Preparando Conseferos Paras Ninos: Preparing the Counselors for the Children Model: An Ethical Perspective

Rebecca A. Robles-Piña, Ph.D.

Sam Houston State University

 

 

Abstract

 

The purpose of this article is to present a model for counseling with culturally and linguistically diverse student populations. The development of the model “Preparando Consejeros Para Ninos” was made possible by a grant funded by the Office of Bilingual Education and Language Minority Affairs (OBEMLA). The primary purpose of the grant is to train 40 bilingual school counselors within a five-year period. The supporting goals of the grant and the related multicultural counseling literature are discussed from an ethical perspective. Some of the ethical guidelines discussed are respecting diversity, confidentiality, informed consent, and consultation. A discussion of ethics is important due to the violations that may occur when counseling is provided to culturally and linguistically diverse students by counselors who have not had the proper training. Finally, implications for school counseling training programs are advanced.

 

Preparando Consejeros Para Niños: Preparing the Counselors for the Children Model : An Ethical Perspective

 

The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the American Counseling Association (1995) was the ethical cornerstone for a grant to train bilingual school counselors. Ethics are the rules of conduct or moral principles that have been accepted by consensus and that unite professional colleagues. Using these principles, the development of “Preparando Consejeros Para Niños”– (Preparing Counselors to Work with Children Training Grant [PCNTG]) (Irby & Bruhn, 1999), a five-year, bilingual, school counselor’s training grant was designed. Specifically, it was written to respond to the need of the dramatic increase in culturally and linguistically diverse school populations (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999) and the lack of trained school personnel with multicultural counseling competencies (Herring, 1997; Sue, 1999). Moreover, the proposal to train bilingual school counselors hoped to address three outcomes that most adversely affect culturally and linguistically diverse populations. They are (a) high rates of school dropouts (Texas Education Agency, 1997-1998), (b) ineffective counseling therapeutic interventions (Sue, 1999), and (c) ethical violations that occur when language and culture are not considered in counseling situations (Comas-Dias, 1990; Lopez, 2000, Sue & Sue, 1999).

This bilingual counselor’s training grant addresses the counseling needs of students and families who have limited English proficiencies and therefore may be limited in the type and quality of counseling services received. To date, it is difficult to obtain an accurate count of the number of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in the United States due to variations in definitions of limited English proficiencies, sources of data, and methods used to identify LEP students. However, it is estimated that between 1992 and 1993, a total of 2,736,000 students, or about 7% of the students enrolled in grades K-12, were identified as LEP (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). A LEP student is one that exhibits a combination of a non-English background and difficulties with speaking, reading, writing, and/or understanding English (Macias, 1998). For clarity, the terms, limited English proficient (LEP), bilingual, and culturally and linguistically diverse will be used interchangeably. Further, the Preparando Consejeros Para Niños Training Grant will be referred to as PCNTG.

Although, LEP students come from a variety of language backgrounds, the PCNTG targeted the Hispanic LEP population in the Harris County area. This metropolitan area rates as one of the 25 counties in the nation with the largest and fastest growing Hispanic population and Harris county leads the state of Texas as the county with the largest and fastest growing Hispanic, bilingual-speaking, population (Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators [TASPA], 2000). In the Houston metroplex, depending on the area, the Hispanic student population ranges from 35% to 85% (Directors of Guidance and Counseling, personal communication, April 2000).

The following framework will be used to explain how the ethical guidelines established by the American Counseling Association (1995) were used as an ethical basis for the development of the PCNTG. The framework consists of three parts. The first part uses the ethical guideline as the title for the paragraph. The ethical guidelines are: (a) the preamble, (b) respecting diversity, (c) confidentiality, (d) informed consent, and, (e) consultation. Moreover, the ethical guideline serves as a discussion for the rationale used in the development of the goals of the PCNTG. The second part will consist of a discussion on the goals and the related multicultural counseling literature. The third part discusses the implications of the failure to comply with the ethical guidelines and/or the compliance of the ethical guidelines on the training of school counselors on LEP populations and school counseling programs.

Preamble

The American Counseling Association (1995) used the following words as the preamble:

The American Counseling Association is an educational, scientific and professional organization whose members are dedicated to the enhancement of human development through the lifespan. Association members recognize diversity in our society and embrace a cross-cultural approach in support of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of each individual. (p. 33)

The acceptance of diversity was the guiding principle on which the PCNTG was developed. The purpose was to train bilingual school counselors in an attempt to provide counseling to culturally and linguistically diverse school populations that adhered to the code of ethics for working with diverse clientele. The PCNTG was funded through the Office of Bilingual Education and Language Minority Affairs (OBEMLA) and the training site is in the Department of Educational Leadership & Counseling at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX.

The primary goal of the grant is to train 40 bilingual school counselors within a five-year period. The trainees are selected by cohorts and each cohort should take about two years to earn their master’s degree in school counseling. The supporting goals of the grant are to: (a) establish a mentoring project, (b) develop a parental training program, (c) develop school guidance units to be used with bilingual populations, (d) develop 40 action research projects (e) develop technology to train school counselors through distance education, and (g) disseminate lessons learned through professional development workshops, scholarly journals, and professional organizational meetings.

There are many implications for using this ethical principle of diversity in the design of the PCNTG on school counseling. First, the knowledge of these 40 bilingual school counselors may most likely directly and indirectly affect teachers, counselors, parents, and especially the children. Second, the model being developed may help other training programs that may wish to do similar training. Third, and perhaps most important is the impact this program may have on alleviating a serious problem of school counselor shortages that face our society as the rapidly growing demographic profile of our society changes.

Respecting Diversity

The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (1995) states that:

Counselors will actively attempt to understand the diverse cultural backgrounds of the clients with whom they work. This includes, but is not limited to, learning how the counselor’s own cultural/ethnic/racial identify impacts her/his values and beliefs about the counseling process. (p. 33)

As part of the grant, the school counselors in training are expected to enroll in a cross-cultural issues in counseling course to acquire multicultural counseling competencies. Researchers and professional organizations in the field of multicultural counseling have suggested that counseling professionals need to incorporate multicultural content and training into both pre- and in-service training for multiculturally competent counselors (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1989; Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs [CACREP], 1994).

Over the years, the literature on multicultural counseling competence has focused on three main areas for training: (a) awareness of one’s own personal worldviews and how one is the product of cultural conditioning, (b) knowledge of the worldviews of culturally different clients, and (c) skills necessary for working with culturally different clients (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). The main focus of the course on cross-cultural issues in counseling is the acquisition and practice of the aforementioned skills.

The implications of this type of training on school counselors are various. First, school counselors may have an opportunity to practice skills that are founded on multicultural theory. Second, school counselors may be able to share insights gained with colleagues in other classes for greater understanding of bilingual populations. Third, the comparison of the school counselor’s worldview from that of the youth’s and parent’s worldviews may be helpful in understanding and accepting differences in the counseling process. This may be especially helpful as the school counselors prepare parental training programs, a major goal of the grant. Fourth, specific counseling interventions to be used with culturally and linguistically diverse populations may be used to address a long-standing problem – ineffective counseling strategies.

Confidentiality

In respect to privacy, the ethical guideline developed by the American Counseling Association (1995) states, “Counselors respect their client’s right to privacy and avoid illegal and unwarranted disclosures of confidential information” (p. 34). In order to maintain confidentiality with culturally and linguistically diverse populations, it is important that communication in the language of the client be first and foremost. Failure to do so may lead to unwarranted disclosures of confidential information. It is important that third parties used to improve communications with diverse populations be eliminated or at least decreased. The importance of considering language variables have been noted to be of particular importance in counseling with Hispanic parents and students, and is complementary to the ideas proposed by the cross-cultural research with Hispanics (Comas-Dias, 1990; Nieto, 1992).

The goal of the grant is to recruit 40 trainees with three to five years experience working with bilingual populations. By training counselors who already know the language and culture of the targeted school populations, it is expected that this type of recruitment will result in improved communication between counselors, parents, and youth. Knowledge of the language, culture, as well as appropriate counseling techniques, can only help school counselors communicate directly with students and parents and may help to eliminate illegal and unwarranted disclosures of confidential information that might occur by using third parties.

Use of third parties compromises the principle of confidentiality in several ways (Lopez, 2000). Use of an interpreter is difficult for these reasons: (a) confidentiality is compromised, (b) the level of training of the interpreter has much bearing on what and how the translator interprets, and (c) many technical words may not have exact translations (Lopez, 2000). Moreover, for many cultures asking for clarification of issues may be due to a fear of being perceived as unknowledgeable or disrespectful (Davies, 1993; Sue & Sue, 1999). Cross-cultural counseling has found that similar ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds between counselor and client can facilitate the development of counseling relationships and effective, ongoing counseling services (Atkinson & Lowe, 1995).

Thus, the goal of this grant is to train multiculturally competent school counselors with expectations to decrease the problems with interpreters, increase the counselor/client relationship, and to increase the ability of counselors to protect the client’s confidentiality.

Informed Consent

According to the guidelines established by the American Counseling Association (1995), “In obtaining informed consent for counseling, counselors use language that is understandable to participants and that …. “ (p. 38). By recruiting from candidates that have held previous experience with culturally and linguistically diverse populations, it is expected that communication in a similar language will improve the ability to obtain an informed consent. Moreover, it is expected that the process of counseling can be facilitated by providing clear communication about the following types of information: (a) purpose of counseling, (b) procedures to be followed, (c) risks and benefits, (d) limits of confidentiality, and (e) ability to withdraw from counseling at any given time (American Counseling Association, 1995). Failure to understand may affect treatment in two ways. One, the parent may refuse treatment for a child who may need counseling. Second, the parent may not understand the information being given, resulting in giving consent to counseling and later discovering that had they understood, they would not have consented.

Obtaining informed consent in a language that is understood is especially helpful in completing one of the grant goals of producing 40 action research projects on bilingual populations. Action research is one in which the practitioners (school counselors) identify the research project, collect the information, and interpret and judge the research results (Gay & Airasian, 2000). By recruiting school counselor trainees with language and cultural experience with bilingual populations, it is hoped that the research topics defined will address those problems most affecting this population.

Failure to give accurate information on the specific nature of the research, the ability to withdraw at any time, and the fact that failure to participate does not adversely affect school performance could have serious effects on the integrity of the project. On the other hand, obtaining a valid informed consent to participate in action research can produce a knowledge base about bilingual populations. Informed decisions may then be made about the efficacy of educational and counseling programs used with bilingual populations.

Consultation

In terms of consultation and the respect for privacy, the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (1995) states, “Information obtained in a consulting relationship is discussed for professional purposes only with persons clearly concerned with the case “ (p. 34). The PCNTG is proposed as a model that can serve others in providing school consultation to culturally and linguistically diverse populations. The need for multicultural models and practices within counseling practices has been advocated within counseling (Arredondo, Toporek, Brown, Jones, Locke, Sanchez & Stadler, 1996; Sue & Sue, 1999). Multicultural consultation is defined as “a culturally sensitive, indirect service in which the consultant adjusts the consultation services to address the needs and cultural values of the culture, the client, or both” (Tarver Behring & Ingraham, 1998, p.58). Multicultural consultation encompasses situations in which the consultation triad, (consultant, consultee, and client) share the same culture (Gibbs, 1985; Tarver Behring & Ingraham, 1998) as well as cross-cultural diversity among members of the consultation triad (Duncan, 1995).

Four goals were set in the PCNTG, with the purpose of training school counselors to provide consultation to parents, teachers, administrators, and youth who may have similar or different cultural characteristics. These goals were set to provide the following training experiences: (a) establish a mentoring project, (b) develop a parental training program, (c) develop school guidance units to be used with bilingual populations, and (d) develop 40 action research projects.

The mentoring project was designed to assist the school counselors in training to navigate through the internship and induction (the year following graduation) periods of counseling. Training is provided for the mentoring process by the university professor, the consultant at the university level. The training is for the mentor, an experienced school counselor and the mentee, the school counselor in training. Systematic record keeping of the client caseloads is emphasized to keep track of the particular modifications and adjustments to the consultation process used when the culture of involved parties varies. The records are kept in journal entries that contain specific problems or observations made by the mentor and mentee school counselors. Subsequently, the university supervisor consults with the mentors and mentee school counselors on problem identification and specific problem solving approaches. Ultimately, mentor and mentee school counselors use the information discussed to consult with school personnel, children, and parents.

From the information gathered from the journal entries about parental needs, parental training workshops are designed. The university supervisor, as well as the university professor who teaches the school consultation course, will provide guidance, feedback, and supervision for the parental training workshops.

The professor in the school consultation course also provides leadership to the goal of developing bilingual school guidance units. The units are written in this class, feedback is provided by the mentor and university supervisor. Resources from the course on cross-cultural issues in counseling and other courses are integrated into the units. Various bilingual school guidance units have been presented at a state counseling professional meeting. The feedback from the children, parents, and teachers has been most favorable.

The 40 action research projects are developed in the Methods of Research course. The research projects are to be conducted on bilingual populations. Consultation is taught by the professor who teaches the methods of research course. Skills such as problem identification and problem solving approaches to assist the school counselor trainee in working with bilingual populations, reviewing bilingual research, developing instruments to gathering data, collecting data, analyzing data, and providing feedback are taught. The projects developed have been disseminated to local, state, and national organizations. While the results have not been generalizable to large groups, they have been most beneficial in validating the work of these bilingual school counselors and in informing the sites where the research has been carried out.

In conclusion, the PCNTG has graduated its first cohort of six bilingual school counselors. The feedback from the community has been positive. For example, school districts are requesting a contract for services from counselors months before training is terminated and numerous requests from school districts to the university to train more bilingual school counselors have been made.

Several lessons have been learned. Considerable progress was made on all the goals set in the grant, for the exception of the development of technology. The work toward the goals was carried out within an atmosphere of ethical guidelines, such as respecting diversity, confidentiality, informed consent, and consultation in working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations. The importance of communicating in a language and culture that is consistent to that of the client’s proved to be the most important aspect in maintaining ethical integrity. The creation of this cohort and its long-term effect on such decisive outcomes such as reducing the school dropout problem and the effectiveness of counseling techniques remains to be seen. As time progresses, the documentation of the action research projects will have an impact on these outcomes. Perhaps, most importantly, the PCNTG has provided a long-term, systemic, counseling model to address some important ethical issues for counseling culturally diverse students.

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About the Author

Rebecca A. Robles-Piña is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Counseling at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. Her research interests are in assessment, cross-cultural issues in counseling, supervision, action research, and consultation with culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Rebecca A. Robles-Piña, Ph.D.

Sam Houston State University

Department of Educational Leadership & Counseling

Huntsville, TX. 77341

Telephone: 936-294-1118

e-mail: edu_rar@shsu.edu