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Multi-systemic consultation with Latino students.


Consultation services have shown to produce positive outcomes for students. Unfortunately, current consultation models and research do not address the specific needs of Latino students. This paper proposes that in order for consultation models to improve outcomes for Latino students, they must emphasize three areas. These areas are: (a) using a multi-systemic approach to consultation; (b) actively involving parents, and (c) considering and incorporating cultural and language factors in the process and content of consultation.


Latino children, including limited English proficient (LEP) students, compose a significant percentage of the overall public school population (Carrasquillo, 1999). It has been estimated that by 2010, over half of the students in Texas, California and Florida will be non-Euro-American (Hodkginson & Outtz, 1992) and Latino youth will soon outnumber African American youth, making Latino youth the largest minority group in the United States (Carrasquillo, 1999). Yet, despite legislation (i.e., Lau vs. Nichols, Diana vs. Board of Education) to provide for the specific needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students with adequate services in the schools, the field of education does not appear to fully understand or incorporate best practices in systematically serving Latino students. Hence, it is not surprising that Latinos, including Latino children, are "one of the largest yet least effectively served ethnic populations in the United States" (McNeill, Prieto, Niemann, Pizarro, Vera, & Gomez, 2001, p. 6).

While there is some literature describing the specific needs of the Latino student population, only a few articles address consultation issues with Latino students and families. Cultural factors (i.e., familismo, machismo, etc.) within the Latino culture have been delineated in regards to how they may affect academic achievement and adjustment (La Roche & Shriberg, 2004) and how one may use these cultural factors when collaborating with Latino families (Correa & Tulbert, 1993; Osterling, 2001). More specific suggestions regarding how to work with the Latino student population using consultation have been offered by other researchers. Lopez (2000) describes the use of interpreters in consultation and Tarver-Behring, Cabello, Kushida, and Murguia (2000) describe through case studies cultural modifications in consultation with Latino students and families. Ingraham (2000) developed a framework from which to approach consultation cases with a multicultural focus. While these are important contributions to how consultants can work with Latino students and families using a consultation process, a systematic approach to meeting the specific needs of the Latino student population, is lacking (Ingraham, 2000).

While it is beyond the scope of this paper to fully describe a systematic consultation approach to working with Latino students and families, this paper proposes that current models of consultation do not fully address the specific needs of Latino students in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for this population. This paper proposes that consultation with Latino students requires focus on areas currently not emphasized in current consultation models. Areas that need to be emphasized when consulting with Latino students and families are: (a) using a multisystemic approach to consultation; (b) actively involving parents, and (c) considering and incorporating cultural and language factors in the process and content of consultation.

Using a Multi-Systemic Approach in Consultation

Brofennbrenner's (1977) systems-ecological model emphasizes the need to evaluate various systems related to the child. According to Fine (1992), these systems ate: the microsystem (involves the relationship among people in the child's immediate social and physical environment, such as relationships within the classroom or home), the mesosystem (the interrelationships among the various settings or systems in which the child is a part of, such as the relationship between school and family), the exosystem (considers specific social structures and institutions of society, such as transportation, mass media, etc.), and macrosystem (the overall cultural and institutional patterns of which the other systems are a part of, such as legal, economic, political social and educational systems). As a result of Brofennbrenner's (1977) systems-ecological model, various professionals in the field of consultation (c.f., Hughes et al., 2001 ; Sheridan & Gutkin, 2000) promote an ecological orientation to service delivery. However, when reviewing the educational literature on consultation models using a systems-ecological approach, microsystem and mesosystem are emphasized with focus on the family and/or school systems. Less emphasis is placed on the other systems (e.g., exosystem, macrosystem), which need to be addressed when working with Latino students and families, especially since Latino students and families face many issues related to these systems.

In addition, generating interventions to address various areas of need in the various systems beyond family and school are not emphasized. The need to design interventions at the different systemic levels, thus involving various community agencies to address the various needs impacting Latino students (e.g., poverty, legal, educational issues), have been emphasized (Osterling, 2001). As a result, for the purpose of this paper we will refer to a systems-ecological approach as a multi-systemic approach, in which conceptualization of the problem involves the various systems proposed by Bronfenbrenner (1977). Moreover, interventions in the various systems should be considered in order to ameliorate the student's difficulties and promote resiliency. The multi-systemic approach to treatment has been illustrated to be effective with antisocial behavior of children and adolescents within a therapeutic treatment approach (Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998). Positive outcomes are expected when a multi-systemic model is used in consultation.

The multi-systemic approach is believed to promote positive outcomes with Latino students because of the many needs they and their families' experience. Latino students continue to experience a lag in academic achievement, are over-represented in special education and under represented in gifted programs, are disproportionally expelled or suspended, and have a high drop out rate (Figueroa & Artiles, 1999). Moreover, Latino students are also over-represented in samples of families at-risk for poor behavioral and mental health outcomes (Martinez, DeGarmo, & Eddy, 2004). Overall the factors that affect the Latino population's success are poor nutrition, poor housing, poor education, tow academic attainment, lack of employment opportunities, poverty, teen pregnancy, poor health status and care, high drop out rate, and low levels of participation in higher education (Rodriguez & Morrobel, 2004). In addition, negative peer pressure, deviant behaviors, school-related problems, drop out, depression, somatic symptoms, generalized anxiety, simple phobias, and drug and alcohol use have all been cited in the literature to significantly impact the Latino student population (Prieto et al., 2001; Rodriguez & Morrobel, 2004). The Latino student population's many and varied needs delineates a need for a multisystemic approach to treatment (Castaneda, 1994). In addition, it is imperative to involve various professionals and agencies who can address and intervene with the various needs affecting the Latino student population from a resiliency or asset based model (La Roche & Shriberg, 2004; Osterling, 2001).

Latino Parent Involvement

While a multi-systemic approach has shown to produce positive outcomes for some students (Henggeler, Schoenwald, Borduin, Rowland, & Cunningham, 1998), the most important system to involve in consultation is the family, more specifically, the parents. Despite much research supporting parent involvement and its high correlation with improved academic and adjustment outcomes for students, Latino parent involvement in consultation occurs infrequently (Hughes et al., 2001; Knoff, 1999; Osterling, 2001). A frequent excuse for not involving parents is the belief that Latino parents are either not interested, are uninvolved, or do not speak the language (Osterling, 2001). As a result, "educators frequently [do not try] to involve the parent(s) and focus upon interventions limited to the school environment" (Knoff, 1999, p. 450), thus ignoring family and ecological factors affecting the student.

Involving parents is least likely to occur without systematic planning. Systematic planning to improve home-school collaboration should involve: (a) proactively establishing home-school collaboration, (b) using sensitivity and respect for cultural differences, (c) recognizing and valuing the important contributions parents make in the educational process, (d) promoting parental empowerment through positive, interactive communication based on respect and trust (Knoff, 1999), (e) making special arrangements to meet with parents in and out of the school settings (Osterling, 2001), and (f) using appropriate language or dialect to communicate with parents. As a result, consultants working with Latino students and families will have to take added steps (e.g., meeting after hours, meeting outside of the school setting, incorporating cultural and linguistic factors, reinforcing parental contributions, and empowering them) to systematically involve parents in consultation and address the different cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions, which compromise Latino student success.

Cultural and Language Factors in Consultation

In addition to having a multi-systemic focus and involving parents, consulting with Latino students requires for the consultant to account for cultural and language factors. Research demonstrates that with the Latino population, cultural and language factors play a significant role in the final outcome of the service(s) offered (Gamst, Dana, Der-Harabetian, & Kramer, 2004). As a result, cultural and language factors need to be incorporated in consultation models with the Latino population. Clarifying cultural differences between home and school will also lead educators and parents to a better understanding of their Latino students' needs (La Roche & Shribert, 2004). In addition, the consultation process should include awareness of, and sensitivity to, differences between home and school cultures, and the need for the consultant to mediate between these two cultural contexts for successful consultation outcomes (Ingraham & Tarver Behring, 1998; Rogers, 2002).

School consultants who are not bilingual or sometimes do not have the cultural awareness or cultural training and competence to work with families of diverse backgrounds, should employ an outside interpreter and/or culturally competent mediator to assist with the consultation process (Maital, 2000). It has been described that using interpreters is important when consulting with Latino parents (Lopez, 2000). While some focus has been given to the effective use of interpreters, not as much focus has been given to the use of cultural mediators or to what should be the characteristics or competencies required of a cultural mediator. The use of a cultural mediator, when the consultant is unaware of cultural variables, should be equally important. However, using a cultural mediator should by no means excuse consultants from attempting to develop multicultural consultation competencies.

Various cross-cultural and multi-cultural consultation competencies have been suggested by various professionals in the field of consultation. The reader is referred to Rogers (2002), who summarizes some of these competencies and to Ingraham's (2000) multi-cultural consultation framework. Cross-cultural and multi-cultural competencies may range from understanding one's cultural background and value to how these competencies differ from those of the client population. They also focus on how cultural and language factors need to be considered in the process of consultation in order to understand the cultural, socio-political, and developmental factors affecting the population to be served. The cross-cultural competencies and multi-cultural consultation framework serve as a good starting point to guide consultants' consultation with Latino students and families.

Consultants may need to adapt current consultation models in various ways in order to more effectively serve the Latino student population and their families. For example, when consulting with Latino students and families consultants need to consider that in order to connect with Latino families, consultants need to be viewed as credible and being able to conceptualize the presenting problem in a manner that is congruent with the family's belief system (Rogers, 1998). The problem should be conceptualization with a culturally and linguistically focus, incorporating the family's values, beliefs, perceptions, and integrating the various systems involved. Consultants also need to consider that when working with the Latino population, the consultant may need to adapt an expert approach, rather than a collaborative approach, given that Latino parents may be seeking guidance and may not understand how they can assist their children academically or with their adjustment (Osterling, 2001). Moreover, interventions generated through consultation should be based on intervention goals that are mutually defined by the consultant and consultees, should be linguistically and culturally sensitive, should involve the parent, and should have a multi-systemic focus.


Many consultation models have shown to produce positive outcomes for students. However, these models do not address a specific framework from which to address specific issues affecting the Latino student population. While a more specific framework to use in consultation with Latino students is needed, this paper suggests that in order for consultation models to improve outcomes for Latino students they must emphasize three main areas. These three areas are: (a) having a multi-systemic focus (b) being proactive in seeking Latino parent involvement, and (c) incorporating cultural and language factors in the process and content of consultation.

Consultants need to have a good understanding of Latino student and families' needs, which are many and are varied. A multi-systemic focus will assist the consultant in understanding, evaluating, and intervening at the various systems, ranging from the individual student, school, and family, to focusing on social, economic, legal, political, and educational factors. It is also important for consultants to understand that the involvement of Latino parents in consultation is of outmost importance and should be done in a proactive manner. In addition, school consultants need to incorporate culture and language within the process and content of consultation. This means that when using various consultation models, consultants will need to address the parent in a language they understand. In addition, they will need to incorporate knowledge on how cultural and language differences influence the student, family, school and the consultation process and outcome.


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Wilda Laija-Rodriguez, California State University, Northridge Shari Tarver-Behring, California State University, Northridge

Wilda Laija-Rodriguez is an assistant professor and coordinates the NASP accredited school psychology program at CSUN. Shari Tarver-Behring is a professor in the school psychology and school counseling programs at CSUN.
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Author:Tarver-Behring, Shari
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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