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Guidance for Culturally Appropriate Practice

Greater Manchester is a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-language and multi-cultural Authority. All our policies, procedures, practice and services should positively acknowledge, reflect and respect this fact.

Religion, ethnic origin, linguistic background and culture are of importance to the developing identity of all children.

The purpose of writing this practice guidance is to ensure that all agencies working with Black and minority ethnic children and families do so in a culturally appropriate manner.

The GMSCP recognises 7 main equality strands of race, disability, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and caring responsibilities. However it is acknowledged that there are a number of other minority groups, and GMSCP strives for equality for all.

Diversity is about valuing and embracing the differences people have, in terms of their background, culture, race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity, sexuality, religion, age, where everyone is treated fairly and valued for the differences, skills and experiences they bring to work and in the wider community.

Ensuring equality of opportunity does not mean that all children are treated the same. It does mean understanding and working sensitively and knowledgeably with diversity to identify the particular issues for a child and their family, taking account of experiences and family context.

No child or family who qualify for a service, should be refused a service or receive a diminished service, because services are not designed to meet their particular needs. The service should be flexible to change (as a matter of urgency) to meet their needs.

The McPherson Report 1999 describes "Institutional racism" as the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people".

Practice Guidance
  • Making strenuous and special efforts to recruit staff on all levels and carers from minority ethnic groups, to ensure that the services we provide are based on a real understanding of the needs, background and the effects of racism on minority ethnic families and to provide positive role models;
  • Ensuring that offices are non-racist and positively reflect our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. The display or circulation of racist material by adults or young people is totally unacceptable;
  • All agencies should ensure to develop non-racist attitudes and a positive appreciation of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in which they live.

The Children Act 1989 is built on the premise that children and their parents should all be considered as individuals with particular needs and potential and that differences in bringing up children due to family structures, religion, culture and ethnic origins should be respected and understood unless there is evidence that practices within any of these contexts is likely to cause harm to a child Section 22(5)(c)) is clear that, when delivering services, the Council should 'give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origins and cultural and linguistic background'.

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on all public bodies to ensure their decisions and policies are fair and equal - they must not use race, religion or belief as a reason to treat people unfairly.

Section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 places a duty on all public authorities to act in a way that is compatible with the rights and freedoms of the European Convention of Human Rights. The convention rights include article 3 "no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" and article 8 "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence".

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 recognises racially aggravated harassment, and places the onus on Councils to work in partnership with the police, probation and health services in the implementation of crime reduction strategy.

The Children Act 1989 is based on a number of clear principles, which should underpin the practice of all agencies and professionals working to safeguard children and promote their welfare (as set out in the 'Values' chapter, including the principle that professional practice should promote equality and diversity

Moving towards culturally appropriate practice means being:

  • Knowledgeable about cultural differences and their impact on attitude and behaviours;
  • Sensitive, understanding, non-judgmental and respectful in dealing with people whose culture is different from your own;
  • Flexible and skilful in responding and adapting to different cultural contexts and circumstances.

Issues of racism and culture are an integral part of working with black and minority ethnic children and families.

Professionals need to be aware that children from all cultures are subject to abuse and neglect. Culture can explain the context in which an abusive incident took place, but not the behaviour or action of an individual parent. For example, a parent who injures a child with a belt might say that this is "cultural". The cultural context might explain the parent's anger over the expectation they have of the child, but not the parent's action, which is abusive. Cultural factors neither explain nor condone acts of omission or commission, which place the child at risk of Significant Harm.

To promote the best interests of the child, professionals should:

  • Be fully aware of their prejudices and cultural influences;
  • Avoid class and racial generalisations and stereotypes;
  • Be aware of the impact discrimination has on an individual's life experience;
  • Recognise that the basis of good practice is the same with all families;
  • Have an understanding of a family's background, which is an important element of ensuring good and effective intervention;
  • Acknowledge that racial abuse damages children both physically and emotionally and as such warrants professional intervention to address the effects of this form of abuse, whether it comes from within or outside the family.

Professionals undertaking an assessment of a family from a different racial or cultural background need to remember that:

  • Child abuse is not condoned by any racial group;
  • Recognition of the values/norms that operate in the family's culture is crucial for understanding and assessing acceptable family functioning, including approaches to care and discipline;
  • Language is significant and any assessment of risk should be undertaken in the child's first language and that of their family whenever possible; See section on Linguistic Background for guidance on the use of interpreters (Section 5, Heritage, Linguistic Background);
  • An understanding of the significance of wider family networks is essential to good assessments. Assumptions should not be made about the role of the extended family, neither should it be ignored;
  • Certain English words which are emotionally loaded when used in relation to child abuse may have a completely different meaning in other cultures.

An understanding of the heritage (see Section 5, Heritage) of the family is important in terms of assisting any assessment and intervention. Both managers and professionals, therefore, should consider the range of skills and knowledge needed to undertake work with black and minority ethnic families.

The term 'Heritage' is used for the family's race, language, religion and culture. The term 'Dual Heritage Children' is used for children born from inter-racial relationships.

Heritage is a complex concept. It can refer to material inheritance or endowment, family traditions, culture, and conventions. In this guidance the meaning is expanded to include the Children Act terms mentioned above (race, language, culture, religion, age, sex, background). The term includes the richness of experience that an individual accumulates as a result of their life experience. Although some elements of a person's background, such as race, are fixed heritage is fluid through time because culture, language and religion all change over the years and tend to be dependent on one's environment.

It is important not to confuse heritage with identity, which in simple terms, is the meaning and importance, which the individual attaches to their experiences allied to their self-concept.

This concept of heritage respects and celebrates individual diversity and does not support racist or prejudicial behaviour, beliefs or concepts. It encourages anti-racist and anti-discriminatory approaches, as it encourages staff to identify and challenge oppression, and to focus on the specific characteristics of the individual/family.

The following aspects are all crucial to an assessment of a child's heritage:


The right of children and their families to practice a particular religion, or no religion, will be respected and upheld.

Where a religion, or sect within a religion, prohibits certain forms of medical examination or espouses disfiguring or disabling operative treatment, a delicate balance will need to be reached between the parents' legal rights and responsibilities towards the child and our view of the best interests of the child.

Professionals need to ensure that they are familiar with information about service user's religions and cultural practices. Visits planned on religious days or during period of mourning may cause anger and embarrassment.


All children should be able to feel pride in their ethnic origin. This should be on the basis of a feeling of self-affirmation and self-worth.

All agencies with these children and families should be sensitive to their feelings and make efforts to affirm their value and worth. Black and other minority ethnic children and their families' self-esteem, aspirations and expectations will often have been further damaged and depressed by their experiences of racism. They may also feel justifiably suspicious or fearful of white organisations. It is essential that all agencies are able to counteract rather than confirm their fears and feelings by providing services that are sensitive to and understanding of their needs and which provide positive affirmation of their racial origins.

Professionals should always resist over-compensation on the basis of race or culture and should similarly avoid an over-simplistic and deterministic view, when investigating and assessing black and minority ethnic families. Misplaced sensitivity to cultural factors on the part of professionals can expose children from ethnic minorities to risk of physical and emotional abuse.


Language and the ability to communicate effectively form an important part of a person's identity and their self-esteem. Good practice will recognise and accommodate the facts that:

English will not be the first language of a considerable number of our service users and carers; and some will speak no English at all. It is essential therefore, particularly where important information and expectations are being conveyed, that this is done in the service users' or carers' first language. This will preferably be by a member of staff who speaks their language fluently, but if necessary through an approved interpreter. Individual agencies must consistently utilise interpreter services with families who do not have English as a first language and especially in cases where there are concerns about the welfare of children. Interpreters must be used to interview children away from family and community members when there are safeguarding concerns to facilitate free expression of their experiences, wishes and feelings.

Children must never be used as interpreters.

Some service users and carers, although they may speak English, may not be literate in English. Where they are literate in a different language, important documents, and in particular signed agreements, must be translated into the language in which they are literate.

There are many languages of people of African-Caribbean origin, which are commonly termed as Patois or Creole. Although some dialects have their base in English, the words, idioms, gestures and body language are different. The family may be forced to 'standardise' their English and this may, therefore, inhibit their ability to freely express their feelings. These differences may be sufficient to suggest that an interpreter should be considered to assist the flow of information to and from the family.

Wherever practicable the same interpreter should be used throughout the course of any involvement with a family, in order to ensure continuity and to encourage and establish an effective working relationship. Interpreting should as far as possible be a neutral communication channel.

When requesting an interpreter, consideration should always be given to gender identity.

When using an interpreter, staff should ensure that they speak directly to the client when asking questions.

Children, professionals and carers should have the right to communicate with each other in the language in which they feel most confident and comfortable. Mother tongue conversation should not be treated as subversive or deviant.


In this guidance the term 'culture' describes the moral values, behavioural norms, lifestyle and social and artistic pursuits espoused by a family and taught to their children. A shared religious belief, ethnic background, language, history, or economic background will often lead to similar cultural norms and expectations.

Culture usually has many positive aspects. It gives a pattern and predictability to life, which makes children feel settled and secure. It teaches children ways to behave and a code of discipline, which means they will be accepted in the wider community. It gives children a sense of history and of their "roots" and is important in forming a positive identity.

We should promote and preserve children's cultural background by:

  • Not assuming, often inaccurate, cultural stereotypes but finding out from the child and their family what their cultural norms and expectations are;
  • Recognising that some children will mistakenly see their cultural background as responsible for the treatment they have received because of negative experiences in their own family, and reject their background;
  • Such children are likely to need counselling and reassurance that staff, carers, and peers from the same background as themselves will be able to offer them positive experiences and role models.

Issues of heritage need to be incorporated into any assessment of a child and family's needs. The assessment will be either using Early Help Assessment or the Assessment Framework. If there any concerns with regard to Significant Harm or potential Significant Harm to a child, a referral must be made to the local Children's Social Care Team - see Making Referrals to Children's Social Care Procedure.

The concept of heritage can and should be used to assist the completion of the assessment information under both models.

Once an assessment of the family's heritage has been completed, it will be possible to consider the impact of this on the delivery of services. Elements of a family's heritage may have a strong influence on their parenting approaches and strategies, on their response to having a child with disabilities, or how the family deals with a parent or young person who develops a mental illness. The importance they attach to cultural and religious beliefs, values and practices (which are themselves identity indications) will help to shape service provision.

These different approaches to complex issues are important when a multi-cultural workforce is serving a multi-cultural community. It is likely that workers will be faced with users from communities very different to their own, and in some circumstances this will make it difficult for them to make the normative judgments that are an everyday part of social work assessments. Gathering detailed information about a family's heritage may help staff to bridge this gap, or to realise that they need additional expert help to do so. Either way, it is an important distinction for the professional to be able to make.

In those circumstances when the assessment reveals issues which require verification and/or clarification, or which the professional feels that they can't adequately understand, they should seek advice.

Forced marriage is an issue that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. It is a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where duress is a factor. It is a violation of internationally recognised human right standards and cannot be justified on religious and cultural grounds.

For further information, see Forced Marriage Procedure.

Some children, because of their previous experiences, may be fearful, angry or acutely self-conscious with professionals, carers or other children of a particular gender identity. Children should be given choices and should not be pressurised to work with, or live with, someone of that gender identity because it is deemed that this will counteract their previous negative experiences.

As Councils are charged with the responsibility for tackling institutional racism, professionals need to be more responsive and deal with both overt and covert racism.

Racist incidents relating to children and young people or staff should be monitored and recorded.

Racial harassment should be recognised as a child protection issue and those children who are victims of racial harassment are Children in Need.

Ashura is practiced by Shia Muslims to commemorate the month of Muharram during the first ten days of the Muslim calendar, it may involve self-flagellation.

Ashura in the UK is generally performed in Mosques and is well monitored by community members to ensure that excessive physical harm is not inflicted.

If it is known that children have been involved this could make it a safeguarding issue and where appropriate a Strategy Discussion should be held - see Strategy Discussions Procedure

Practice Guidance

If children are to be involved there must be safeguards e.g.

  • The instrument for self flagellation not being bladed;
  • Appropriate supervision to prevent injury.

Outcome for Service Users: Services provided for minority ethnic groups must be flexible, easily accessed and of good quality. Facilities must be available to address the special, physical and emotional needs of minority ethnic children.

Referrals and Assessment: All agencies must have coherent processes to respond to the initial contact or referral of minority ethnic children and assessment processes which involve families in deciding how their needs will be best met.

Planning and Review: Plans and reviews must be carried out in accordance with regulation and guidance and include objectives and steps needed to achieve them.

Communication: Communication needs of minority ethnic children and their families must be met when they have contact with any agency. All agencies must provide information about their services in ways, which they can understand.

Equality of Opportunity: All agencies must have non-discriminatory service delivery, recruitment and employment practices, which underpin a commitment to equal opportunities.

Management Arrangements: All agencies must have clear and comprehensive policies and procedures for provision of services to minority ethnic children and families.

Last Updated: January 8, 2024