ENCOUNTERING A MULTICULTURAL FAMILY AS A PROFESSIONAL
There are diverse multicultural families; recently arrived, long-term residents, representatives of second and third generations, multicultural relationships, children of multicultural relationships etc.
Keeping face and honour is important for those coming from collectivist cultures. If there are honour related conflicts it is important to honour client’s wishes in regard to interpreter’s gender and identity. The work with family will yield more fruit if the family trusts the interpreter. If the client does not wish to have face-to-face translation nor reveal their identity to the translator, telephone interpretation is a good option. The interpreter can be located in another room. If the client is in immediate danger, the name and other information involved can be coded to ensure privacy and security.
Each family is unique, with a distinctive family and behaviour culture. Religion and interpretation of it, traditions and culture can greatly alternate even between families coming from the same country. It is important to see and encounter each family as unique. The issues pertaining to the dynamics and interaction of the family might be sensitive; consequently the client might now know how to talk about these issues to individuals outside of the family circle. It takes time to build trust. Often they might think the worker does not understand the family’s culture, traditions and therefore cannot help. It is best to approach the family respectfully and peacefully. It is important to ask how things are done specifically in their family. The clients will gladly tell if asked.
The family members and workers might have a different impression of equality, rights and responsibilities. If the working methods of officials have been disrespectful in the country of origin, the family might react to Finnish officials with high distrust and in conflicting situation view officials as enemies. It is important to explain how the Finnish official works and how their case is progressing.
Best outcome happens when family and its members are given the possibility to speak and explain things in peace.
In all families, including the multicultural families, it is vital to remember that human rights and Finnish legislation is at the centre of proceedings. No religion or culture entitles the failure to comply with Finnish legislation and human rights.
In the case of honour related conflicts, the professional needs to create a safe atmosphere and listen to all sides. It goes without saying that some parents protect honour by limiting their children, which is seen as a means to uphold family and community honour. Officials need to recognise this and allow the clients speak without judging them. If a client openly tells of own understandings, values and expectations for a child, the official needs to think of methods that uphold peaceful progress for the family. Honour and purity related issues resonate deeply with people’s values and consequently raise strong feelings.
In honour related issues it is important to remember that females and males, both, think similarly of the phenomenon and its consequences. It should not be automatically assumed that the instigator in an honour related conflict is the father or husband. Often wives or mothers also control and restrict children. When working with a family, it is a good practice to meet and dialogue with each family member separately. New issues might come up when a client has the opportunity to speak alone face to face.
In collectivist cultures the message is often indirect, enriched with stories and side notes. The professional might find it hard to extract the core of the message. Sometimes it might seem that family members distort the truth and hide much from each other. This might stem from the kind of communications culture the individuals were raised in. Secrecy is a mean to cope and manage in a collectivist culture and patriarchal society. If the family’s and the community’s hierarchy is rigid, it might be frightening to speak openly or to someone. In a family often a message reaches the father through the mother. In case the father is authoritative, the mother might bend the truth for children’s or her own benefit. Often the father might blame the mother for the mishaps and mistakes of the children. Consequently, in these cases keeping secrets from the father is common. The spiral of secrecy might continue from generation to generation.
It is good to remember that a multicultural family might have faced various challenges, for example war and loss related traumas, mental health issues, worry about left behind family members and relatives, unemployment, lack of language skills, marginalised, change of dynamics inside the family, etc. Often in these cases the family might resort to own practises and culture. This might be a protective measure from everything new and unfamiliar. Own practices and traditions might get out of proportion and they might be even exaggerated. This is why it is especially important to approach and work holistically with the family. Honour related concepts might tighten if the family is alone and feels that the Finnish society wants to “take” their children. The Finnish society might appear as over sexualised, liberal and endorsing alcohol use. As a protective measure, the spouse and the children might be restricted even more than before. Having contact to Finnish people and society will influence a change in the family’s attitudes.
All parents, despite their ethnic background, culture and religious background, attempt to raise socially acceptable children. Immigrated parents might find it challenging to piece together what the Finnish society expects of them and their children. Parents from collectivist societies attempt to raise their children according to their values. Sometimes those values can differ or even conflict with the values of the individual society. It is important to explain to the family why we act in certain ways and according to certain values. All parents hope that their children succeed in Finland. However, this necessitates that the parents receive information about parenting in Finland and can reflect on their parenting.
Parents from a collectivist society might find it cold and indifferent how Finnish parents raise their children to be independent and take care of themselves. The parents might find that Finns abandon their children. It is also important to discourse about this and explain why an individual’s responsibility for self and own behaviour is important. Immigrant parents long for information about parenting in Finland. Parenting in a new society can be strengthened by supporting parent’s strengths and also discussing about challenges in the new society. Mildly, it can be explained to the parents that most likely their children will stay in Finland as adults; consequently it is important to understand and accept society’s rules and expectations.
How to act in a conflict and a violent situation
Honour related attitudes and opinions are strongly connected to an individual’s upbringing and personal understanding of good and bad, right and wrong, permissible and forbidden. Honour related values are deeply seated within an individual and often cannot be rationally explained. Understanding of female chastity and sexuality are an example of this.
A conflict might arise, if children and youth do not act according to what parents expect and if parents are afraid of losing honour. If the conflict is not solved, it might escalate. The parents might begin pressuring, restricting and threatening. The parents themselves perceive it as right behaviour, because according to their understanding they are trying to maintain family’s honour. The parents see that their behaviour is for the benefit of their children and it is also a way to show their care. They might repeat the behaviour of their parents and grandparents. The parents need new tools to resolve conflicts.
An official’s responsibility is to disentangle the situation and provide protection for the individual, who is threatened or violated. At the same time it is important to work with the family, so that they understand what is happening. It is challenging to work with a family who experience they have not done anything wrong.