During a 2013 Help Me Grow National site visit to Minnesota, one of our newest affiliate states, I gave a presentation to a large audience in St. Paul. Following my talk, I invited questions and comments from the audience.  

Saciido Shaie, who identified herself as an immigrant from Somalia, spoke about her difficulties in finding culturally appropriate or acceptable community-based programs and services. Saciido shared the poignant example of how she, as a Muslim woman, can’t use public gyms, pools, or programs; nor can she use private recreation centers (e.g., the YMCA), because of the lack of gender-specific and culturally-sensitive facilities and programs. 

She asked, “How do we ensure that the resources offered by Help Me Grow to families are culturally appropriate and sensitive?”

After some reflection, I replied to Saciido that Help Me Grow is not a program or service, but rather a system that provides linkages to community-based programs and services. Thus, the community programs themselves, not the Help Me Grow system, primarily determine their degree of cultural competency and sensitivity, in part through their staffing.

Yet, I continued, it would be an egregious oversight not to acknowledge the importance of cultural competence in Help Me Grow’s functions. National’s own research emphasizes how cultural beliefs strongly influence the efficacy of a Help Me Grow system.

For example, cultural beliefs and practices shape parents’ expectations of their children’s development and behavior, as well as their willingness to share concerns about it. Culture influences families’ attitudes toward parenting interventions and practices. Families’ perceived value of advice and guidance changes depending on the cultural awareness and sensitivity of program staff, including the extent to which staff includes members of the same race or ethnic group as the families served.

I further shared Help Me Grow’s strategies to enhance its cultural competence. These include:

encouraging diverse staffing of Information and Referral (I&R) Lines with language capacity consistent with a region’s demographics;

including a wide array of programs and services within the resource inventory that serve diverse clientele; and

engaging multicultural community-based organizations in such outreach activities as networking breakfasts. 

However, the most important strategy to ensure that our efforts are culturally appropriate is to continually seek feedback from the diverse parents and families whom we serve, and then act on that feedback. 

Prior to our Minnesota visit, I had not appreciated the scope of health disparities within the State’s population, nor that the State has the highest Somali population in the country. Saciido’s speaking up reminds us of the critical importance of open dialogue. Her experience highlights the essential need to embrace strategies that strengthen our own cultural competence, so that we may serve all the families who need the help we can provide.

We look forward to exploring this issue in greater depth with the entire Help Me Grow National Network of affiliate states.