Are We Doing Enough to Develop Cross-Cultural Competencies for Social Work?

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  1. Susan Mlcek*

  1. Susan Mlcek is Indigenous—Māori New Zealander—a member of the Ngaiterangi Iwi (tribe) and Ngaitukairangi Hapu (sub-tribe),
    from Matapihi, Tauranga in New Zealand. Her teaching experience includes teaching across a broad range of discipline areas
    (foundational studies, adult education, communication and cultural studies, vocational education and training, management,
    literacy, language and numeracy, TESOL, general education, and social work) in TAFE NSW, University of Western Sydney, Charles
    Sturt University (CSU), and Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, New Zealand. Currently, she lectures in all facets of social
    work and human services at CSU, and is heavily committed to providing learning opportunities to Indigenous learners. In 2010,
    she commenced a three-year secondment role within the university to address transition and retention issues for students from
    low socio-economic status, and the impact especially on the social work programmes. Her research areas include: paucity management
    in human services; Indigenous student support; foundational studies; social work and human services; and rural community welfare
    service delivery. Qualifications include: Ph.D., MComm, MA (Communication and Cultural Studies), BAdEd and BSW.
  1. *Correspondence to Dr Susan H. E. Mlcek, Ph.D., MComm, MA (Communication and Cultural Studies) BAdEd, BSW, Senior Lecturer,
    Social Work and Human Services, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts STAR–Academic Lead Role, Social
    Work and Social Welfare, Charles Sturt University, Panorama Avenue, C6 2.16, Bathurst, NSW 2795, Australia. E-mail: smlcek{at}
  • Accepted February 2013.


In the delivery of social work education, how can we devise a relevant curriculum that addresses the development of cross-cultural
competencies? Some of the assumptions that our students bring to their study programme (many already work in different parts
of the human services profession) are premised on outdated ideas that have as their source prejudice, racism, whiteness behaviours,
fear and mistrust, and a lack of knowledge and understanding about the complex layers in understanding situations of access
and equity, discrimination and the abrogation of human rights for marginalised communities. In this paper, I share some of
the strategies and content material that we use at Charles Sturt University (CSU), Australia, together with professionals-in-the-field,
in developing cross-cultural competencies to prepare our students for work in the profession. For example, as part of our
current social work curriculum, students are introduced to intense debates that scrutinise the above phenomena-in-practice;
in particular, they scrutinise their own biases and entrenched worldviews that are often developed out of an ethnocentric
monoculturalism. At the very least, a critical reflection framework explores assumptions embedded within practice; this is
not a new dynamic for social work and is worth revisiting here, but, ultimately, are we doing enough?

Key words

  • Cross-cultural competencies
  • social work curriculum
  • social work

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