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Work effectively with culturally diverse clients and co-workers

Meeting specific client needs

Rural and regional communities

Rural and regional communities already face enormous challenges in servicing their communities due to distance, lack of resources, a limited range of specialist services, and small numbers of clients with specific needs or disabilities.

These organisations are now facing huge dilemmas in servicing an increasingly diverse clientele. Regional communities (some of which have been effectively monocultural), are now facing a new wave of residents (often refugees) from countries such as Somalia, Sudan, East Timor and the Middle East.

While these pressures impact on the staffing requirements of the services involved, they pose significant challenges in providing information to the new groups.  This information can include:

Cultural groups

Culturally diverse client groups often have complex needs related to their particular life situation or history. Whilst you can’t know everything about every culture, you can learn basic information that will make your clients feel comfortable and special.

This includes:

A logbook is a good way to record this information and to form a strategy for dealing with such situations in future.

Other groups, including the elderly, people with a disability, young people (including disadvantaged youth), and single parents with small children, also have needs that are unique. Workers, organisations and communities must endeavour to provide services to meet their needs.

These needs could include:


An individual may have complex needs that can only be met by considering all relevant cultural and diversity-related factors. As an example, consider what strategies might be appropriate to help the young man described below.

Case study: Individuals

Read the case study below and answer the question that follows. Enter your response into the text box provided.

A Sudanese teenager with an intellectual disability would like to find a job when he finishes school. He has compounding issues of language difficulties (including misunderstandings of body language), social isolation and the continuing impact of trauma from his treatment in the refugee camps in Uganda. These pose enormous challenges for him and for you, his case worker, to overcome.


As an example, consider what strategies might be appropriate to help the young man.

28/05/07 – Notes on Mr. A., 16 y/o Sudanese refugee with an intellectual disability, social isolation, language difficulties, trauma issues.

This young man is likely to require supported employment. To prepare him for work he may need trauma counselling in his own language, engagement in hobby or recreational pursuits to assist his social life and language skills as well as life skills training.

Communities and disability services workers must get to know their communities and understand all the services that may assist their clients.

It is especially important that workers understand the protocols of working with the specific communities or cultural groups to which their clients belong.

For example, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities protocols may include who to contact for advice, how this contact should be made, and what types of issues can be discussed.

Recording protocol in a logbook, like the example below, can provide information that will assist you in working with specific cultural groups.


Engaging with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community: Listen to Colleen Wall, a Senior Kabi Woman and Director for Arts and Cultural Heritage within WANYIRAM Pty Ltd. Colleen talks about the protocols for engaging with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Listen to the protocols

Text version (Word Document 34KB)


Protocols for Consultation and Negotiation with Aboriginal People: Protocols for working with Aboriginal and TSI communities. (external)
Protocols for Consultation and Negotiation with Aboriginal People. (pdf) Resources and publications.


Needs of diverse clients: What needs might apply to specific client groups and individuals?

Section 3 activitie (Word Document 59KB)

Logbook activity

Strategies for meeting diverse needs of clients: Identify strategies used to meet the needs of clients or client groups.

Section 3 logbook activities (Word Document 29KB)

Co-workers from a culturally diverse background

As well as clients, we often have within our team co-workers whose cultural background is different from ours. This may, if not checked, become a challenge when you are building team spirit. Cross-cultural knowledge can be beneficial to all staff to avoid misunderstandings. This can be part of the professional development program your organisation has in place.

If you are working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, spend time with them and don’t be afraid to ask them how things are done in their former home country.

Similarly, if you work with a person who has a disability, don’t be afraid to ask them how you could make their work life more effective or safer for them.

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