Senator Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, visited the Community Migrant Resource Centre (CMRC) on September 22, as part of a quick visit to three members of the NSW Settlement Partnership.
The Senator met with CMRC Executive Director Melissa Monteiro and her management team to discuss delivery of settlement services, sector updates and the changing needs of refugee and migrant cohorts over the past year.
Particular focus was given to family and youth-related issues, with employment, family violence and mental health featuring. There was also discussion about a new Parramatta Real Estate Engagement Project to address housing issues new arrivals face.
Priscella Mabor, Manager of CMRC’s Department of Social Services funded Youth Transition Support Program (YTSP), explained how YTSP had given CMRC a valuable opportunity to pilot programs to engage with youth from refugee backgrounds.
She said YTSP enhanced young people’s ability to remain at high school, transition to further education, and to improve their job readiness to enter the Australian workplace and culture.
Most importantly, it helped CMRC to engage in dialogue with business and employers about the key benefits which will flow when supporting a diverse workforce.
A diverse workforce of migrants and refugees traditionally had an extremely high work ethic, she said, but only once young people’s support systems were in place. They included mental health support, supported accommodation, confidence to speak and be heard, and being able to exist in a community without fear of persecution and unconscious bias because of their ethnicity, religion or accent.
Ms Mabor said the pilot had provided service delivery to 520 clients, with over 70 employment-related outcomes, with CMRC’s partnership-led model of integrated support.
She said the pilot had afforded CMRC a valuable insight into the lives of highly traumatised and vulnerable youth.
“Youth are like the rest of us except magnified,” Ms Mabor said. “They resettle and engage through the process of self-determination — a need to connect, feel a sense of value and share a sense that they have some control over decisions made about their future.”
Ms Mabor said a key underlying issue across CMRC’s refugee youth clients was “trust” — or lack of it.
“Youth are extremely difficult to engage with unless trained staff put in the required hours and resources to break down those barriers,” she said. “This is a relational way of working. This is part of the reason why there is often great resistance to access mainstream services — with people who are effectively strangers.”
Ms Mabor said complex engagement tools were required when working with such an extremely marginalised cohort: young people who felt isolated from family, peers, community and country.
CMRC was seeing an increase in young people who didn’t feel the power to even speak up, even with functional English, she said.
“They feel their accent will be a cause of ridicule or discrimination,” Ms Mabor said. “We have young people living tri-cultural lives, trying to assimilate and assume the hat of whatever situation they find themselves in: the culture of their adopted country, the culture of their birth country and the culture of the refugee camp or host country where they grew up.”
Ms Mabor said, “As CMRC celebrates YTSP programs, and the youth leaders who have helped drive and co-design our programming, we always need to keep in mind that our work has only just begun with our youth — the future of our country.”