Enhancing family and relationship service accessibility and delivery to culturally and linguistically diverse families in Australia

AFRC Issues No. 3 – June 2008


Main aims of this paper

Broadly, there are two main aims of this paper. The first is to identify the key issues, challenges and needs of CALD families when accessing and using family relationship services, as well as the key issues, challenges and needs of service providers and practitioners when they deliver services to CALD clients. This is because, as Katz, La Placa, and Hunter (2007) pointed out, barriers to inclusion should not be seen exclusively in terms of the characteristics of CALD families, nor as the characteristics of services and providers, but rather as the quality of interaction and "fit" between the needs and expectations of CALD families and the provision of services. Secondly, this paper aims to use the identified concerns of CALD families and service providers and practitioners to make practice, procedure and policy recommendations. These recommendations can be used to increase the inclusion and engagement of CALD families in the family relationship services sector.

There are no national data publicly available from the Family Relationship Services Program (FRSP)1 of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) that provide information on the number of families across cultural groups who access family relationship services. It is also not known whether and the extent to which information on a family's ethnicity is routinely collected by FRSP service providers and practitioners. This poses a problem in being able to gauge the size of possible inequity experienced by CALD families in service accessibility in Australia. However, research from overseas may be used as a guide. The 2001 National Family and Parenting Institute found that black and ethnic minority families in the UK accessed services less than mainstream families (Katz et al., 2007). As CALD groups worldwide tend to experience similar issues and concerns that relate to dislocation, cultural identity and sense of belonging, acculturation, and racism and discrimination (e.g., Mendoza, 1989; Phinney, Horenczyk, Liebkind, & Vedder, 2001; Sawrikar & Hunt, 2005),2 we infer in this paper that the trend for CALD families in Australia will be similar to that in the UK; they will be less likely to use family and relationship services compared to mainstream families. Further, as large-scale evaluations on the effectiveness of these services for CALD families have not been conducted in Australia, and are only just emerging in the international literature (e.g., Page et al., 2007), it is again difficult to identify and address the issues, challenges and barriers CALD families experience when they do access these services.

In light of the above issues, this paper inevitably draws to a large extent on the international literature, especially from the UK (Forehand & Kotchick, 2002; Katz et al., 2007; Moran, Ghate, & van der Merwe, 2004; Murry et al., 2004) and the USA (Forehand & Kotchick, 2002; Murry et al., 2004). Although the composition of CALD groups in the USA and UK are different from the main CALD groups in Australia,3 and their policies and practices differ from the Australian context, some of the key lessons learned in those countries will nevertheless be relevant here.

Main approach of this paper

Katz & Pinkerton (2003) have pointed out that most of the international literature (and the limited national literature) addressing issues of service accessibility and delivery for CALD families is written in the form of practice or policy guidelines (e.g., Coakley & Scoble, 2003; Moffat & Tung, 2004; Olavarria, Beaulac, Bélanger, Young, & Aubry, 2005) rather than empirical studies that compare different interventions or approaches. Therefore, this paper cannot provide a comparative analysis on the efficacy of competing models of service delivery to CALD families. As Chand & Thoburn (2005) pointed out:

the very small amount of research that has looked at outcomes for minority ethnic families, measured in terms of parent or child well-being and improvements in well-being overall, means that it is not possible to say at this stage whether some approaches to family support work are "better" than others for particular groups of families. (p. 177)

While this paper will provide the theoretical and academic basis for making policy and practice statements, its main approach is to develop specific policy and practice recommendations, presented in plain English, so that senior managers and practitioners in family relationship services will be able to use the review as a tool for improving practice in this area. Specifically, this paper can be used to inform service providers and practitioners in Australia how to:

  • improve their service delivery to CALD families;
  • develop their own expertise regarding CALD families; and
  • develop their professional practice by partnering and sharing expertise with services that already have a CALD focus.

Intended audience

This paper can be used as a comprehensive resource for a range of policy makers, stakeholders and peak bodies involved in the provision of family relationship services to CALD families. These include (but are not limited to) the:

  • family relationship service providers and practitioners funded by the Family Relationship Services Program;
  • family relationship and/or CALD-focused researchers;
  • service providers and practitioners involved in assisting and providing other related services to CALD families;
  • CALD advocacy groups;
  • Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS); and
  • Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse (AFRC).


1. www.facsia.gov.au/frsp

2. See section 3.1 for more information on issues that CALD groups face.

3. Indians (1.8%), Pakistani (1.3%) and Irish (1.2%) comprise the three largest CALD groups in the UK (National Statistics, 2008). African-Americans (12.4%), Asians (4.4%) and American Indians or Alaska Natives (0.8%) comprise the three largest CALD groups in the US (US Census Bureau, 2006). See section 3.1 for more information on CALD groups in Australia.