Cultural support workers in the Aotearoa New Zealand healthcare setting: Challenge and opportunity for health social work


  • Maree Goh Mercy Hospice, Auckland, New Zealand



Cultural support, healthcare services, social work, health disparities


INTRODUCTION: In Aotearoa New Zealand, as elsewhere in the world, healthcare providers are seeking better ways to engage with increasingly ethnically and linguistically diverse communities. The use of cultural support workers (CSWs) to act as a bridge between services and such communities is proving to be an effective strategy for achieving this. For the social work profession, the advent of CSW roles presents both challenges and opportunities.

APPROACH: A review of literature outlines the challenge of delivering culturally responsive and appropriate services to migrant and refugee communities and describes the role played by CSWs to increase the cultural understanding of healthcare providers and improve health outcomes for these communities. The impact of such roles on health social work is explored and how current social work education prepares practitioners for practice in an increasingly multicultural society.

CONCLUSIONS: This article outlines the key issues that arise from the introduction of CSWs, the potential for collaboration and the opportunity that exists for health social work to refocus and redefine its role in the healthcare setting.


Alvillar, M., Quinlan, J., Rush, C., & Dudley, D. (2011). Recommendations for developing and sustaining community health workers. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 22(3), 745-750. doi:

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). (2014). ANZASW Social work practice standards: Enhancing competent social work practice. Retrieved from Practice-Standard-Publication-Full-Nov-14.pdf

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). (2019). ANZASW code of ethics. Retrieved from Code-of-Ethics-Final-1-Aug-2019.pdf

Auckland City Council. (2013). Ethnicity and migration in Auckland. Technical Report 2013/012. TR2013-012-Ethnicity-and-migration-in-Auckland.pdf

Beddoe, L. (2018). Social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand: Building a profession. Practice, 30(4), 305–320. doi:10.1080/09503153.2018.1478955

Beddoe, L., & Deeney, C. (2012). Discovering health social work in New Zealand in its published work: Implications for the profession. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 24(1), 41–55.

Chen, M. (2015). Superdiversity stocktake: Implications for business, government and New Zealand. Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business: Wellington,

New Zealand.

Craig, S. L., & Muskat, B. (2013). Bouncers, brokers, and glue: The self-described roles of social workers in urban hospitals. Health & Social Work 38(1), 7–16. doi:10.1093/hsw/hls064

Craig, S. L., Bejan, R., & Muskat, B. (2013). Making the invisible visible: Are health social workers addressing the social determinants of health? Social Work in Health Care, 52(4), 311–331. doi:10.1080/00981389.2013.764379

Crawley, L.M., Marshall, P.A., Lo, B., & Koenig, B.A. (2002) Strategies for culturally effective end-of-life care (for the End-of-Life Care Consensus Panel). Annals of Internal Medicine, 136(9), 673–679. doi: 200205070-00010

Darnell, J. S. (2007). Patient navigation: A call to action. Social Work, 52(1), 81–84. doi:10.1093/sw/52.1.81

Dohan, D., & Schrag, D. (2005). Using navigators to improve care of underserved patients: Current practices and approaches. Cancer, 104(4), 848–855. doi:10.1002/cncr.21214

Fischer, S. M., Sauaia, A., & Kutner, J. S. (2007). Patient navigation: A culturally competent strategy to address disparities in palliative care. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 10(5), 1023-1028. doi:10.1089/jpm.2007.0070

Fish, J., & Karban, K. (2014). Health inequalities at the heart of the social work curriculum. Social Work Education, 33(1), 15-30. doi:10.1080/02615479.2012.742502

Giles, R., Gould, S., Hart, C., & Swancott, J. (2007). Clinical priorities: Strengthening social work practice in health. Australian Social Work, 60(2), 147–165.

Goh, M. (2018). Exploring the role of cultural support workers in the New Zealand healthcare setting. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 30(2), 68–74. doi:

Henderson, S., & Kendall, E. (2011). “Community navigators”: Making a difference by promoting health in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in Logan, Queensland. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 17(4), 347–354. doi:10.1071/PY11053

Immigration New Zealand. (2019). From INZ Refugee and Protection Unit Statistics Pack - October 2019. Retrieved from statistics/statistics-refugee-and-protection.pdf

International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). (2014). Global definition of the social work profession. Retrieved from

Kagawa-Singer, M., & Backhall, L. (2001). Negotiating cross- cultural issues at end of life. Journal of American Medical Association, 286(23), 2993-3001.

Koenig, B. A., & Gates-Williams, J. (1995). Understanding cultural difference in caring for dying patients. In Caring for patients at the end of life [Special issue]. Western Journal of Medicine, 163, 244–249.

Lawrence, J., & Kearns, R. (2005). Exploring the “fit” between people and providers: Refugee health needs and health care services in Mt Roskill, Auckland, New Zealand. Health & Social Care in the Community, 13(5), 451–461. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2524.2005.00572.x

Lickiss, J. N. (2003). Approaching death in multicultural Australia. Medical Journal Australia, 179, S14-S16. PMID: 12964928 Version: 1.

Maidment, J., Egan, R., & Wexler, J. (2011). Social work with older people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds: Using research to inform practice. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 23(3), 3-15. doi:10.11157/anzswj-vol23iss3id156

Mortensen, A. (2011). Public health system responsiveness to refugee groups in New Zealand: Activation from the bottom up. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand,

, 123–134.

Mortensen, A., Latimer, S., & Yusuf, I. (2014). Cultural case workers in child disability services: An evidence-based model of cultural responsiveness for refugee families. Kotuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Services Online.

Nadan, Y. (2014). Rethinking “cultural competence” in international social work. International Social Work, 60(1), 74–83.

Nash, M., & Trlin, A. D. (2004). Social work with immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in New Zealand:New Settlers Programme. Palmerston North New Zealand: Massey University.

National Association of Social Workers. (2001). NASW standards for cultural competence in social work practice. Washington, DC: Author.

Nemcek, M., & Sabatier, R. (2003). State of evaluation: Community health workers. Public Health Nursing, 20(4), 260–270.

Nguyen, D. D., Ho, K. H., & Williams, J. H. (2011). Social determinants and health service use among racial and ethnic minorities: Findings from a community sample. Social Work in Health Care, 50(5), 390–405.

Papps, E., & Ramsden, I. (1996). Cultural safety in nursing: The New Zealand experience. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 8(5), 491–497.

Park, H.-J., & Anglem, J. (2012). The “transnationality” of Koreans, Korean families and Korean communities in Aotearoa New Zealand: Implications for social work practice. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 24(1), 31-40. doi:10.11157/anzswj-vol24iss1id139

Perese, L., Ulugia-Veukiso, A., Samu, K. S., Sepuloni, C., & Peteru, C. (2009). Workforce development: A study of Pacific non-regulated workers. Report prepared for the Health Research Council Partnership Programme. Auckland, NZ: University of Auckland.

Pockett, R. (2014). “Health in all placements” as a curriculum strategy in social work education. Social Work Education, 33(6), 731–743. doi:10.1080/02615479.2013.874411

Pockett, R., & Beddoe, L. (2015). Social work in health care: An international perspective. International Social Work, 60(1), 126–139. doi:10.1177/0020872814562479

Ramsden, I. (1990). Kawa whakaruruhau: Cultural safety in nursing education in New Zealand. Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Education.

Ramsden, I. (2000). Cultural safety/Kawa whakaruruhau ten years on: A personal overview. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 15(1), 4–12.

Rosenthal, E. L., Wiggins, N., Brownstein, J. N., Johnson, S., Borbón, I. A., & De Zapien, J. G. (1998). Final report of the National Community Health Advisor Study. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Rosenthal, E., Wiggins, N., Ingram, M., Mayfield-Johnson, S., & De Zapien, J. (2011). Community health workers then and now: An overview of national studies aimed at defining the field. The Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, 34(3), 247–259.

Ruwhiu, L. (2001). Bicultural issues in Aotearoa New Zealand social work. In M. Connolly (Ed.), New Zealand social work — Contexts and practice (pp. 54–71). Auckland, NZ: Oxford University Press.

Sauaia, A. (2014). Quest for health equity. New York, NY: Nova Publishers.

Schofield, V. (2001). Health social work. In M. Connolly (Ed.),

New Zealand social work: Contexts and practice (pp. 146–156). Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.

Social Workers Registration Board. (2011a). SWRB competence to practise social work with different ethnic and cultural groups in New Zealand. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board. (2011b). SWRB competence to practise social work with Ma ̄ori. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board. (n.d.). Core competence standards: The SWRB ten core competence standards. Wellington, NZ. Retrieved from social-workers/core-competence-standards/

Spencer, M., Gunter, K., & Palisano, G. (2010). Community health workers and their value to social work. Social Work, 55(2), 169–180.

Vernon, R., & Papps, E. (2015). Cultural safety and continuing competence. In D. Wepa (Ed.), Cultural safety in Aotearoa New Zealand (2nd ed., pp. 51–64). Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press.

Walker, R. (2014). Auckland Region DHBs Asian & MELAA (Middle Eastern, Latin American and African) 2013 census demographic and health profile. Auckland, NZ: Auckland Region District Health Boards.

Walker, S., & Eketone, A. (2013). Biculturalism as an approach to social work. In H. K. Ling, J. Martin, & R. Ow (Eds.), Cross-cultural social work: Local and global (pp. 67–86). South Yarra, VIC: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wang, J. (2000). Highlighting the gaps in existing New Zealand social services: Settlement programmes and Asian services. Unpublished paper presented at the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (Inc) Biennial Conference, Auckland, New Zealand.

Weld, N. (2009). Resuscitating health social work. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work Review, 21/22(4), 25–33.

Wepa, D. (Ed.). (2015). Cultural safety in Aotearoa New Zealand (2nd ed.). Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, D., & Haretuku, R. (2015). Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi 1840. In D. Wepa (Ed.), Cultural safety in Aotearoa New Zealand (2nd ed., pp. 79–93). Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press.




How to Cite

Goh, M. (2019). Cultural support workers in the Aotearoa New Zealand healthcare setting: Challenge and opportunity for health social work. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(4), 48–59.



Original Articles