Needs of Culturally Diverse Families
By Oanh Bui, Outreach Specialist – Parent Training and Information Center (FCSN)
The Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) is one of the many projects of the Federation. We make our great efforts to reach out to as many families from diverse cultural background as possible. We have established an Outreach Team including bilingual, bicultural staff representing various communities across the state to address the needs of these families.
Parents from diverse communities often have limited access to services in general, due to language barriers, and cultural difference. To meet the needs of these families, it is not simply providing language access, giving a translated packet, or using a compassionate model, so as to say that we know what is best for you and your children. It requires trust and relationship between families and providers.
The language of special education is novel for many culturally diverse families. Because they come from countries where the educational system is different from what they experience here in the US; or where the special education system has not been established. Therefore, many concepts and terms lack an equivalent translation in many of the families’ native languages. In addition, parents from diverse cultural backgrounds often have a deep respect of teachers and school personnel. Parents believe that teachers will do the best for their children with special needs. This respect may prevent parents from asking clarifying questions, requesting different services or challenging a teachers understanding of the child. Parents may fear that their children will be treated badly if parents question a teacher’s actions, training, or motives.
The PTI Outreach Team has collaborated closely with varied community-based groups including faith-based organizations, medical providers, and community health centers to understand better the needs and challenges of the community and learn the best way to address community’s needs.
The PTI has successfully addressed some, as follows:
1. Provide Monthly Support Meetings.
2. Held a meeting with DESE’s Policy and Planning Committee to address the issues of language access and translated materials.
3. Modified and adapted its training materials to match the literacy level and language preference of families and ways that people like to learn.
4. Organized and delivered outreach information through local radio and television stations and newspaper articles.
5. Reconfigured its special education trainings in shorter sessions with spelled out terminology, to ensure that families understand the content.
6. Recruited more bilingual partners to present workshops in other languages, and empower these trainers to train parents to be their own children’s advocates.
7. Made referrals to services and supports that take language and culture into consideration during the intake and assistance process.
8. Encouraged referral services to provide adequate language access.
9. Collaborated with other agencies that serve the same populations, in order to be sure scarce resources are fairly shared.
10. Began the long process of addressing systems issues for long-term change.
In 2014, the PTI Outreach team has provided technical support for 83 Spanish speaking families, 64 Portuguese speaking families, 40 Vietnamese speaking families, 11 Chinese speaking families and many other families from different cultural diverse like Somali, Russia, Haiti, Africa, and Arabic.
Together with PTI Outreach Team, Family TIES of Massachusetts has a Language Line access that allows any non-English family to contact their staff and be connected for appropriate referral resources. Family TIES is another project of the Federation, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The PTI Outreach Team will continuously provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services. We hope to eliminate or reduce disparities and disproportionately distributed resources among culturally diverse families. We understand that all families deserve opportunities to support their children’s special needs.