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Multicultural Considerations for Human Services Provided to Minority Adolescents

 Multicultural Considerations for Human Services Provided to Minority Adolescents 

Gregory D. Johnson


The research collected identified multicultural considerations for human services provided to minority adolescents. The multicultural considerations may be explored based upon an individual and a group context. When considering multicultural factors based upon on an individual bases, the research indicated the importance of religion and spirituality as beneficial considerations to safeguard adolescents from negative societal impacts. Spirituality has positive impacts on numerous categories of the adolescents’ lives. Racial and ethnic identities are contributing factors for the well being of disenfranchised adolescents. Self-distraction coping skills have been identified as a multicultural factor for dealing with stress. When dealing with multicultural issues pertaining to disenfranchised adolescents due to the homeless condition, ethical considerations, informed consent, minimal risk, incentives, and balancing privacy with safety are key components to be addressed on an individual level. Other multicultural factors governing homeless adolescents are bonds of family, religion, street language, economics, and music. Multicultural considerations may be addressed at a group level when offering human services to minority adolescents. Research indicated the importance of offering trauma-informed treatment to minority youth in poverty stricken urban areas. As well, the research indicated the importance of addressing minority issues of ethnicity and peer interaction with like minority members to promote positive ethnic identity. Within the group setting, considerations of social variables, mechanisms of stratification and segregation with minority groups may be addressed in order to promote social competence. Programs of empowerment for adolescents have been identified as having positive outcomes for disenfranchised minorities. 

Keywords: multicultural considerations, human services, minority adolescents

Individual Considerations: Religion and Spirituality

        Spirituality and religion are important individual multicultural factors to consider when delivering optimal human services to minority adolescents. “Among American adolescents, 95% state that they believe in God, over 85% say religion is important in their life, and close to 50% claim that they frequently pray alone” (Yeh, Borrero, & Shea, 2011, p. 186). Yeh, Borrero, & Shea (2011) studied the life of a Samoan high school student to understand the importance of spirituality and religion in the lives of minority adolescents as well as examining past studies on the effects of spirituality on the lives of minority adolescents. The research indicated the importance of religious and spiritual beliefs for minority adolescents. With minority youth, spirituality is a key component because it is a factor that influences all aspect of minority adolescents’ lives. Urban schools, urban non-profit organizations, and human services being delivered in urban settings may consider spiritual beliefs and spiritual practices when serving ethnic minorities because for this population spirituality is a key component of their well-being. Ethnic minorities were prone to having some sort of spiritual practice; rather than viewing spirituality as a separate component of life independent of the physical, mental, and emotional, spiritual practice was seen as an interconnected part of the whole for their lives. Ethnic minorities viewed spiritual practice as a healing modality of life (Yeh et al., 2011). 

        When ethnic minorities are involved in religion or applying a spiritual practice in their lives, the outcomes may be far reaching and positive. As a result of spiritual practice, adolescents have a greater capacity for external control, emotional coping mechanisms, and may view life through different perspectives. The personification of spirituality had psychologically and physically positive affects on ethnic minorities, which led to lower symptoms of depression and stress for adolescents. Adolescents’ socioemotional competence and adjustment were positively affected. Spirituality had positive effects on self-esteem and psychological functioning (Yeh et al., 2011). 

        With individual American counseling, counselors may not be prepared to address counseling from a spiritual standpoint as the counselor may see spirituality as separate from other elements of counseling. The human services provider may consider incorporating spirituality as part of the counseling process for ethnic minorities in order to fully embrace the multicultural considerations of this population. The research of Yeh et al. (2011) indicated that American counselors may embrace spiritual practice as a healing modality for disenfranchised ethnic minorities in urban settings. Human services providers may find it useful to incorporate conversation regarding spirituality and its impact on identity formation and scholastic well-being with ethnic minorities within the counseling setting. The research indicated spirituality as a positive component for delivering effective human services to disenfranchised adolescents (Yeh et al., 2011). 

        Further, religion and spirituality may play a significant role in positive mental health outcomes for ethnic minority and disenfranchised adolescents. Huculak and McLennan (2010) conducted research with three hundred twenty-five high-risk Brazilian adolescents, specifically incarcerated youth in Sao Paulo. The research concluded that spirituality and institutionalized religion had a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of these Brazilian adolescents. Spirituality and religion assisted in safe guarding the adolescents from the negative outcomes of exposure to daily stressors and violence. Huculak and McLennan’s (2010) research identified religion and spirituality as pertinent components for offering effective human services to disenfranchised adolescents, specifically those that are currently incarcerated or formerly incarcerated (Huculak & McLennan, 2010). 

        According to Huculak & McLennan’s (2010) research, most of the incarcerated Brazilian youth believed in God or spirituality. These adolescents experienced “strength, peace, harmony, protection, and closeness to God associated with their spirituality or religion” (Huculak & McLennan, 2010, p. 473). The experience of God’s spiritual qualities by the incarcerated youth may serve to protect and safeguard the disenfranchised adolescent’s mental health from stressful events and traumatic experiences. Spirituality may impact the mental health of adolescents positively because of its innate power for self-transcendence, which empowers the self to believe in something greater than self and place its attention on something sacred beyond the confines and limitations of the ego (Huculak & McLennan, 2010). 

Individual Considerations: Racial and Ethnic Identity

        Awareness of racial and ethnic identity is of valuable consideration when examining multicultural factors which enhance the optimal delivery of human services for ethnic minorities. Optimal human services offered to ethnic minorities may examine the importance culture, race, and ethnicity plays in shaping the human development of the adolescent’s life. Williams, Tolan, Durkee, Francois, and Anderson (2012) with the University of Virginia researched the effects of racial and ethnic identity (REI) on the well-being of minority adolescents. Williams et al. (2012) used preexisting studies and data to research this topic, although research for REI tended to focus on black adolescents. The research indicated that the issues of racial and ethnic identity serve the ethnic minority adolescents’ lives when proper attention is given to these important themes. Research concluded that attention to REI considerations has a positive impact on adolescents’ lives beyond the realm of racial and ethnic identity. The impact of inclusion of REI development in counseling, school programs, and non-profit organizations may positively impact all areas of adolescents’ lives. Rather than REI being a consideration for some groups or individuals, REI may be considered as an integral component for all groups and individuals, supporting positive self-esteem and self-worth (Williams, Tolan, Durkee, Francois, & Anderson, 2012). “As youth start to consider their position in, and connection to, a group, racial- or ethnic-group orientation is likely to depend on recognition of the meaning of group identity for opportunity, status, and affiliation with others” (Williams, Tolan, Durkee, Francois, & Anderson, 2012, p. 306). An individual within an ethnic minority group may attain meaning in his or her identity by exploring and understanding his or her race and ethnicity through exploration within the counseling setting (Williams et al., 2012). 

        Additionally, awareness of ethnic identity has been indentified as a positive tool in assisting urban minority groups with processing and coping with the negative effects of racial prejudice and socioeconomic status. Vera, Vacek, Coyle, Stinson, Mull, Doud, and Langrehr (2011) studied one hundred fifty-seven urban minority adolescents through the method of questionnaires to determine factors that support the coping with racial prejudice and socioeconomic status. The research identified awareness of ethnic identity as a key factor in positively processing discrimination and life satisfaction for ethnic urban adolescents (Vera, Vacek, Coyle, Stinson, Mull, Doud, & Langrehr, 2011). “Ethnic identity can serve as a moderator of the relations between stress and negative affect/life satisfaction” (Vera, Vacek, Coyle, Stinson, Mull, Doud, & Langrehr, 2011, p. 66). A keen awareness of ethnic identity has the capacity to safeguard urban minority adolescents from the ill effects of race related stressors on their mental well being. As well, self-distraction coping mechanisms and avoidant coping mechanisms assisted adolescents in positively processing urban troubles and stress. Ethnic minority adolescents living in urban settings may encounter stressors from racial discrimination and socioeconomic status, but the research indicated that with proper guidance in understanding the individual’s ethnic identity by means of delivering optimal human services the minority adolescent may be empowered to effectively cope with these seeming disadvantages with positive behaviors (Vera et al., 2012). 

Individual Considerations: Homeless Minority Adolescents

        Since the homeless population of ethnic minority adolescents is prevalent, multicultural considerations may be examined in order to deliver effective human services to this population. Koller, Raffaelli, and Carlo (2012) conducted research with homeless adolescents on the street of Brazil to determine ethical considerations when working with homeless minority youth. Koller et al. (2012) set out to indentify possible ethical and logistical challenges researchers faced when conducting research with sensitive and disenfranchised populations, in this instance with homeless Brazilian adolescents. The research implicated various ethical factors to consider when upholding the rights of disenfranchised adolescents who have been exploited and abused by means of drug use and trafficking, sexual exploitation, or have been incarcerated. One of the ethical considerations is gaining informed consent for the adolescent’s participation in services and studies. The concept of minimal risk is another deciding ethical factor when considering if a homeless adolescent is appropriate to partake in a study. Minimal risk means that by the adolescent participating in the research at hand, the risk associated with being involved in the study is less than the risk the adolescent endures in his or her daily life. Often times when conducting research, incentives are offered for the individual’s participation. Offering homeless adolescents incentives becomes an ethical consideration because the homeless adolescent may be easily swayed to participate in research due to his or her living variables. Lastly, balancing privacy with the safety of the adolescent is an ethical consideration for researchers and human services professionals. Researchers may witness homeless adolescents partaking in behaviors that are illegal and unsafe. Researchers have to weigh the importance of confidentiality with the individual’s safety (Koller, Raffaelli, & Carlo, 2012). 

        When offering human services to homeless adolescents from all racial groups, researchers, counselors, practitioners, and human services providers “must confront an array of methodological and ethical considerations” (Koller, Raffaelli, & Carlo, 2012, p. 57). Homeless and impoverished adolescents present many challenges to consider when delivering human services to ethnic minority adolescents that include issues of human rights, welfare, and policy. By considering the multicultural ethical factors of service that affect the delivery of human services to homeless adolescents, safety and trust may be established between the professional offering services and the homeless individual (Koller et al., 2012). 

        The homeless condition for ethnic minorities presents a diverse culture of its own, which is quite different from mainstream culture. Joanne Oliveira and Pamela Burke (2009) conducted research with nineteen homeless adolescents in an urban northeast setting of the United States. Research was conducted by means of observation and recorded interviews of participants. The reason for their research was to explore the culture of homeless youth in the United States. Roughly 1.7 million adolescents are homeless in the United States (Oliveria & Burke, 2009). “Findings revealed that homeless adolescents fashioned a defined culture of unprecedented freedom and baffling complexity that is neither seen nor imagined by mainstream society” (Oliveira & Burke, 2009, p. 159). The homeless culture has a unique set of rules, values, and codes, but lacks structure, morality, and consistency (Oliveria & Burke, 2009). 

        The homeless condition for adolescents is caused by several reasons: physical or sexual abuse, sexual orientation, family neglect or abuse, or emancipation from foster care. Religion was one of the strongest bonds that the homeless individuals shared. Family was an important cultural consideration for the street kids as they had formed new families with each other. Music was an important aspect of their survival and peace. The homeless group had a shared street language. The shared street economy was selling drugs and all the participants used drugs. When offering effective human services to homeless ethnic adolescents, professionals may consider engaging individuals by bridging cultural differences by means of these identified and important factors (Oliveira, & Burke, 2009).

Group Considerations: Trauma-Informed Treatment

        Trauma-informed treatment is an important multicultural component when effectively counseling minority youth and offering optimal human services. Becker, Greenwald, and Mitchell (2011) researched the impact of the trauma-informed treatment approach with fifty-nine minority children living in urban areas with a multicultural makeup. This neighborhood had little access to human services. Becker et al. (2011) studied minority youth with presenting behavioral issues, which ultimately were identified as caused by post-traumatic stress. When trauma memories of minority youth are not properly identified and treated, significant emotional, behavioral, educational, and health problems may arise. When focusing on trauma-informed treatment, individuals may be hesitant to continue with treatment because of post-traumatic symptoms of avoidance and lack of optimism (Becker, Greenwald, & Mitchell, 2011). 

        The research of Becker et al. (2011) indicated that poor minority youth have trouble accessing human services because of lack of funds, fear of entering into a system, and parents not speaking the language. Researchers made the services accessible to youth by locating the services within the disenfranchised community, offering services in the native tongue, offering techniques which embraced the values of the community and family, and serving the clients with the individual’s goals in mind (Becker et al., 2011). 

        Frequently minority youth are penalized for the presenting behavioral problems and labeled negatively, rather than getting appropriate treatment for the underlying cause of presenting problems, which is exposure to trauma. As the research indicated when minority youth are offered culturally appropriate counseling, the approach is effective in assisting with presenting problems. The research indicated the importance of cultivating awareness for trauma-informed treatment for disenfranchised urban youth (Becker, et al., 2011). 

Group Considerations: Ethnic Identity Development

        Exploration of ethnic identity within the group counseling setting is a beneficial consideration for ethnic minority youth. The American School Counselor Association (2008) denotes “the use of group as an efficient, effective and positive intervention for addressing youth development, and one that can increase youth insight regarding self and others, foster supportive peer relationships, and help individuals cope with life stressors” (Malott, Paone, Humphreys, & Martinez, 2010, p. 257). Human services offered in group settings to minority youth may be valuable because multicultural issues may be explored and services rendered may address the needs of diverse cultures. Within the group setting, individuals may experience as sense of ethnic pride by identifying with the group and making a commitment to the group (Malott, Paone, Humphreys, & Martinez, 2010). 

        Malott, Paone, Humphreys, and Martinez (2010) conducted research with twenty-three Mexican adolescents who migrated from Mexico and are now living in rural setting in the northeast United States. The adolescents participated in a group counseling setting to assist with issues of identity, fostering change through relationships and identifications within the group, increased relational skills, and greater awareness with issues of ethnicity, including culture and ethnic identity. Due to the process of group counseling the Mexican adolescents gained knowledge and acceptance of the new white culture they lived in and gained insights that not all white people are racist, shifting their perception of the white dominant culture. Participants also realized a heightened sense of ethnic pride by discussing their Mexican heritage in the group setting. Relational skills improved as a result of the group setting. Participants shared that they were able to communicate better, had more patience, and had more respect toward others. Participants were satisfied with the opportunity to discuss and share their ethnic identity with each other without being judged. Latinos dealt with greater stresses brought on by prejudices. Latinos tended to dismiss human services for many reasons, including language barrier, perceived racism within the school setting, and culturally irrelevant services. Although Latinos were inclined not to participate in human services for various reasons, many benefits came of the human services offered in the group setting, when conducted in a culturally aware manner (Malott et al., 2010). 

Group Considerations: Social Competence

        Social competence for minority youth may be addressed by offering group counseling techniques that include treatment for dealing with inhibiting environments of discrimination. Minority youth experience patterns of development and social competence that vary from nonminority youth based upon the individual’s environment and unique characteristics (Myrick, & Martorell, 2011). The factors may be, but not limited to, “racism, prejudice, discrimination, oppression, and segregation” (Myrick & Martorell, 2011, p. 488). 

        Myrick and Martorell (2011) researched three hundred twenty adolescents using questionnaires regarding social competence with minority and nonminority youth. The research explored the connections of discrimination, ethnic identity, attachment, and social competence. Research indentified that discrimination with minority groups had negative implications for social competence. Attachment was a buffering consideration against discrimination but was only prevalent in minority groups. The research indentified factors of socialization that are shared by nonminority and minority adolescents that includes promoting or inhibiting environments, adaptive culture, child characteristics, family, and developmental competencies. Factors of socialization which are not shared by both groups, but only prevalent in nonminority groups are identified as social position variables, mechanisms of stratification, and segregation. To promote social competence among minority youth, human services must address the issues of discrimination, racism, oppression, and segregation. By equipping minority adolescents with education relating to cultural oppression, the youth are empowered to effectively cope with and transmute oppression in positive ways. Minority youth may embrace a higher level of social integration and interaction (Myrick, & Martorell, 2011). 

Group Considerations: Programs of Empowerment

        Human services offering programs of empowerment for ethnic minorities is of important consideration. “Empowerment has been defined as a process of increasing personal, interpersonal, or political power so that individuals, families, and communities can take action to improve their life situations’’ (Pearrow & Pollack, 2009, p. 46). Pearrow and Pollack (2009) researched the implications of teen empowerment. By providing disenfranchised adolescents with empowerment groups and education, adolescents may embody a greater capacity to effectively handle social injustice. When provided with empowerment programs, minority adolescents showed improved aptitude for group bonding, mental health, and scholastic performance. Other benefits are increased self-awareness and social achievement. The research identified programs of empowerment as a key multicultural consideration for offering human services to disenfranchised adolescents (Pearrow, & Pollack, 2009). 


        As the research indicated, minority adolescents may encounter a plethora of issues which are unique to their condition based upon ethnicity and disenfranchisement due to race. The effects of racism, discrimination, oppression, and segregation based upon culture, language barriers, and socioeconomic factors may be circumvented by providing  effective human services specific to the minority adolescent’s life experience. Individual considerations for empowering our minority youth may include the utilization of religious and spiritual tools to bring forth healing and transformation from oppression and violence. Racial and ethnic identities are important factors to be addressed and explored in order to strengthen the individual minority youth. When providing human services for ethnic homeless youth, professionals may consider a heightened sensitivity which is specific to the homeless condition. When human services are offered in a group counseling setting for minority youth, the research indicated that awareness of racial identity and ethnic identity are important factors to be considered. As well, social competence among minority youth may be supported by exploring the inhibiting multicultural sanctions ethnic minorities face in our society. By offering human services which promote empowerment among our disenfranchised minority adolescents, our youth are better equipped to effectively process and overcome the effects of cultural oppression. When human services address the differing conditions of human development for ethnic adolescents, these youth may live lives that are fulfilling and productive despite the perceived exploitations of society. 


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