Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Encouraging Conversations about Culture: Supporting Culturally Responsive Family Dispute Resolution

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Encouraging Conversations about Culture: Supporting Culturally Responsive Family Dispute Resolution

Article excerpt


This report describes the second stage of research to investigate culturally responsive family dispute resolution (FDR). The research aimed to identify the perspectives of FDR professionals about what would support them to develop a culturally responsive service and practice. The research used mixed methods: a survey and interviews with professionals. The findings demonstrate a high level of self-reported cultural responsiveness by FDR professionals, and a very strong desire to extend this capacity. The strategies suggested as most useful to deepen their understanding of culture in FDR involved collaborative conversations with their colleagues and with people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The research identifies effective, service-centred professional development activities to support and sustain this development.

Key words: family dispute resolution; mediation; professional development; cultural responsiveness; cultural competence; reflective practice

Family dispute resolution (FDR) is a form of family mediation largely to help separated parents resolve disagreements about their children's care. In 2006 Australian legal reforms required that disputing parents must attend FDR before they could approach a court to resolve their differences. About a third of separating parents attempted FDR or mediation between 2006 and 2008 (Kaspiew et al., 2009, p. 110). In 2008-2009 Federally funded Family Relationship Centres (FRCs) conducted about 25,000 FDR sessions, non-FRC community based services offered FDR to almost 7000 clients, and nearly 3000 cases were closed by the Telephone Dispute Resolution Service (Department of Families and Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs [FaHCSIA], 2010a, 2010b). Legal Aid Commissions in each state held 7000 FDR conferences in 2007-2008 (KPMG, 2008), and private counselling or mediation services also conducted FDR, although the numbers are not collated centrally.

Programs funded by the Commonwealth Family Support Program, including FRCs, are required to offer accessible, equitable and responsive services, and to engage groups that may have barriers to access, including families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds (FaHCSIA, 2006). These goals reflect social justice commitments to encourage access to universal government programs, especially for marginalised groups (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs [DIMEA], 1998, 2010). There is still a gap in achieving equal access as families from CALD backgrounds are under-represented as FDR clients. The reasons for this are not well understood (Armstrong, 2010b). (2) There also appear to be gaps in family relationship service provision to clients from CALD backgrounds and a lack of confidence by staff to engage with CALD clients (Colmar Brunton Social Research, 2004; Kaspiew et al., 2009; KPMG, 2008; Urbis Keys Young, 2004). In a newly developing field such as FDR, there is a significant need for continuing professional development to enrich practice, keep up with changes and strengthen compliance. At the same time, the uneven capacity of small organisations to respond fully to the needs of all cultural groups needs to be appreciated (KPMG, 2008; Urbis Keys Young, 2004).

The commitment to culturally responsive programming reflects a trend in the last 50 years, prominent in business, health and human service sectors, to ensure that service providers are culturally competent (Sinicrope, Norris, & Watanabe, 2007). Cultural competence is a term given to the systemic, organisational and professional behaviours, attitudes and policies that enable effective and appropriate service delivery to individuals from non-dominant cultural groups (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaccs, 1989). Culturally competent workers 'build on and subsume' cultural awareness (knowledge of cultural norms) and cultural sensitivity (recognition of diversity within cultural groups) to develop an appreciation of their own cultural norms and of the dynamism, complexity and importance of cultural contexts (Education Centre Against Violence [ECAV], 2006; Sawrikar & Katz, 2008, p. …

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