Adoption Triad: Cultural Humility

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March 2023   |   Archive   |   National Adoption Month   

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Cultural Humility

When a child joins an adoptive family they bring with them their own experiences, beliefs, values, and cultures that might differ from those of their parents and siblings. The adoptive parents can create a safe and affirming environment by positively recognizing and understanding the child’s identity, culture, and traditions. This requires caregivers to respect, learn, and interact with people from other cultures while practicing cultural humility. Cultural humility means the caregiver recognizes their personal cultural biases and has an open mind and respectful curiosity about cultures that are different from their own. As children become older, learn more, and have more experiences, parents practicing cultural humility is extremely important to ensure that children continue to feel supported and accepted. Conversations about the child’s culture are ongoing and provide caregivers with opportunities to listen and learn from these conversations for lifelong cultural learning.

Throughout childhood and adolescence, children are exploring and developing their own identity that is heavily shaped by their culture (values, beliefs, systems of language, communication, and practices that people share that can be used to define them as a collective). One thing to keep in mind is that children who have experienced separation and loss may have also experienced trauma or have heard from family members about trauma that they have experienced (intergenerational trauma). These traumas also impact a child’s sense of identity. Caregivers need to openly listen to their child when speaking about their traumatic experiences and help children process the trauma and emotions that they might have.

It is normal for conflict to occur over the cultural differences between the caregiver and child. There is a human tendency to dismiss and judge differences based on one’s own culture, beliefs, and values. This difference in cultures can cause discomfort. There are mechanisms that caregivers can use to reconcile these differences, including practicing self-awareness, self-reflection, adaptability, and flexibility. Self-awareness and self-reflection include being aware of how their childhood and upbringing was different than their child’s. This includes what feelings and emotions come up for the caregiver in relation to the child and their child’s culture. When caregivers show an appreciation for their child’s diversity, it helps the child feel supported and valued, which leads to children feeling a sense of pride in themselves. At the same time, caregivers need to be adaptable and flexible in their own parenting styles to further empower the child. Caregivers should not pressure or push their own culture and beliefs onto their child. Instead, caregivers should find ways to celebrate and incorporate into daily life the cultures, values, beliefs, and traditions of the child and the caregiver.

Here are 3 resources that can provide more information about cultural humility and can help professionals and parents to practice it:


“Cultural Humility
Practice Principles”



By National Child Welfare
Workforce Institute


"How to Honor Your Child's Birth Family"




By Spaulding for Children (2022)


“National Training and Development
Curriculum Parent Tipsheet: Cultural Humility”


By Spaulding for Children (2022)


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