Cultural Sensitivity and Early Intervention in Nova Scotia

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White, Emily
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The family-centred philosophy governs the provision of early intervention services for families of children with special needs in Canada and the United States, and has significantly changed over the past 50 years. Professionals now collaborate with families and individualize their approaches in an effort to effectively meet families’ unique and varied needs. It is believed that by utilizing such approaches, children and families will experience the greatest success (Trivette & Dunst, 2005). Cultural sensitivity is an extremely important component of family-centred care. Culture significantly impacts individuals’ views and attitudes toward disability, helpseeking and childrearing behaviours, and communication styles, all of which have significant implications for family-professional partnerships (García Coll & Magnuson, 2000; Harry, 1992; Turnbull & Turnbull, 1990). In order to best meet the needs of culturally diverse families, early childhood practitioners must know how to respectfully interact with them, and incorporate their unique beliefs, practices, and values into service plans. Although cultural sensitivity has been identified as a crucial component of familycentred practice, few studies address how professionals actually implement these practices. This research utilized a blend of quantitative and qualitative research designs to explore the degree of diversity associated with early intervention programs across the province of Nova Scotia, and the perceptions held by early interventionists regarding family-centred care, cultural diversity, and cultural sensitivity. The Executive Directors (N=11) of early intervention programs in Nova Scotia completed the Cultural Diversity in Early Intervention Survey. Questions in this instrument concerned the number of culturally diverse families currently involved with centres, the services they had access to, and the challenges associated with meeting diverse families’ needs. Early intervention professionals (N=10) employed in two urban programs were interviewed. Participants were asked to discuss their early intervention experiences, and interpretations of familycentred care and cultural sensitivity. They were also asked to describe the ways in which culturally sensitive services were provided, their comfort levels with doing so, and to highlight any associated areas of challenge. Results demonstrated that for the most part, participants had excellent conceptual understandings of early intervention and family-centred care. Their descriptions of cultural sensitivity were less well defined. This is likely due to the fact that no participants had received training specific to cultural sensitivity, and were unsupported by necessary resources, such as translators. Professionals noted differing languages, and their lack of culture-specific knowledge and culturally sensitive supports as major barriers that were encountered in providing services for culturally diverse families. Professionals must be supported with appropriate training and resources in order to provide high quality services for all families, including those who are culturally diverse.
Special needs children , Cultural sensitivity , Early intervention