Breaking down barriers in social care

Breaking down barriers in social care

Cultural and linguistic barriers need not get in the way of delivering the best possible services to customers in the care sector.

The world is becoming an increasingly diverse place, from fluid populations putting down roots in countries beyond their place of birth, to a greater appreciation of the needs of communities spanning gender, identity, religion and health.

But cultural and language differences are a cause of health disparities in the UK and abroad, leading to an increased need for culturally appropriate – or culturally competent – care.

In a nutshell, this involves recognising and respecting the various identities and heritages of individuals within the care environment, tailoring support to meet these needs and in doing so enhancing wellbeing and ensuring people feel respected and understood.

Quick wins

Care providers can implement several quick and tangible strategies to enhance cultural sensitivity:

Best practice

While there is no specific law covering the nature of what is culturally appropriate or how this can be delivered, bodies like the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have developed codes of practice to help organisations do more.

The Care Act 2014 puts the individual at the centre of the process, emphasising personalisation and people’s wellbeing, incorporating concepts like personal dignity, mental health and the avoidance of discrimination.

Meanwhile, 'Equality and diversity' and 'Work in a person-centred way' are two of 15 criteria the accrediting group Skills for Care says are essential standards for competent care workers.

Too often, the needs of the individual are not being met, a fact usually blamed on shortages of staff and resources. But there is potential: the care sector is not covered by the Equality Act, meaning organisations are free to hire based on sex, race and religion to chime with patient needs.

“Patients tend to get what they’re given, with carers often changing every visit, limiting both a deeper understanding of client care and cultural needs,” says Patrick Wallace, co-founder and director of Curam, a home care services company. “But these factors are really essential to making patients feel less isolated and more valued.”

Embedding cultural sensitivity in care codes, protocols and practices is fundamental to delivering in these areas. It not only meets the needs of the individual more effectively but also fosters better results for their families, enhancing physical health and collective emotional wellbeing.

It also has the positive side effect of strengthening relationships between social care staff and those they support.

Conversely, failure to provide tailored care can cause feelings of marginalisation, discrimination, and low self-esteem. It can restrict opportunities, cause stress and anxiety, ultimately leading to a tangible loss of rights.

According to Wallace, technology can step in where physical resources are stretched. Curam enables customers to filter potential carers by language and cultural needs, then have those needs met via online and in-person care.

“Once clients have whittled down the carers who seem a good fit on paper, they can use integrated video calling to explain cultural requirements and ensure the match suits carer and patient before hiring.”

Steps to take

In general, there are a number of bases organisations need to cover to provide an adequate service. The Care Quality Commission sums them up in the following way:

Safe – Cultural considerations are crucial for medication management, for example adjusting schedules for those observing Ramadan.

Effective – Services must reflect cultural, ethical, and religious needs in meal planning and the décor of rooms. If people lack capacity to make decisions, organisations should consult those close to them.

Caring – Staff should support individuals in culturally sensitive ways, respecting their preferences and showing compassion, ensuring a welcoming environment for visitors.

Responsive – Care plans should involve individuals and their families, meeting cultural needs with regular reviews and appropriate staff training to support these requirements.

Well-led – A positive, inclusive culture that promotes equality should come from the top. Leaders must demonstrate a strong understanding of these values, encouraging open communication and acting on feedback to improve services.

According to the CQC, care workers need not be specialists in this area but should grasp how culture impacts care. Practical steps include consulting individuals or their representatives about cultural preferences.

Organisations should make minor adjustments to accommodate cultural needs and recognise end-of-life cultural considerations, particularly in restricted visiting circumstances and embrace a multicultural workforce.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) notes that over 25,000 older BME individuals in the UK live with dementia. Cultural identification often strengthens with age, making culturally sensitive care even more pressing.

It goes without saying that effective training is a key ingredient in solutions to the challenges impacting culturally appropriate care. This goes beyond factual knowledge, encompassing interpersonal skills like empathy and communication.

Published on
June 28, 2024