Settling in Australia presents recently arrived migrant and refugee families with many new opportunities but the process of settlement and the associated adjustments to a new country can also be challenging.
“The first few years after arrival are when many migrant and refugee families face some of their greatest challenges,” Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO, Violet Roumeliotis said.
“As our population grows, it has become imperative that we work together to make the change as smooth as possible for migrants and refugees.”
Ms Roumeliotis said SSI had, for the first time in NSW, brought together leaders and experts from diverse organisations to provide an insightful and engaging interactive program at a one day symposium to be held on June 5 in Parramatta, titled ‘Cultural Shift: symposium on supporting migrant and refugee families through settlement.’
Please read on for snapshots of just some of the presentations and workshops at the symposium. SSI can arrange pre-event interviews with presenters and can arrange for interviews if a journalist would like to attend on the day.
STARTTerS Early Childhood program for trauma recovery and development
What started informally as a mums and bubs group for refugees has developed into a unique model for treating trauma in young children, as well as their parents.
Described as an “integrative sensory motor music therapy”, STARTTerS is an early childhood program for trauma recovery and development that targets 0-6 year olds. As a result it is also helping the parents and carers that accompany their children to the treatment sessions.
NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) Early Childhood Counsellor and Music Therapist Rosemary Signorelli said she was not aware of another program of this kind.
“STARTTerS uses a variety of techniques and activities that seek to reverse and overcome issues of trauma that children have faced during their short but troubled lifetime, said Ms Signorelli.
“What also makes the program unique is the use of interpreters that engage the parents as well, and builds their trust and confidence in the program.”
Ms Signorelli explained that intervention in the first five years of a child’s life is vital in helping overcome effects of trauma and prevent future mental health issues.
“A nursery rhyme such as ‘incy wincy spider’ has a great theme of resilience and together with the finger movements it’s a simple and engaging song for the children to participate in.”
Ms Signorelli is aware that the program is based on western models of parent participation and praise, and that some parents find it difficult to participate if they are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, although they can still learn strategies from the sessions which they can take home to use with their child.
“Many parents are dealing with their own physical and mental health issues and their recovery is usually a lot slower than the child’s. Providing them with individual counselling is another unique aspect of the program and if necessary they are referred on to other programs such as Brighter Futures (also being presented at Cultural Shift).”
The program has seen 40 individual children and 45 families since it began in 2011.
Educational expectations and its interface with child wellbeing
Education can be viewed as the only pathway to a stable and secure life for people coming to Australia from other cultures. This can lead parents to put undue pressure on children to perform.
NSW Family and Community Services Community Program Officer Lynn Cohen said problems caused by this cultural pressure were increasingly observed by department staff. This led them to develop a new program targeting educational expectations among specific cultural groups, which she will present at the symposium.
“The issues presented to Community Services as an increase in the notifications received for Chinese and Korean speaking parents physically abusing children because of poor educational performances,” she said.
“So the program has been developed for Chinese and Korean speaking parents but it could be for parents of all Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds (CALD). And often there has been demand from people saying to us, can you do this for the Pacific community or Arab community.”
Ms Cohen’s team worked with education and child development experts from Chinese and Korean speaking cultural backgrounds to develop the program but she said the template could be delivered across CALD groups.
The cultural dynamics underlying the problems were complex, she said, but program facilitators had found the communities receptive to the program.
“We learnt that in the Chinese context, for instance, they came from the environment where you get one child and they get one chance,” she said. “In the Australian context there are many ways to access university and parents need to know this, so that if a child isn’t top of their class, or top of their preschool, it’s not their last chance.”
The team behind the program was the winner of the 2014 Mary Dimech Award for new initiatives, outstanding practice and work in community services.
Supporting young people from a refugee background through settlement
Young people from refugee backgrounds can experience unique challenges, including the horrors of war, abuses and expectations to provide for and lead a family in the early stages of their lives. Settlement Services
International (SSI) Manager Humanitarian Services David Keegan said these experiences created challenges during early settlement for young people, who benefited from a holistic understanding of their needs and circumstances. However, it can be difficult, he said, to understand these complicated backgrounds and cultural challenges.
Mr Keegan has developed an information and training resource, Keeping Their Hopes Alive, in cooperation with Multicultural Youth Affairs Network (MYAN) NSW and Youth Action and Policy Association NSW that is a guide to better understanding these specific needs of young refugees. A workshop on this resource will be presented at the symposium.
Mr Keegan said a large portion of humanitarian entrants to Australia were under the age of 25, and between 14 and 25 years, so special consideration should be given to their needs.
“An example of a common issue we see comes from the experience of young people who tend to settle quicker than their parents,” he said. “They learn the language quicker, make new friends quicker and are generally better supported through education. So what we see is a family dependent on a young person, which can cause conflict.”
Mr Keegan said the workshop he will present is based in research and will work through case studies of the experiences of young refugees and new migrants.
MOSAIC: Solving refugee and migrants everyday legal problems
Legal issues for refugees and migrants can escalate because of their limited understanding of Australia’s system, their limited English skills and financial resources. Migrant Outreach Services, Advice, Information, Community Education (MOSAIC) is a new program of Justice Connect that provides refugees and migrants with free legal advice and representation.
Manager and Principal Lawyer at MOSAIC Liz Simpson said simple legal issues could cascade into major problems for refugees and migrants who aren’t knowledgeable about the system or availability of help. They also often find themselves taken advantage of, she said, because of their vulnerability.
“We see clients and give advice on a one-off basis but we are also able to see clients on an on-going basis if they have merit,” Ms Simpson said. “Because we are a legal service seeing clients regularly, we are also able to target recurring problem areas.
“We have been seeing a lot of mobile phone issues at the moment, because asylum seekers sign up to really expensive contracts and aren’t able to pay them. We have had a lot of success having them waived but now we are also talking to the service providers to ask why these people were signed up to services they can’t afford.
“There are also a lot of employment issues, with people being ripped-off, being under-paid, not being paid or being dismissed for no apparent reason.”
MOSAIC assists clients through these problems and others. Ms Simpson said common legal problems for this sector of the community include fines, mobile phone and electricity bills, motoring accidents, accommodation and employment issues.
Outreach workers from the Refugee Advice and Casework Service also attend sessions with MOSAIC to offer immigration advice. Both organisations face funding challenges and the problem of building awareness of their services within the community and settlement sector. Ms Simpson will present on the MOSAIC service at the symposium.
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