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Cultural competence in infant/toddler caregivers: application of a tri-dimensional model.

Abstract. The early childhood literature has acknowledged the need for culturally competent child care professionals. Based on Sue's (1981) tri-dimensional model, the Infant and Toddler Caregiver Cultural Rating Scale (ITCCRS) was created to assess 109 child care providers' cultural competence and the demographic correlates of that competence. Scores fell in mid-range, with an average score of 4.39 (SD = .57) on a 6-point scale. This average score indicates most caregivers have begun the process of developing cultural competence, but have room for growth. Qualitative responses specified areas of conflict between caregivers and families. The most predictive demographic correlate of cultural competence scores was the number of child development units. Years of formal education, hours of diversity training, and number of books/articles read about diversity were found to be significantly correlated with cultural competence. Ethnicity, ethnic match, having one's own children, and years of experience had no significant bearing on cultural competence scores.


Organizations dedicated to the education of young children have espoused the need for culturally competent caregiving based on the demographic reality of ethnically dissimilar caregivers in child care centers, cross-cultural variance in childrearing practices, and the realization that not all cultural groups are treated with equal reverence (Chang, 1993; Chipman, 1997; Derman-Sparks & Phillips, 1997; National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1995; Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers, 1995; Ramsey, 1998; Rodd, 1996). Educators have concurred with this need, writing and theorizing about the developmental and practical implications of culturally congruent child care, particularly that culturally salient care provides children with a sense of security, belonging, and personal history (Chang, Muckelroy, & Pulido-Tobiassen, 1996; Delpit, 1995; Garcia, McLaughlin, Spodek, & Saracho, 1995; Keats, 1997; Lally, 1995; Mallory & New, 1994). The literature also offers advice to caregivers about how to be culturally sensitive in the early childhood classroom--evidence of a focused effort toward skill building (Derman-Sparks, 1995a, 1995b; Derman-Sparks & the A.B.C. Task Force, 1989; Derman-Sparks & Phillips, 1997; Gonzalez-Mena, 2001; Kendall, 1983; Lynch & Hanson, 1998; Okagaki & Diamond, 2000).

Despite the surge of interest in culturally competent care and its developmental implications, there are few empirical studies focusing on early childhood caregivers' cultural competence. Furthermore, the field offers no operationalized definitions or validated measures of the construct. Consequently, the extent to which early childhood caregivers are culturally competent and the factors that mediate competency in the classroom have yet to be determined. The current investigation attempts to bridge this gap by: 1) applying a tri-dimensional model of counselors' cultural competence (awareness, knowledge, and skills) to the assessment of infant and toddler child care providers (Arredondo et al., 1996; Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1998; Sue, 1981; Sue & Sue, 1999); and 2) determining the caregiver attributes associated with that competence. Specifically, we questioned whether caregiver age, ethnicity, years of experience, years of formal education, number of child development units, hours of diversity training, number of books/articles read about diversity, having own children, and/or ethnic match with children in care affect scores on a cultural competence measure.

Defining Cultural Competence

The early childhood literature indicates that there is no single uniform definition of cultural competence. In fact, different terminology is used to describe the concept. The Program for Infant/Toddler Caregivers (PITC) fourth training module (1995) uses the term cultural sensitivity, while Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force (1989) recommend preschool caregivers pursue antibias. In their position statement on cross-cultural interactions in the early childhood classroom, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) delineates the need for "effective early childhood education" that "responds to linguistic and cultural diversity" (1995, p. 4). In a book dedicated to cultural competence in early intervention settings, the term "cross-cultural competence" is defined as "The ability to think, feel, and act in ways that acknowledge, respect, and build upon ethnic, [socio]cultural, and linguistic diversity" (Lynch & Hanson, 1993, p. 50). Cultural competence also has been defined on a systems level (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989), and in the fields of health care (Rorie, Paine, & Barger, 1996), communication (Abe & Wiseman, 1983; Spitzberg, 1989), social work (Fong & Furuto, 2001), and counseling (Arrendondo et al., 1996; Sue & Sue, 1999).

Most descriptions of cultural competence contain common threads. The first is that developing cultural competence is a process, rather than an endpoint (Gonzalez-Mena, 2001; Lynch & Hanson, 1998; Sue & Sue, 1999). Because culture is not static and there are within-group and between-group differences among people, opportunities to develop skills and richer understanding of others always exist.

Second, the process of cultural competence must include the pursuit of self-awareness. Individuals must be working to understand their own worldview before they can understand the worldviews of others (Bennett, 1993). Individuals also must recognize and acknowledge their own stereotypes and biases, and the subtle (or not so subtle) ways these biases may affect their interactions with others (Banks, 1994; Sue et al., 1998).

Third, culture is learned. Each person has learned the values, beliefs, and traditions that form his or her own culture, and also must learn the culture of others. It must not be assumed, however, that cultures are monolithic; a wide range of variation exists within cultures that affect family choices and practices (Lynch & Hanson, 1998).

Fourth, child care environments should be designed to reflect the people and community in which they are embedded (Derman-Sparks, 1995a; Derman-Sparks & the A.B.C. Task Force, 1989; NAEYC, 1995; Okagaki & Diamond, 2000; York, 1991). Fifth, a range of interpersonal skills is necessary for effective cross-cultural communication. The ability to listen to, respect, and sincerely care about others' viewpoints, the ability to be flexible and nonjudgmental, and a willingness to acknowledge tension and differences are all considered essential (Derman-Sparks, 1995b; Lane & Signer, 1990; Lieberman, 1995; Lynch & Hanson, 1998).

Finally, developing cultural competence does not mean relinquishing your own culture or acquiescing to all of the demands of somebody else's culture. While it is important to be open to new learning, instances when cultural variations come into acute conflict with legal or developmentally appropriate practice require either compromise or respectful dialogue.

In the counseling literature, the definition of cultural competence has been operationalized in accordance with a tri-dimensional model (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1998). Specifically, cultural competence encompasses self-awareness, knowledge, and skills. For the current investigation, these operationalized definitions were modified to conceptualize child care provider competencies. For example, according to the operationalized definition, a self-aware individual is someone who actively seeks out knowledge about her own cultural heritage and is cognizant of how her background influences her experiences, attitudes, values, and beliefs. An aware person can recognize the limits of her expertise and is comfortable with differences between persons of different ethnicities. In the ongoing effort to understand how one's cultural group fits into and relates to social histories and realities of divergent individuals, the aware individual recognizes her biases and stereotypes and strives to be nonjudgmental (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1998). In a child care setting, an aware person also is in-tune with her culture's childrearing values and practices and how they affect the way she thinks about diverse forms of care (Derman-Sparks, 1995b; Phillips, 1995).

A culturally competent individual is not only aware of, but has knowledge of, the worldviews of culturally different clients (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1998). Included in this knowledge are the varying beliefs, customs, and values of groups, as well as the particular social histories and challenges faced by different cultural groups. In child care settings, a culturally knowledgeable person is an individual who has made a commitment to learning about the cultural expectations of families in care, including reading information about the cultural group as a whole, and finding accurate information about the uniqueness of a family's individual culture (Phillips, 1995). A knowledgeable child care professional also learns specific information about children's daily routines, including toilet learning, feeding, and napping (Gonzalez-Mena, 1995). A culturally knowledgeable child care professional also possesses information about the relationship between culture and child development, and has knowledge about how classroom environments and curriculum can be adapted for cultural inclusion (Derman-Sparks, 1995a).

Finally, a culturally competent individual possesses skills for working with diverse populations. This means recognizing varied approaches (verbal and nonverbal) for communicating cross-culturally and developing strategies for interaction (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1998). In child care settings, such skills may include varying caregiving techniques based on the knowledge of an individual family's goals and caregiving techniques (Phillips, 1995), addressing cultural differences as part of a regular pattern of information gathering (Derman-Sparks, 1995b), and negotiating cultural conflicts in a systematic, respectful, and empathic manner (Gonzalez-Mena, 2001). Skills in others' native languages and patterns of communication are also indicators of competence (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1998).

Previous Research and Measures of Competence

In an effort to predict the correlates of caregiver cultural competence, the extant literature was explored. A California Tomorrow investigation visited child care programs that address diversity in their early childhood classrooms to probe caregivers and parents about race, culture, and language (Chang et al., 1996). Through qualitative interviews, the investigators increased their awareness about efforts to meet the diverse needs of families in the classroom. This investigation, unfortunately, did not examine caregiver attributes that influence cultural competence. In another study, aimed at addressing the effect of ethnicity on child care interactions, it was found that caregivers working in multi-ethnic child care settings invested more attention in children of their own ethnic background (Arnold, Griffith, Ortiz, & Stowe, 1998). Specifically, Hispanic caregivers interacted more frequently with Hispanic boys. While not specific to early care providers, the counseling literature suggests that diversity training can positively affect counselor cultural competence. In an exploratory study across a 10-year period, it was found that cultural knowledge and skills scores significantly increased after training (Manese, Wu, & Nepomuceno, 2001).

While the above-mentioned findings were informative, the scarcity of specific references to demographic correlates of cultural competence led us to explore caregiver competence in general. Honig and Hirallal (1998) observed the classroom interactions of preschool teachers and found that early childhood education (ECE)/child development training was the most predictive of positive preschool interactions in the social, emotional, language, physical, and concept domains. Level of education as a whole was only significant in the facilitation of language category. There was no relationship between length of time working with children and positive interactions.

In a study of more than 1,300 early childhood teachers from five metropolitan areas in the United States, it was found that years of experience was not a reliable indicator of teacher behavior (Howes, Whitebook, & Phillips, 1992). In contrast to the Honig and Hirallal (1998) study, formal education was a better predictor of positive behavior than specialized training. However, when infant and toddler teachers were analyzed separately from preschool teachers, they were more likely to need college-level specialized training for competence. In yet another study of early childhood teacher backgrounds, teachers with the most advanced education were rated most effective in the classroom (Howes, 1997). Those with associate degrees or child development associate (CDA) certificates were more effective than teachers with some college or just high school plus workshops.

The limited research exploring cultural competence among early care providers logically coincides with an absence of instruments to measure the construct. While there are a number of instruments designed to investigate cultural competence, none were specifically designed for child care settings. For example, the Cultural Competence Self-Assessment Questionnaire (CCSAQ) (Mason, 1995) assesses social-service agencies working with children with disabilities, and the Cultural Competence Self-Assessment Instrument (Child Welfare League of America, 1993) measures the cultural competence of health care agencies' policies, programs, and staff. Counseling-specific measures, such as the Cross Cultural Competence Inventory (CCCI-R) (LaFromboise, Coleman, & Hernandez, 1991) and the Multicultural Awareness-Knowledge-Skills Inventory (MAKSI) (D'Andrea, Daniels, & Heck, 1991), utilize a tri-dimensional model of competence.

Based on findings that education factors were associated with competence scores, we postulated that cultural competence scores would mirror general competence findings and would be higher for those with higher numbers of child development/early childhood education units, those with more formal education, those with greater hours of diversity training, and those who read a greater number of books/articles about diversity. It also was surmised that a new tri-dimensional measure would need to be constructed for the current investigation to specifically assess child care providers.

Purpose of the Study

The United States is an ethnically diverse society that is constantly negotiating race and cross-cultural relationships. Maintaining the strength and longevity of communities necessitates that individuals develop skills to bridge differences, understand similarities, and work cooperatively. By asking caregivers to respond to statements about their self-awareness, knowledge, and skills working with children and families, this study explores the first context in which infants and toddlers may interact with those who are culturally different. The responses help gauge the cultural competence of young children's caregivers, and explore the current status of caregiver-child and caregiver-family interactions. These data can serve as a powerful tool for understanding culturally based early care dynamics, as well as identify the major caregiver attributes that account for variations in cultural competency.

The two research questions posed by this investigation are: 1) Can a tri-dimensional model be used to reliably assess the cultural competence of infant and toddler child care providers? And 2) What demographic variables predict caregiver cultural competence? It was hypothesized that cultural competence scores would be higher for caregivers with more education, specifically child development units, formal education, hours of diversity training, and books/articles read about diversity. Conversely, it also was hypothesized that caregiver attributes unrelated to education--age, years of experience, having own children, ethnicity, and ethnic match--would not be strong predictors of cultural competence scores.



Child care providers were recruited from an inclusive list of licensed infant-care centers in an urban area. A total of 115 questionnaires were collected from 30 randomly selected centers. Selection criteria for participation included: being 18 years of age or older, providing care for children 30 months and younger, working 25 hours or more a week in a state-licensed infant-care center, and the ability to read and write English. Six caregivers were excluded for either not meeting eligibility requirements or returning incomplete questionnaires. Thus, 109 infant and toddler caregivers constitute the sample for the current investigation.

The average age of the caregivers was 33.81 (SD = 12.60), with half having post-high school education, and the majority reporting children of their own (63 percent). The sample was 56 percent Caucasian, 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent African American, 6 percent Asian, and 5 percent Bi/Multiracial; most participants were born in the United States (84 percent) and reported English as a first language (80 percent). Respondents reported working at a variety of different agencies, with 96 percent reporting working with at least one ethnically dissimilar child. Sixty-five percent of the sample had more than three years of experience working with children 0-3 years old (33 percent of whom had 8 or more years experience). All but one of the participants was female (see Table 1 for additional demographic information).


Utilizing contact information obtained from state licensing, the researchers mailed letters countywide to directors of all licensed infant-care centers to briefly describe the investigation and inform them that they may receive a solicitation call. Centers were then randomly selected for follow-up calls. With the director's approval, a time was arranged to drop off and pick up confidential questionnaires for the caregivers to fill out at their convenience. At one center, questionnaires were filled out on-site during the program's staff development day. Incentives of merchandise and gift certificates, ranging in value from 2 to 25 dollars, were offered to participants.


Demographic and Background Variables. Demographic and background variables were measured via a questionnaire that included caregiver age, ethnicity, country of birth, child development units completed, formal education level, hours of diversity training, books/articles read about the role of culture in the early childhood classroom, duration of experience with children (birth through 3 years) other than their own, and whether they had their own children. Also assessed were questions about the center, including ages of the children cared for and percent ethnic match with the children cared for. Caregivers also were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how important they think it is for infant and toddler caregivers to be trained about working with children from different cultural/ ethnic backgrounds and how much they would like such training.

Infant/Toddler Caregiver Cultural Rating Scale (ITCCRS). The ITCCRS was designed by the principal investigator to measure self-reported caregiver cultural competence. The measure was constructed by first reviewing the literature on cultural competence in early childhood education, existing measures in other disciplines, and the operationalized definitions of cultural competence in the counseling literature (Arredondo et al., 1996; Sue et al., 1998). Questions were written based on information gleaned from the above-mentioned sources in an effort to gauge a range of caregiver perspectives about their self-awareness, knowledge, and skills. Items pertained to personal beliefs, values and biases, knowledge of culturally salient child care environments, practices, and how culture influences development, as well as techniques for working with and supporting culturally diverse children and families. The questionnaire contained 10 items measuring awareness, 19 items measuring knowledge, and 11 items measuring skills. To examine the face validity of the measure, the questionnaire was sent to 10 experts specializing in culture in early childhood environments. Responses from these professionals were incorporated into the scale. The resulting questionnaire contained 40 items with an additional qualitative question. The questionnaire then was pilot tested with 30 early care providers, graduate students, and professionals. Their feedback was incorporated into the final version of the ITCCRS.

The final ITCCRS asked caregivers to respond to 40 statements on a 6-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Sample items included: "I try to find out parents' at-home childrearing practices" and "I know the beliefs, customs, and values of the families of the children I care for." Nine items were reverse coded, and an additional qualitative item asked respondents to: "Please give an example of a cultural conflict that occurred with a child/ family you care for. Describe what the conflict was and how you handled it. If you have never experienced a cultural conflict, please write this and why you think this is so." The qualitative responses were studied in their own right, and also were coded as to whether the respondent had experienced a cultural conflict, "yes" or "no."

Analysis of the ITCCRS. Because the ITCCRS contained items assessing knowledge, skills, and awareness, the measure was factor analyzed to determine if reliable and valid subscales could be derived. Principal axis factor analysis was conducted using a varimax rotation. The resulting scree plot suggested that the measure was assessing one factor (Stevens, 1986). A reliability analysis confirmed acceptable reliability, with Cronbach's alpha = .73. Thus, for the following analysis, a mean caregiver cultural competence score was calculated for each participant with negatively worded items reverse scored, so that a higher cultural competence score indicates higher competence.


The two principal questions of the investigation were: 1) Can a tri-dimensional model be used to reliably assess the cultural competence of an infant and toddler child care provider? 2) What demographic variable predicts caregiver cultural competence? In regards to the first question, factor analysis showed that the measure was assessing one factor, rather than clearly delineating the three dimensions of knowledge, skills, and awareness. The reliability of the factor was acceptable at. 73, and thus was used to measure levels of cultural competence in general.

Descriptive Statistics

Background variables hypothesized to be related to caregiver cultural competence were examined. On average, the sample reported 12.94 hours of diversity training (SD = 8.49), 2.91 books/articles read related to diversity in childhood development (SD = 1.86), and 20.60 child development units completed (SD = 10.13), with a mean caregiver cultural competence score of 4.39 (SD = .57). Of the respondents with data for the qualitative question (n = 80), 49 percent reported they had experienced a cultural conflict in their care. Participants reported that they believed it was important to have training in diversity (M = 8.47, SD = 2.26) and that they would like such training (M = 8.16, SD = 2.40).

Examining relationships among the variables revealed that age, child development units completed, education, hours of diversity training, and books/articles read related to diversity in childhood development were significantly and positively correlated with mean cultural competence scores (p < .02). The relationships were such that being older, and having more child development units completed, more education, more hours of diversity training, and more books/articles read were related to higher cultural competence scores. Correlations are presented in Table 2.

Differences by Levels of Competence

To better understand variables related to cultural competence, the sample was divided using a tertiary split using mean cultural competence scores. Those scoring below 4.23 were labeled "low" (n = 34), those scoring between 4.23 and 4.60 were labeled "average" (n = 36), and those scoring above 4.60 were labeled "high" (n = 39). Mean caregiver competence scores for the low, average, and high groups were 3.73 (SD = .37), 4.41 (SD = .11), and 4.95 (SD = .29), respectively. Chi-square analyses were conducted comparing ethnic group, percent ethnic difference of children cared for, education level, and whether or not caregivers had their own children by levels of competence (e.g., low, average, and high). Of the four analyses, only education was significantly related to level of caregiver cultural competence ([chi square](8) = 24.30, p = .002), with the higher competence group reporting more education than both the low and average groups. A multivariate analysis of variance was conducted examining age, child development units completed, years of experience with children, books/articles read related to diversity in childhood development, and hours of diversity training. The model was significant (F(10,190) = 3.51, p <. 001), with childhood development units completed, books/articles read, and hours of diversity training significantly differing between the three groups. Post hoc analyses revealed that the low group had significantly fewer child development units completed (M = 14.00, SD = 10.52) than either the average or high groups (M = 22.26, SD = 9.08 and M = 24.87, SD = 7.68, respectively). For both books/articles read and hours of diversity training, the low group significantly differed from the high group (for books: M = 2.28, SD = 2.07 and M = 3.54, SD = 1.62, respectively; for hours training: M = 9.91, SD = 9.51 and M = 15.97, SD = 7.02, respectively). These analyses suggest that background variables, such as education level, child development units completed, books/articles read, and diversity training, differ among caregivers who score "low" or "high" on the ITCCRS. Demographic variables such as age, ethnic group, and whether or not caregivers have their own children were not reliably related to caregiver cultural competence.

Predicting Cultural Competence

To ascertain unique contributions to caregiver cultural competence, a multiple linear regression analysis was conducted predicting mean caregiver cultural competence scores with the following variables: age, ethnic group, percent of children cared for from a different ethnic group, whether or not the respondent had his or her own children, years of experience, education, child development units completed, hours of diversity training, and number of books/ articles read related to diversity in childhood development. The overall model was statistically significant (F(9,91) = 6.31, p < .001) and accounted for 38 percent of the variance in caregiver cultural competence scores. Interestingly, the only variable that significantly predicted caregiver cultural competence was child education units completed (p < .001). This analysis, in combination with the analyses above, suggests education, books/articles read, and hours of diversity training share a large amount of variance with child development units completed and caregiver cultural competence. That is, completing more child development units is highly related to education level, more books/articles being read, and more hours of diversity training received, possibly because these things are a result of participating in child development courses (see Table 3 for regression analysis results).

Qualitative Analysis

The three groups (low, average, and high) were compared on their responses to the qualitative question about whether they had experienced a cultural conflict with a child/family that they cared for. A chi-square revealed a significant difference between the groups ([chi square](2) = 9.27,p = .01). More respondents in the high group (70 percent) reported a conflict compared to either the low (31 percent) or average (42 percent) group. Out of the 80 reporting a conflict, 39 described the nature of the conflicts, which can be divided into three themes: daily childrearing practices/interactions, specific cultural customs, and biases/preferences toward specific cultural groups.

The most commonly cited conflicts in the daily childrearing domain were related to sustenance. Ten said they experienced conflict related to feeding or timing of giving up the bottle. For example: "I had an African American child whose mother still wants the child to use a bottle after 18 months old," "I had an eight-month-old baby whose Russian mother insisted that the child have tea in her bottle instead of milk," "I have had an Asian child who was still hand-fed by her parents at 18 months and older, and I feel as though children should be allowed to develop their independence." Three caregivers cited conflicts regarding language barriers, three noted gender role issues (boys in dress-up dramatic play; husband not wanting his wife in school and child in child care; showing skin), two mentioned style of nurturance, one noted sleeping techniques, and one cited discipline style.

Eleven caregivers said they had conflicts over specific cultural customs or traditions. Most often, these were conflicts over the celebration of holidays. In more specific instances, one conflict arose over ornamental beads that the caregiver thought might be a choking hazard, and another involved hair that was growing into a child's eyes. The parent believed it was bad luck to cut a baby's hair before the age of 1, while the caregiver was afraid of obstructing the child's vision. The five other belief/custom conflicts were more serious in nature, involving cultural practices that could be construed as abuse in the United States. Specifically, suctioning out illness, holding a child upside down and patting the buttocks and back because of a concave fontanel, not bathing children regularly, and kissing a boy's genitals. "A Hispanic mother believed in the practice of kissing her infant son's genitals. There was much discussion and, due to the family's involvement with Child Protective Services, she was encouraged to stop the practice. After researching the practice, I wish we wouldn't have told her to stop due to its cultural basis."

The last category of conflicts related to biases or preferences parents or caregivers possessed about the competence or worth of particular cultural groups. In one instance, an African American mother objected to a caregiver speaking Spanish around her son. One Hispanic caregiver felt she was being compared to her Caucasian counterparts. An African American parent asked to have her Caucasian caregiver removed, as she wanted a same-race caregiver. Another caregiver talked about reframing her ideas about same-sex parenting. In two other instances, cross-ethnic interactions were more hostile, including the use of racial slurs and hate rhetoric. "We had a white grandparent who once made an anti-Hispanic comment to a Hispanic staff member."


The first research question posed by this investigation was whether a tri-dimensional model of cultural competence could be reliably applied to the study of infant and toddler child care providers. It was found that the ITCCRS had an acceptable alpha, and thus was a reliable instrument for the measurement of cultural competence. However, it did not result in three factors: awareness, knowledge, and skills. This is either because there are not separate dimensions for caregiver cultural competence or because the items need to be refined and tested on a larger group. As five people typically are needed per item, a 200-person sample would shed more light on the efficacy of a tri-dimensional model. Since the single factor comprises awareness, knowledge, and skills questions, it is recognized that a person who scores high on this scale answered competently on items related to awareness, knowledge, and skills.

Caregiver Cultural Competence

Scores fell in mid-range, with an average score of 4.39 (SD = .57) on a 6-point scale. This average score indicates that most caregivers have begun the process of developing cultural competence, but have room for growth. Most participants reported that it was very important to have training in diversity and the majority said they would like such training, demonstrating a willingness to continue the growth process.

A more detailed analysis of item scores revealed that caregivers scored high on items relating to knowledge of culturally inclusive environments. For example, "Including dolls and pictures of people with various skin colors is important in infant/ toddler classrooms" (M = 5.46) was the highest item score on the ITCCRS. Caregivers also disagreed that "Pictures of the families of infants and toddlers are not important in early childhood classrooms" (M = 5.29).

As culturally inclusive environments are widely talked about and referenced in the early childhood literature (Derman-Sparks, 1995b; Derman-Sparks & the A.B.C. Task Force, 1989; NAEYC, 1995; York, 1991), it is probable that caregivers have come in contact with and processed these ideas. Research on segregated, or culturally isolating, environments, and the effects these environments have on children's self-concept, have been studied for over 60 years (Clark & Clark, 1947; Horowitz, 1936, 1939), affirming the necessity of tangible, concrete representations of cultural diversity.

Caregivers also demonstrated knowledge about the interplay of culture and child development. Most agreed that "Providing care that is similar to a parent's care (when appropriate) helps infants and toddlers feel secure" (M = 5.19), and disagreed that infants and toddlers are too young to be influenced by culture (M = 4.96). The majority also agreed that "Culture is important for identity development" (M = 4.86) and that "Infants and toddlers can tell when caregiving practices at child care are different from caregiving practices at home" (M = 4.80). Knowledge of the interplay between culture and development is concrete and can be acquired through books in most early childhood college classrooms.

Caregiver scores suggest some mixed messages about self-awareness. While most caregivers agreed with the statement "Learning about culture is an ongoing process" (M = 5.40), disagreed that "I am blind to culture" (M = 5.08R), and agreed that they try to learn about their family histories through stories and pictures (M = 4.97), far fewer agreed that their cultural/ethnic backgrounds influence the way they care for children at work (M = 3.41). Many seemed unaware that their ethnic heritage influences their care of children. According to Bennett (1993), without an understanding of their own worldviews, these caregivers will be less able to understand the worldviews of others.

Furthermore, the majority of caregivers reported that they did not hold any stereotypes about people from different cultures. While on the surface this may sound like anti-bias, it may indicate a lack of self-awareness. Banks (1994) argues that teachers must recognize and acknowledge their stereotypes in order to work meaningfully with others; Sue et al. (1998) concur.

Caregiver responses reveal uncertainty about how to interact with culturally diverse children and families. Many caregivers agreed that they incorporate parents' childrearing practices into center care (M = 4.45); at the same time, however, most said they try to care for all children the same way at child care, regardless of how they are cared for at home (M = 4.08). This finding speaks to the uncertainty of how to provide individualized care while also providing all children with respectful, responsive care. Caregivers also stated "When cultural conflicts arise, I talk with parents about their viewpoints" (M = 4.80). Yet, in another mixed signal, caregivers were less apt to "Actively seek out cultural information when I don't see eye-to-eye with a parent" (M = 3.95). Furthermore, caregivers express uncertainty when they indicate, "It is important to agree with all the cultural ideas and practices of the children in my care" (M = 3.67). Developmental theory would suggest that not all ideas and practices should be supported because some may be harmful to children, or they may be too contrary to developmentally appropriate practice.

Other items relate to language use and home visits. Most either agreed or somewhat agreed that they use (M = 4.17) and understand (M = 4.63) some words from children's home languages. That many caregivers are not using any words from a child's home language may be putting some children at risk for losing that language (Wong Fillmore, 1991). Most disagreed that they schedule home visits to learn about infants'/toddlers' home environments (M = 2.44)--losing an opportunity for knowledge collection and information sharing regarding a child's home culture. As a whole, these item scores give some insight into caregivers' knowledge, as well as suggest some confusion about how to negotiate cultural differences in the early childhood classroom--an indication that skill-building efforts could be beneficial.

Qualitative data illuminate some of the cultural conflicts that caregivers and parents negotiate. Three broad categories of conflicts emerged: daily caregiving, traditions/customs, and parent/caregiver bias. Conflict related to care was most frequently reported by caregivers, particularly with regard to feeding. This type of conflict is logical in infancy because it not only consumes a good deal of time in infant care, but also is associated with a variety of cultural components, such as food preferences, timing and style of feeding, nurturance, philosophies of childrearing, such as fostering independence versus interdependence, and the length of time a child is considered "a baby" within a culture (Gonzalez-Mena, 2001; Lynch & Hanson, 1998).

The second area of conflict pertained to divergent beliefs and customs. Many cultures have traditions or practices that involve getting a baby "off to a good start" and on a successful life path. Others involve ritualized ways of healing and protecting children (Lynch & Hanson, 1998). Such traditions, similar to those outlined in the results section, often stand in marked contrast to Anglo-centered childrearing practices. When childrearing practices are starkly different, they become hard to "ignore," and are thus cultural conflicts.

The final area of conflict centered on racial bias, with several caregivers reporting parents' lack of comfort with culturally dissimilar caregivers. A history of actual or perceived mistreatment by people of another ethnic background may cause a person to reject or mistrust a member of that ethnic group--without personal knowledge of the individual's attributes. In many of these cases, it seems the history of racial conflict was either painful enough or so deeply ingrained that they did not want their children to be cared for by someone of the "offending" group.

Also of interest are caregivers who said they have not experienced a cultural conflict. Many said the reason they believed they had never experienced a cultural conflict was because they were open to other cultures. Others said it was because they talk to parents about their desires, while still others said that the children they work with were too young for culture to be an issue. What is most compelling about this group is that they scored lower on the ITCCRS than those who had reported experiencing a cultural conflict. While many believe they are being open and talking with parents, their perceived competence seems to be higher than their actual competence. It appears that those who recognize differences and try to negotiate them are more proficient than those who do not.

Demographic Correlates

A tertiary split was used to divide the sample into low-, average-, and high-scoring groups to provide insight into the caregiver's attributes related to cultural competence. Level of education, child development units, hours of diversity training, and number of books/articles read about diversity were found to differentiate among the groups. The higher competence group had significantly more education than the average or low groups. The low-competence group had fewer child development units than the average and high competence groups. Both hours of diversity training and books/articles read were significantly fewer in the low-competence group compared to the high group. Personal attributes, including age, ethnicity, having own children, experience, and ethnic match, were not found to be significantly different among the three groups.

Multiple linear regression analysis confirmed the link between education and cultural competence scores. The model, explaining 38 percent of the variance in the scores, pointed to child development units as the most significant predictor of cultural competence. Level of education, books/articles read, and hours of diversity training doubtlessly are strongly confounded with the acquisition of units in child development. Therefore, the child development unit variable encompasses all these education-related variables.

These results fall in line with Honig and Hirallal's (1998) finding that child development training was the most predictive of positive classroom interactions. Howes, Whitebook, and Phillips (1992) also highlighted the role of education in general teacher competence. In their investigation, formal education was found to be the most predictive of teacher behavior.

Caregiver ethnicity, years of experience, or having one's own children had no bearing on cultural competence scores. These findings are noteworthy because it suggests that cultural competence does not depend on one's cultural background, how long one has been working with children, or if one is a parent; what matters is that one has received training and education about the role of culture in early childhood settings. Cultural competence is a skill that must be worked at, not something that some groups inherently have or something one absorbs just by being around children. That years of experience did not correlate with competence supports the findings of Honig and Hirallal (1998) and Howes, Whitebook, and Phillips (1992), who found that years of experience were not a reliable indicator of general competence in the early childhood classroom.


Results were limited to the responses of 109 infant and toddler child care providers, all of whom worked in the same county, volunteered for the study, and were nested within 30 child care centers. Thus, the possibility exists that confounding factors influenced the outcome of the study. The sample size made it difficult to get large comparison groups for such variables as ethnicity, limiting within-group comparisons. Furthermore, the sample size made it difficult to ascertain whether the scale was an accurate measure of the tri-dimensional subscales: awareness, knowledge, and skills. The fact that the ITCCRS is a newly devised instrument that has not been standardized or validated on a large population sample is another limitation. There is no guarantee the items accurately measure caregiver cultural competence. As the reversed items seemed to be confusing to some participants, these items need to be rephrased. Due to the nature of questionnaires, there is also no guarantee that participants did not misreport information or respond in ways that they believed to be politically correct or self-ingratiating. Observations would help determine if caregiver statements reflect actual rather than perceived caregiver-child and caregiver-family interactions. Further research is needed to replicate and broaden the scope of this investigation.


Based on the results of this investigation, it is crucial that caregivers receive more training specifically aimed at increasing communication and interaction skills with culturally different children and families. The majority of caregivers did not know all the parents' childrearing practices, and were ambiguous about incorporating the practices they did know. Caregivers must walk a fine line to provide care that is developmentally and culturally appropriate. A well-developed set of communication skills, mixed with knowledge of cultures and personal awareness, is needed to negotiate cultural conflicts.

College level child development units were the best predictor of cultural competence scores. Because training at this level is seemingly effective, expanded efforts to include more communication and interaction skills training, as well as more self-awareness exercises, is recommended. Because not all caregivers are going to college, it also would be important to extend training beyond the classroom. Diversity trainers could provide inservice training at child care centers to help educate caregivers about working with culturally different families and providing congruent care. It would be optimal if child care center directors were well-versed in providing culturally competent care and could offer coaching on cross-cultural interactions. Most caregivers responded that they would like more training about working with culturally different children and families. Educators should take heed of this desire and make such training accessible.
Table 1
Percents (or Mean and SD) for
Demographic Variables

Variable %

 0-3 years 34.9%
 4-7 years 32.1%
 8 or more years 33.0%
Ethnic Group
 Caucasian 56.0%
 Hispanic 19.3%
 African American 13.8%
 Asian 6.4%
 Bi/Multiracial 4.5%
 < High School 3.7%
 High School 45.4%
 A.A. Degree 31.5%
 B.A. Degree 18.5%
 M.A. Degree .9%
Type of Center
 Church-Sponsored 9.3%
 Corporate-Sponsored 10.2%
 Federally Funded 19.4%
 Private for Profit 20.4%
 Private Not for Profit 28.7%
 State-Funded 11.1%
 Other .9%
Ethnic Difference w/Children
 None 3.7%
 1-24% 30.6%
 25-49% 21.3%
 50-74% 23.1%
 75-100% 21.3%
Age in Years 33.81 (M) 12.60 (SD)

Table 2
Correlations Between Cultural Competence
Scores and Demographic and Background Variables

Variable 1 2 3 4

1. Cultural Comp. --
2. Age .22 * --
3. Ethnic Group (1) -.12 -.06 --
4. Experience .02 .49 ** -.02 --
5. Own Children (2) -.03 -.32 ** -.07 -.09
6. % Ethnic Diff w/Child. -.03 -.11 .22 * -.18
7. Child Dev. Units .49 ** .36 ** .05 .22 *
8. Hrs. Training .31 ** .27 ** .17 .13
9. Books/Articles Read .35 ** .29 ** .10 .27 **
10. Education .32 ** .34 ** -.06 .19 *

Variable 5 6 7

1. Cultural Comp.
2. Age
3. Ethnic Group (1)
4. Experience
5. Own Children (2) --
6. % Ethnic Diff w/Child. .09 --
7. Child Dev. Units -.18 .13 --
8. Hrs. Training -.08 .31 ** .47 **
9. Books/Articles Read -.08 .07 .38 **
10. Education .12 .03 .41 **

Variable 8 9 10

1. Cultural Comp.
2. Age
3. Ethnic Group (1)
4. Experience
5. Own Children (2)
6. % Ethnic Diff w/Child.
7. Child Dev. Units
8. Hrs. Training --
9. Books/Articles Read .69 ** --
10. Education .25 * .17 --

(1) Coded 0 = Caucasian, 1 = Other ethnic group.

(2) Coded 0 = No, 1 = Yes.

* p < .05.

** p < .01

Table 3
Results of Multiple Linear Regression Analysis Predicting
Caregiver Cultural Competence (total [R.sup.2] =.38)

Predictor Variable Beta t p

Age .10 .96 .34
Ethnic Group (1) -.09 -1.08 .28
Books/Articles Read .17 1.35 .18
Child Dev. Units .40 3.94 .00
Education .18 1.83 .07
Hrs. Diversity Training .05 .38 .70
Experience -.17 -1.74 .09
Own Children (2) .04 .42 .68
% Ethnic Diff. w/Child -.08 -.84 .41

(1) Coded 0 = Caucasian, 1 = Other ethnic group.

(2) Coded 0 = No, 1 = Yes.

The authors would like to acknowledge Heather Frederick, Ph.D., and Terry Cronan, Ph.D. for their contributions to this article.


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Amy Dale Obegi, M.S.

Shulamit Natan Ritblatt, Ph.D.

San Diego State University
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Author:Ritblatt, Shulamit Natan
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Date:Mar 22, 2005
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