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From Cultural Competency to Health Equity

What is Cultural Competency?

Cultural competency is a professional skill that enables staff and organizations to serve their diverse clients effectively and competently. Beyond simply treating diverse clients with sensitivity, culturally competent organizations actively identify and remove any barriers that prevent them from accessing and participating in the organization’s programs and services. Being culturally competent enables service providers to provide equitable and student-centered care.

What are Culturally Competent Services?

The Child Welfare League of America defines cultural competence as the “ability of individuals and systems to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and faiths and religions, in a manner that recognizes, affirms,
and values the worth of individuals, families and communities, and protects and preserves the dignity of each.”

What is Cultural Safety?

The  concept of Cultural Safety was first coined by a Maori Nurse, Irihapeti Ramsden, in the 1980’s. It extends beyond cultural knowledge and understanding by emphasizing the power imbalance between health professionals and their clients. It stresses the importance of shifting power from the health care professional to the client.


What is Social Inclusion?

Social inclusion is the process of improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society—improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity.


What is Health Equity?

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) has identified equity as a key component of quality care. Research has established that social and economic barriers – such as poverty, social exclusion, job security, and level of education – are equally important to a person’s health status than personal health behaviours or medical care. These factors, known as social determinants of health, have a significant impact on one’s well being.

Marginalized individuals such as immigrants, Indigenous people, single parent families and people living in poverty tend to face many of these barriers and, consequently experience disparities in their health status. In terms of mental health care, significant inequities exist with regards to how people access and experience services. For example, factors such as gender, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, income and education can influence a person’s access to timely, appropriate and high-quality care.

Health equity is concerned with creating equal opportunities for good health for all and reducing avoidable and unjust differences in health among population groups. There are several tools and resources available to help service providers incorporate healthy equity into policies, programs and procedures. For example, the Ontario Health Equity Impact Assessment (HEIA) Tool was developed by MOHLTC in collaboration with the province’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and Public Health Ontario.