Toolkit 1 – Theory

Multiculturalism and intercultural learning process – why this topic?

 Cultural competence and cultural sensitivity are essential skills to possess when working with people from different countries. These competences are especially crucial for youth work with refugees and asylum youth, as we may be called to work with young people with various backgrounds, experiences, cultures of origins, beliefs and understandings. Cultural competence in youth work today challenges us to understand refugees from a socio-cultural perspective and to be able to work with and respect differences and similarities in those who use our services.

Wing Sue (2001), argues that there has been debate over what constitutes cultural competence but note in relation to an earlier paper on the topic (Sue et al., 1982) that: 

“In that publication, competencies were divided into three categories: (a) attitudes/beliefs component—an understanding of one’s own cultural conditioning that affects personal beliefs, values, and attitudes; (b) knowledge component—understanding and knowledge of the worldviews of culturally different individuals and groups; and (c) skills component—use of culturally appropriate intervention/communication skills.” (Wing Sue 2001: 798)

 This quote outlines that cultural competence requires three key aspects. First, it is important that practitioners have the ability to challenge their own attitudes and ideas, especially taking into account that their own upbringing and experiences may be very different to others. Second, they also need to have competencies around finding and integrating knowledge about different cultures that they might encounter in practice. Finally, practitioners need to have skills to use that cultural competence to provide appropriate services/support to those they work with. 

In particular, cultural competence moves beyond concepts of “cultural awareness” which is knowledge about a particular group primarily gained through reading or studies and “cultural sensitivity”, which is about having knowledge as well as some level of experience with a group other than one’s own. There is a need to make a step-up from these abilities to being able to apply these concepts to being able to help others appropriately in our work. Cultural competence can be  defined as, “the ability of individuals and systems to work or respond effectively across cultures in a way that acknowledges and respects the culture of the person or organization being served” (Berg, Thomson Rambaree, 2016). Furthermore, it is imperative that cultural competence is embedded in practitioners’ abilities to challenge their own understandings, assumptions and beliefs about aspects of their practice. This ability is not just important for new and inexperienced practitioners but also for seasoned practitioners who may have been working with young people for some time. 

Among other things, cultural competence in youth work requires a practitioner to develop an awareness of diversity among human beings, an ability to support and care for individuals and groups having different cultural backgrounds and orientations and non-judgmental openness in interactions. Perhaps most importantly a practitioner needs to be able to recognise the importance of and invest themselves in, the enhancement of cultural competence as a long-term continuous process (Berg, Thomson and Rambaree, 2016). In other words, cultural competence is not  something one achieves and is completed, it needs refreshing, updating and engaging with continually, to enable us to be effective in helping diverse youth. Importantly though, in this process you need to know yourself first and have the awareness of where you come from and only then you will be able to understand others.

Learning outcomes from using this resource


After reading and studying materials in this toolkit, you have enhanced your own:


Knowledge of culture and different cultural backgrounds in refugee youth contexts and understanding of how these impact upon the role of a youth worker


Skills to manage diverse groups, beliefs and ideas within those groups and to work with individuals with diverse refugee backgrounds


Reflexive skills to examine one’s own practice through attitudes and beliefs to enhance intercultural sensitivity


Development of competence in working effectively cross-culturally with diverse youth refugee groups

If you choose to use the activities included below with groups of young people they should be able to:


Gain the knowledge and understanding of key concepts such as: culture, diversity, intercultural learning, cultural competence


Think critically and be aware of own and others biases


Appreciate and respect diversity and strive towards open mindedness and curiosity

Reflexivity and Cultural Competence

This toolkit, its discussion points and activities, aims to help you to move beyond reflection to being reflexive. Therefore, critical self-reflection is central to being a reflexive practitioner, this requires you to reflect critically on areas such as your own background, norms, culture, ideas, expectations, feelings and behaviour. However, the reflexive practitioner also thinks critically about the structures and frameworks around them, such as the wider organization they work in, the government and regional/local policies that shape their work and how societal issues and attitudes might influence and impact upon what you do. As reflexive practitioners we REFLECT, try and UNDERSTAND and THINK about wider factors that influence our work and how we do it, but we also ACT TO POSITIVELY CHANGE our actions and behaviours.

References and Further Information

Abrams, D. M. (2014) Refugee Training and Orientation: A guide for service providers Center for Applied Linguistics/Cultural Orientation Resource Center SW Creatives 

Balasanyan, Gurgen? and or one author? (2011), Intercultural learning and non-formal education, retrieved from 29/Thesis%20all%20in%20One%20-%20Updated%20NE.pdf Accessed on date.

Council of Europe and European Commission (2000) Intercultural Learning T-kit. Available online:

D’cruz.  H  ,  Gillingham.  P   ,  Melendez.  S     (2007). Reflexivity: A Concept and its Meanings for Practitioners Working with Children and Families. Critical Social Work, 2007 Vol. 8, No. 1. practitioners-working-with-children-and-families

D’cruz. H , Gillingham. P , Melendez. S (2007) Reflexivity, its Meanings and Relevance for Social Work: A Critical Review of the Literature British Journal of Social Work (2007) 37, 73–90.

Dewey, J. (1933) How we think: a restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative proces. Chicago IL: Henry Regnery Co. 

Dowden, G. (2008) ‘ID Booklet. Ideas for inclusion and diversity,’ Brussel SALTO-Youth Cultural Diversity Resource Centre/SALTO-Youth Inclusion Resource Centre. 

Dyba, N. Mapping your cultural orientation Available online: kit/mapping-your-cultural-orientation.pdf

Finlay, D . (2008) Reflecting on ‘Reflective practice Milton Keynes: The Open University. 

Lanteigne, B. (2007) ‘A Different Culture or Just Plain Rude?’ English Teaching: practice or critique, vol.6, no.2. 

Rambaree, K., Berg, M. and Thomson, R. (2016), A Framework for Youth Work with Refugees:

Analysis further to the expert seminar “Journeys to a New Life: Understanding the role of youth work in integrating young refugees in Europe”, retrieved  from http://pjp- 4bfb-81e0-80fade21838a Accessed on date

Runell, M. (2010) Love, Race & Liberation: ‘til the White Day is Done? Love-N-Liberation Press New York, 14-18. Available online: 1fAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=runell+marcella+voices+of+discovery+intergroup+relations+c enter&source=bl&ots=GakBvC5FfF&sig=3NhkFXo6Ov2hR8FRmwMt5UyA4Y0&hl=pl&sa=X&ved=0ah UKEwi9pvezsLvVAhUBLcAKHV6pAWoQ6AEILzAB#v=onepage&q=runell%20marcella%20voices%20of


SALTO-Youth Cultural Diversity Resource Centre (2004) Travelling Cultural Diversity (2004). Available online: diversity-folderpack/

Shire, W. (2011) Home Salt 

Wheatley, M. J. (2006) Leadership and the New Science, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.