Beyond Race & Ethnicity

First Steps in Becoming More Aware

To better understand the impact of culture on families and children, first explore how your own cultural experiences have influenced you and seek training to increase your understanding of how cultural beliefs and values have influenced the families and children you work with. In addition, include non-abusive family members in decisions.

(Adapted in part from Arpaia; and Regional Research Institute for Human Services, 2003, as cited in Chadwick Center for Children and Families, p. 28.)

Impact of Cultural Experiences

Children and their families will react to investigations of abuse based on their own experiences with law enforcement and criminal justice, as well as their cultural beliefs and experiences. Consider how these cultural factors might affect a family’s reaction to child abuse investigations.

  • While the national percentage of Black/African-American children in foster care has decreased since 2006, Black children are still over-represented in the foster care system. Non-Hispanic white children, who made up about 52 percent of American children, accounted for 42 percent of foster children in 2014. Conversely, Black children, who made up around 14 percent of all children, accounted for 24 percent of foster children that year. Hispanics/Latinos (who can be of any race), who made up 24 percent of U.S. children, accounted for 22 percent of foster children in 2014, according to Child Trends Databank.
  • Children from minority cultures don’t recover from traumatic experiences as quickly as children who are from the majority culture. They are more likely to experience more severe symptoms for longer periods of time.
  • Some cultures protect men and boys over girls and women. The male child may be seen as the most valuable offspring because he will be the family breadwinner. If a female sibling reports abuse against the son, it is the victim who may be seen as disloyal to the family.
  • People in minority cultures or religions may have developed a skepticism of police or authority in general, and try to handle sexual or physical abuse within their family.
  • Undocumented immigrants often don’t report child abuse or domestic violence because they are afraid they will be deported.
  • Deaf community members report dangerous and sometimes deadly interactions with police who did not realize they could not hear shouted commands. In addition, when Deaf citizens are not granted access to American Sign Language interpreters, they are much less likely to understand what is happening.
  • Some Latino/Hispanic and Black/African-American women grew up in a culture where women were outspoken and emphatic. Their reactions in times of stress or crisis may be misinterpreted by child abuse investigators as aggression when it is not.
  • People from some cultures routinely spank their children to discipline them, and it is not thought of as being abusive.

(Adapted in part from Child Trends Databank, 2014; Ko, p. 1; personal communication, D. Velasco, July 17, 2014; and personal communication, A. M. Cabezos, September 28, 2016.)

A Matter of Language

In Texas, 3.4 million people, or 14% of the population, are “Limited English Proficient,” which means they speak English less than “very well,” according to the Migrant Policy Institute. Researchers reported that during one recent school year, 15% of kindergarten through 12th grade students in Texas were learning English. Those numbers increased greatly in the largest cities. The percentages of children learning English ranged from 25-36% in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth.

Statewide, 65% of households speak English at home. Of the remainder, 85% speak Spanish. The rest speak a combination of 160 languages, including Vietnamese in 193,408 households and Chinese in 141,971, according to the Texas Tribune.

When working with children or families who do not speak English, use professional interpreters or fully bilingual staff who are fluent in the family’s language and English. Staff providing interpreter services need to be trained in ethics, confidentiality, culture, and how to manage the flow of conversation. Do not use family, friends, children, or untrained volunteers to interpret for children or families.