Enhancing access to family dispute resolution for families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Enhancing access to family dispute resolution for families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

Susan Armstrong

AFRC Briefing No. 18 — November 2010

Key messages

CALD families are not using family dispute resolution services at a rate proportionate to their presence in the Australian community.

Recent reviews of FSP services indicated significant gaps in service provision to clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, barriers limiting their access to services and a lack of staff confidence to engage with CALD clients.

Although CALD couples are not uniformly more likely to separate than couples from an Australian background, factors that may create additional stress on marriages between CALD couples include: stresses from having to adjust to a new socio-cultural and economic life in Australia; forced changes in family structure and roles; disempowerment, loss of confidence, isolation and loneliness; and domestic violence.

Reasons why people from CALD backgrounds may not use family mediation include: lack of understanding about services; socio-cultural norms discouraging mainstream help-seeking; lack of trust in mainstream mediation services; uncertainty that services will be culturally sensitive/appropriate; preference to dealing with family breakdown within family or community processes.

A culturally competent approach to providing mainstream FDR services to clients from a CALD background is characterised by three features: the service is holistic; it is premised on reciprocal relationships and responsibilities; it is reflexive in its practice.

At a systemic or government level, it is important to develop education and information strategies for CALD clients about the nature and benefits of FDR.

Identification of the need for and likely use of FDR services should occur on a local level for specific CALD communities. Research on domestic violence in CALD and refugee communities has emphasised the importance of framing positive messages reinforcing specific community values such as family harmony and the effects of violence on children.

Developing links with CALD community services and leaders creates opportunities to develop personal relationships with key individuals in CALD communities and, through these, with potential clients. Some CALD communities have indicated that they would be prepared to use family dispute resolution if they had confidence in the cultural sensitivity of the services and mediators.

All services offered by the Family Support Program (FSP)—managed by the Australian Government Department of Families and Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)—are required to be accessible, equitable and responsive. This includes engaging groups that may have barriers to access, such as families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds (Attorney-General's Department, 2007; FaHCSIA, 2006). Social equity and substantive justice are promoted by enabling all Australians, including those from CALD backgrounds, to benefit from and fully participate in universal beneficial services.

This paper explores the extent to which federally funded family dispute resolution (FDR) services are accessible to families from CALD backgrounds. The paper draws extensively on literature identified for, and the findings of a qualitative research project, conducted by the author in a research partnership with CatholicCare Sydney and Anglicare. The project sought to develop a culturally responsive model of family dispute resolution. An important part of the project was to identify strategies that would facilitate greater access to, and participation in, family dispute resolution by individuals and families from culturally diverse backgrounds (Armstrong, 2010).

The paper concludes that CALD families are not proportionally represented as FDR clients, and canvasses some reasons why they may not readily be using these services. Principles and practices are considered that may encourage access to FDR by CALD families and enhance their effective participation in its processes.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Dr Susan Armstrong is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, University of Western Sydney. She is currently engaged in a three-year research project with two Family Relationship Centres in Parramatta and Bankstown to investigate culturally responsive family dispute resolution. Dr Armstrong has trained as a nationally accredited mediator.

Publication details

AFRC Briefing
No. 18
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2010.
23 pp.

Publication meta

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