Cultural Sensitivity in Early Intervention Services

Grafton’s Infant and Toddler Connection (ITC) provide services to many families in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Roughly ten percent of those families speak another language besides English. About seven percent of those families in our region are Spanish speaking. These families come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico just to name a few. In my role as a bilingual Case Manager/Service Coordinator I am able to successfully communicate the role and purpose of our program so that families feel comfortable with the assessment and treatment process. For the majority of the families that I support, Spanish is their primary language, but for some it may be their second or even third language.

Primary languages may include Indigenous languages that vary from country to country as well as within in each country. An individual from one part of Guatemala may speak K’iche and have a basic understanding of Spanish while another may only speak Guatemalan Spanish. Knowing this becomes very important when communicating with families because you must communicate on a level in which the family understands. The Spanish language may actually vary from city to city, state to state and country to country. Sometimes just knowing Spanish isn’t enough; you must learn a little about the individual’s culture to get a better picture.

parental engagement

In addition to having a bilingual staff, ITC staff use interpreting services for ongoing therapy services. Throughout the progression of the program providers have become familiar with effective strategies in using interpreters to their benefit and the benefit of the family. For some providers, not being able to communicate with a family member makes them feel helpless and frustrated. This type of feeling is very common for some families in our program as well. It is important to create clear communication with interpreters who many times are cultural brokers. Cultural brokers help to educate both sides when terms, thoughts and activities are unclear due to cultural differences.

The Hispanic culture is a collective culture meaning many family members and close friends are part of their circle and involved in major decisions. Following through with the doctor’s referral to ITC may be a serious event for the family. Although our plans are written for the child and his “family” we must incorporate those that are important to the family. For example, if a close family friend is in the home every day then inquiring about that person’s level of interaction with the child is appropriate. It is very common for grandparents or elder family members to take over the care of a child in the home.

In summary, ITC works hard to ensure that families feel comfortable in our program and that they are fully aware of the services available to them. ITC also provides staff with the tools that they need to perform effectively and provide families with the highest level of service. Knowing Spanish does not mean that everyone will understand you. Learning more about the country of origin and its culture and beliefs will help build stronger relationships with the families that we serve.

For more information on Grafton’s early intervention services, please visit