Beyond Cultural Sensitivity - Risk versus Manageability Assessments of First Nation Peoples

aboriginal cpe culture kultchafi reconciliation Jan 13, 2023
First Nations peoples and risk assessments

Although risk assessments are key when working in fields such as social justice, social work and health care, carrying out these evaluations accurately can be tough when the individual is of First Nations descent.

This difficulty arises from the fact that most available risk assessment tools follow a non-Indigenous perspective. Risk assessment for First Nations Peoples is difficult for non-Indigenous psychologists, social workers and health professionals who may not have the cultural competence to accurately assess risk in this context.

As Kultchafi co-founder and academic Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian (2003) pointed out, most psychologists operate from a CPE (Cultural Philosophical Ethos) that is not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Therefore, it is important for professionals working with First Nations Peoples to be aware of this issue and to try to operationalise an Indigenous CPE when conducting risk assessments.

From one's cultural perspective, or CPE, everyone views and comprehends the world around them differently. Therefore, it can be complicated for someone with various CPE to understand another perspective. While trying to create culturally sensitive assessments, it is critical to use methods that are fitting from the standpoint of the CPE we're assessing.

For instance, when devising a manageability assessment of First Nation clients through interviews rather than labels, psychometrists have to rely on the advice of Indigenous Elders instead of following conventional test construction rules (which would be based on a western Caucasian CPE). By using a CPE that is more suitable for the population being assessed, we can create assessments that are not only more precise but also less culturally insensitive.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often assessed by the government in term of risk. While this process is crucial, it can also be demeaning for clients. Many Elders have stated that being called "high-risk" or having a "poor prognosis" is insulting. In addition, the belief that the evaluator is entitled to extremely personal information can be disconcerting for those who come from a background where these types of matters are considered private. Kultchafi recognises these apprehensions and ardently suggests that when determining Indigenous clients' CPE needs, their cultural perspectives must be taken into consideration to ensure that assessments are carried out in a way that is both respectful and considerate of their culture.

The go-to belief for First Nations CPE is that all humans are born good and come into the world as a clean slate. It's only through positive and negative experiences throughout our lives that we become either good or bad (Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, 2003). What this means is that it's not natural for humans to be violent or criminal; rather, it occurs because of particular life circumstances. Consequently, instruments that focus on static factors to assess risks, such as age, gender, criminal history and the like, are unhelpful in predicting future behaviour for Aboriginal clients. What is needed instead is an assessment of a client's current level of "manageability" - how well they can control their behaviour in the present moment.

The Indigenous CPE regards humans as interconnected with all other animate and inanimate objects. "All things - humans, animals, plants, rocks, water, wind, fire - are alive and have a spirit. All things are connected and interdependent on each other" (Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, 2003). In contrast to the Western World View which considers humans as unique from nature rather than integral parts of it. The difference between these two worldviews has numerous implications, one of which being that Aboriginal clients are likely to see their behaviour as connected to the people and natural world around them. In other words, they wouldn't view their behaviour as something entirely under their control, but rather would acknowledge outside forces playing a role in it.

While it is the responsibility of Indigenous clients to manage their behaviour, they are more likely than Westerners to see their behaviours as being caused by a combination of factors. This usually makes them more open to receiving help. On the other hand, people from Western cultures often believe that they have sole control over their actions and may not be as willing accept aid.

The bottom line is that risk assessment instruments designed with a Western perspective are not accurate for predicting future behaviour in First Nation clients. Instead, what is needed is an assessment of the client's current level of "manageability", taking into account that Indigenous peoples believe that humans are interconnected with all other living forms. This has many consequences. One is that First Nations clients usually recognize that their behaviour isn't just under their personal control but is also shaped by things such as relationships and the world around them. This can be useful for counsellors to know since it means they need to take a comprehensive perspective when working with Indigenous clients.

  • Kultchafi delivers Cultural Responsiveness Training that builds bridges of communication between the two World Views of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is self-paced and delivered online, from the Voices of First Nation peoples. Find out more at


Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, V. (2003). Aboriginal cultural safety: issues and applications. Journal of aboriginal health, 1(1), 32-48.

Find out about market-leading Kultchafi Cultural Responsiveness Training. It's multi-accredited by leading professional bodies including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM), the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Australian Pharmacy College (APC). Suitable for any work sector and delivered online as self-paced learning.

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