Developmental Screening in Culturally Diverse Communities


By Jennifer Hall-Lande, PhD, University of Minnesota
Reviewed by Maly Lee, parent partner

A key component to effectively working with culturally diverse families requires an understanding of their culturally based views and perspectives. Further, there is a wide spectrum of diverse cultural perspectives on typical versus atypical development. For example, common observed behaviors such as eye contact, social play skills, and a child’s activity level are all influenced by cultural expectations. Further, in many cultures, even bringing up an area of concern before the age of 2 may seem inappropriate or strange to a family. Other cultures may view the screening process itself as a way “looking for a problem.”

There is growing demand for health care providers to provide culturally competent care to young children and their families. Culturally competent practitioners address cultural and linguistic differences when presenting early developmental screening and developmental concerns. Some best practices in culturally competent screening include:

  • Use of well-trained interpreters or cultural liaisons with both an understanding of developmental screening and culture.
  • Provide translated materials. Consider both literacy level and home language. Provide local cultural adaptations to make culturally relevant to local community. Note: Many commonly used terms in developmental screening may not exist in native language.
  • Use validated screening tools that have been developed with and normed on the cultural population being screened (when possible).
  • Ask the family first about concerns in child’s development or behavior. Let them share a story or observation about their child.
  • Look for common ground between what the family is seeing and your developmental concerns. Use this as a way to build connection and trust.

Becoming a culturally competent health care provider is an ongoing, evolving process for both individual professionals and the larger organizations in which we work. Developing these strong and trusting family-professional partnerships that respect cultural views is key to providing high quality care to children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

References available upon request.

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