience and bravery, even when they have experienced or witnessed extreme violence and deprivation. Encouraging discussion of achievements, friendships, resilience or good fortune may inspire the young person to reflect on positive factors in their life.

For young people, connectedness to family and culture can be a significant protective factor in fostering their overall wellbeing. These connections should be recognised, and supported where possible. Where suitable, encouraging connection with family, community and culture can contribute to the health and wellbeing of the young person.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Are you coming from a strengths-based approach in your interviewing?
  • How will your service promote family involvement, where it is recognised as being a protective factor for the young person?
  • How will you involve your client in problem-solving and decision-making that affects them?
  • How will you avoid stereotyping your client and assuming you know what issues they are presenting with?
  • How will you prompt your client to recognise their values and what is important to them? For example, where a young person identifies kinship as a priority in their lives, how will you conduct future interviews in a family-inclusive manner?

Examples of interview questions:

"Thinking of a time when you have had to work through a problem, what resources did you use to help you improve the situation?"

"Our service is here to address areas of your life that you identify as being difficult or requiring support in. We will also use our expertise to discuss issues."

"You keep saying that you're not able to help yourself but you have taken the steps to be here, which is courageous. By attending future appointments, you will gain more information and tools to continue to support yourself."