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April 2012Vol. 13, No. 3Somali Cultural Guide

The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare published Somali Cultural Guide: Building Capacity to Strengthen the Well-Being of Immigrant Families and Their Children: A Prevention Strategy. This guide provides important information for child welfare professionals in understanding the culture and environment of Somali immigrant children and families. It focuses on factors identified through research and interviews that are considered common themes relevant to Somali family life for most Somali families.

Understanding cultural differences is necessary for successful intervention and prevention strategies. For instance, the Somali culture is a traditionally oral culture, and handouts intended to be read may not be as effective as discussion. Additionally, while Somali families value healthy development and children are regularly given medical examinations, "mental illness" is not a recognized concept. Specific language, such as “noise in the brain," "thinking too much," or "ongoing headache," may indicate mental health needs or challenges.

Somali families are often substantial in size, sometimes including 5 to 10 children, and the culture places value in community connections and kinship relationships. However, immigration to the United States can result in the loss of traditional roles filled by the extended family. This separation can affect families already traumatized as a result of the Somali civil war. 

The cultural guide addresses the following themes:

  • Accurate understanding of parenting practices
  • Parent and child nurturing and attachment styles
  • Expectations of child development
  • Attitudes in seeking health care for children
  • Attitudes toward emotional behavior and mental health
  • Role of kin and Tribal networks
  • Support networks in coping with day-to-day challenges
  • Intergenerational tradition and values
  • Roles of men and women in their family life and socialization of children
  • Experiences in the migration journey

The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare is a part of The University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work. The complete guide can be downloaded on the School of Social Work's website: (136 KB)