Understanding Cultural Safety: Traditional and Client Perspectives

In 2012 Alpha House and the University of Calgary came together to create a research partnership to explore what Aboriginal clients who are homeless, Aboriginal Elders think and other staff say about creating cultural safety in a mainstream organization. Alpha House was identified as a mainstream agency providing a culturally safe service to an urban Aboriginal population. This research was supported by the Alberta Homelessness Research Consortium (AHRC) which is managed by the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness (ASAH) and funded by the Government of Alberta (GOA).

The Research Cultural safety is a concept that a Maori nurse from New Zealand began using to describe how staff provided health care services to individuals and families from another culture. She stressed the importance when providing care and service to others for service providers to take into consideration and respect their own cultural origins, values, beliefs and practices as well as those of the people seeking care. When the various cultural influences are taken into consideration, services can be culturally safe. This project was part of a program of research to broaden understanding of how to enhance service and program delivery models when working with Aboriginal clients who are homeless so as to meet the goal of ending homelessness.

The Results The term cultural safety was not familiar to clients, Elders, or other staff but they were all able to describe what they thought culturally safe services practiced. Their descriptions were similar to the published literature. Our model of developing cultural safety indicates that intentionality and partnership are essential to moving from cultural awareness to competence to safety. As more culturally safe services develop, the network of those doing cultural advocacy will grow. It will therefore be easier to develop and sustain culturally safe services. This project focused on provision of culturally safe services in the homelessness sector, but the results will be useful in other sectors.

Recommendation Our one recommendation is that funding bodies provide motivation and practical financial support for projects that help organizations move along the cultural competencies continuum.

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