Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents

Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents

In addition to navigating the typical developmental tasks of adolescence, young people1 from CALD backgrounds may also experience unique challenges such as a lack of social supports, a sense of displacement, recovery from torture and trauma, discrimination and migration stress (Kaur, 2012). This resource highlights the issues research has identified as commonly experienced by CALD adolescents. It provides links to evidence-based reports, resources and practice examples for hands-on application when working with CALD young people. Responses to specific issues are available throughout the resource to support professionals in the child, family and community welfare sectors.

The resource comprises three parts:

This guide focuses largely on issues relating to refugee and newly arrived migrant youth. It has been recognised that negotiating adolescence involves additional complexities for these young people, compared to their Australian-born peers with CALD ancestries. This is particularly true in the context of family relations.

For CALD parents and their children, how they communicate and negotiate with each other will be affected by their changing environments. The dangers of the migration journey or anxiety in the settlement process are likely to affect parenting approaches, and can often contribute to intergenerational conflict (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2014a). For CALD youth born in Australia, communication difficulties with parents and feeling torn between different cultures may exacerbate anxiety or depression, as some teens adopt "secret lives" with conflicting attitudes and beliefs to what is expected by their families (Blackdog Institute, 2005)

For young refugees particularly, the fearful and traumatic experience of war, famine or persecution may increase their likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can result in recurring symptoms throughout their lifetimes (Thomas & Lau, 2012).

It is not uncommon for migrant and refugee youth to be unaware of their legal rights and the laws that protect them in Australia. For example, some cultures accept physical violence as reasonable disciplinary measures (McIntyre & Silva, 1992) and, as such, children and teens from these cultures may accept this behaviour as being "normal" and therefore may not report these experiences.

Despite these added stressors, adolescents from CALD backgrounds are recognised as demonstrating considerable strength, resilience and resourcefulness (Liddy, 2012). For workers, it is imperative to understand the protective factors that lead to resilience in CALD youth, such as kinship, cultural identity and hopefulness. A significant body of literature demonstrates the risk factors that can be minimised and protective factors that can be built on to support the development of resilience in young people from CALD backgrounds (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2014b).

The issues highlighted in this guide do not represent all of the challenges faced by refugee, migrant or Australian-born CALD adolescents. It must be noted, that while practitioners and researchers have identified common experiences among these cohorts, the individual circumstances of each young person must be taken into account when preparing a service response for them.

The following is a collection of resources from organisations and agencies across Australia. It is intended to be a toolkit for professionals working with young people from CALD backgrounds to dip in and out of, according to need.

As a stand-alone resource, professionals can gain insight in to the main issues affecting CALD adolescents, particularly newly arrived refugees and migrants. It is intended, however, that this information prompts further conversation in the field, and that workers contribute to the CFCA online discussion to share practice tips and tools.

1 This guide is aimed at supporting practitioners in the child, family and community sectors working with 12-17 years olds. The words "adolescent", "youth" and "young people" will be used interchangeably to represent this cohort. Many of the resources will be relevant for clients outside of this age bracket, and practitioners are encouraged to peruse contents.

This paper was developed by Rose Babic, Communications and Project Officer for Child Family Community Australia at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The author wishes to acknowledge the feedback provided by Nadine Liddy, National Coordinator of the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (Australia). Nadine has worked in the youth and multicultural sectors for over 20 years and has a strong focus on promoting good practice when working with young asylum seekers and those from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

CFCA Practitioner Resource

Reports, policy papers and other resources

This compilation of reports provides practitioners and policy-makers with broader contextual information regarding the issues facing CALD adolescents, as well as the latest national data. Local research examines some of the reasons why CALD and refugee families may enter the statutory child protection system, and practice guidance outlines factors that support or inhibit professionals from working with CALD families and communities.

Centre for Multicultural Youth. (2014). The CALD youth census report 2014. This report is the first Australian census data analysis of young people from CALD backgrounds. The information is designed to provide policy-makers, managers and practitioners with key demographic information for this cohort.

  • Kids Matter. (2012-13). Cultural diversity and children's wellbeing. This resource provides an overview of influences related to cultural diversity that may affect the social and emotional development and wellbeing of children from CALD backgrounds. The role of schools in supporting CALD families is also highlighted.
  • Kaur, J. (JK Diversity Consultants). (2012). Cultural diversity and child protection. A review on the Australian research of the needs of CALD and refugee children and families. This paper reviews the available research literature on CALD and refugee families in the Australian Child Protection System.
  • Australian Centre for Child Protection. (2009). The Working with Refugee Families Project. This project examines why newly arrived families from refugee backgrounds are presenting in the child protection system in South Australia, and explores culturally appropriate strategies and models for working with families and communities.
  • Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia (FECCA). (2011). Better beginnings. Better futures. A series of factsheets that provide a community perspective on some of the most pressing issues affecting new and emerging communities in Australia.
  • Refugee Council of Australia. Offers extensive downloadable reports on issues related to housing, settlement, participation, education and training, and family reunion.
  • Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Victoria. (2011). Refugee status report. Explores how refugee children and young people in Victoria are faring.
  • Youth Action. Issues for young refugees. While young refugees are a diverse group with many different experiences and cultural backgrounds, there are some common issues that many face. This webpage briefly explores these issues and provides links for services in NSW.
  • Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth. (2007). Working with multicultural youth: Programs, strategies and future directions. This document discusses successful strategies and programs operating across Australia, and identifies gaps and their distribution, and strategies and programs that offer solutions to these issues.
  • Office of Multicultural Interests. (2009). "Not drowning, waving": Culturally and linguistically diverse young people at risk in Western Australia. This paper explores initiatives identified through feedback received from Western Australian state government agencies, universities and non-government organisations. It provides a meta-analysis of research reports, consultations and strategies to address issues relating to CALD youth in WA.
  • Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2013). The settlement journey: Strengthening Australia through migration. This document provides an overview of government reforms on settlement programs, and discusses the current Strategic Settlement Framework, which includes a greater focus on the needs of young people.
  • Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland. (2011). Policy fact sheets: Young people. This resource identifies issues and barriers to social, economic and political participation for Queensland's CALD youth population. Potential solutions are also identified.
  • Queensland Health. Building Resilience in Transcultural Australians (BRiTA) Futures programsBRiTA Futures programs build on the existing resilience of children, young people and adults from a CALD background. These programs aim to promote resilience towards the stress of acculturation; promote wellbeing and self-esteem; and recognise and celebrate cultural and personal strengths as well as differences.

Practice guides

The following guides provide practitioners with support to deliver appropriate interventions to CALD youth and their families, as identified by professionals working directly with this cohort. This collection of information aims to provide easily accessible practical solutions for issues and challenges facing CALD young people.

Cultural competency in the workplace

It is widely recognised that engaging with clients in a way that is considerate of their attitudes, feelings and actions, supports a worker to better understand differences in an individual's culture, customs and beliefs, and ultimately provide a service that is respectful and relevant (Diller, 2011).

For practitioners, developing proficiency in cultural awareness requires an ongoing learning commitment. For organisations, cultural competency should be adopted in all areas of practice, including planning and evaluation, and should be noticeable across all operational systems (National Center for Cultural Competence, 2015). Programs and services should be promoted equitably, using translated materials or targeted networks, and workplace environments presented with consideration of CALD young people and their families.

A strengths-based framework has been found to be an effective model of cultural competency when working with young people (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2011). CALD young people should be regarded as being resilient and unique, and capable of participating in decisions that affect them.

Note: Peak bodies or lead organisations, such as the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, are often aware of upcoming opportunities for cultural competency workplace training. See our Directory of Key Contacts for Professionals Working With CALD Adolescents.


Settlement and migration

The issues faced by new arrivals are complex and ongoing. They often have multiple disadvantages as a result of their experiences. Government-funded settlement services aim to enable greater independence of individuals and families, by identifying and addressing distinct needs.

Active participation in the economic, social and cultural life of Australia can support migrants and humanitarian entrants to experience a sense of connectedness to their community (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2013)

For migrant and refugee children, the journey from their country of origin to Australia can vary from a planned and uninterrupted trip, to an experience that was unforeseen, uncertain and unsafe. Once in Australia, experiences of resettlement can also vary immensely, depending on a person's support networks, mental health and wellbeing and English proficiency. Young refugees in Australia today are more likely to have had less involvement in formal schooling, have experienced extended periods in refugee camps and have had multiple relocations to various difficult settings, compared with earlier cohorts (Olliff & Mohamed, 2007).

Early intervention, as part of the settlement process, is recognised as a key contributor to reducing the risk of social exclusion and other issues commonly experienced by refugee youth such as homelessness, alcohol and other drug use, crime and other social problems. Risk factors for these young people are compounded not only by cultural but also by systematic barriers such as the lack of understanding by mainstream services of the circumstances and needs of young refugees and migrants. This can lead to inappropriate responses that can increase the vulnerability of CALD young people experiencing hardship (Centre For Multicultural Youth, 2010). Systematic challenges faced by refugees or migrants could include inappropriate interpreter usage by statutory child protection services; insufficient language support for students; or failure by police to engage interpreters at the earliest possible stage in investigations resulting in fundamental inaccuracies in evidence, as identified in a case study in Queensland (Multicultural Development Association, 2011).

For service providers, "understanding the effects of migration and settlement is fundamental to successful engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities" (Queensland Government, 2011). Beyond early intervention strategies, short-term, medium-term, and long-term interventions are required to support newly arrived adolescents and their families.


Kinship is a key contributor to the support and resilience of adolescents, and in some cases, their survival. When the Australian Child Wellbeing Project asked young people from CALD backgrounds what the most important factor in their life was, "family" was most commonly reported as a key contributor to having a "good life", even where intergenerational conflict was present (Skattebol et al., 2013)

Research suggests that it is important for the young person's family to understand the purpose of a practitioner's relationship with their son/daughter, and for the workers to manage the expectations of the role of practitioners, from the outset. Parents from CALD backgrounds may not be familiar with the functions of a service, or the particulars of a practitioner's role. Working from an inclusive framework with families can increase access and attendance to services, and enhance families' understanding of the issues directly affecting their adolescent.

Health and wellbeing

For refugees or migrant adolescents, adequate health care may not have been available to them in their homeland, or on their way to Australia. New arrivals may be unaware of how to access general health services.

Young migrants and refugees may experience barriers to accessing general and specialist health services through:

  • a lack of awareness of services available to them;
  • difficulties locating or accessing services;
  • difficulties gaining permission to attend services from parents, carers or older siblings;
  • actual or perceived language barriers;
  • a lack of trust in providing "officials" with access to their personal information and body; or
  • embarrassment at showing their body, which may be scarred or injured (Victorian Refugee Health Network, 2014).

Research indicates that people from refugee backgrounds require specific support to access general practitioner clinics, refugee health programs and other primary care services.

  • The Victorian Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Action Plan 2014-2018, by the Department of Human Services, outlines Victoria's long-term strategic vision for how the health system can best meet the wellbeing needs of people from refugee backgrounds and asylum seekers.
  • The Refugee Health Program (Vic.) initiative is delivered in local government areas of high refugee and asylum seeker settlement across Victoria. It includes the expertise of nurses, allied health professionals, interpreters and bicultural workers in community health centres.
  • The NSW Kids and Families. (2015). Youth Health Resource Kit: An essential guide for workers. This kit for health practitioners outlines the profound effects of cultural identity and life experiences of CALD youth on their health and wellbeing.
  • Australian Child Wellbeing Project Phase One Report: Understanding children's perspectives on wellbeing. (2013). Young people from CALD backgrounds ranked family as the most important area in their lives, and as a significant contributor to their wellbeing in research conducted by Flinders University of South Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the Australian Council for Educational Research.
  • Victorian Refugee Health Network. Promoting refugee health. While not youth-specific, this guide for doctors, nurses and other health-care providers presents a comprehensive overview of the social and clinical aspects of refugee health.
  • Refugee Health Research Centre. (2008). Promoting sexual health amongst resettled youth with refugee backgrounds. This report explores how resettled youth with refugee backgrounds access, interpret and implement sexual health information.

Torture and trauma

The refugee experience is, by definition, traumatic. (Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues [CMYI], 2006)

Research suggests that the majority of young humanitarian migrants and refugees have experienced (or witnessed) torture or trauma. This could include fear and suffering through torture, physical and sexual assault, family separation or massacre, illegal arrests, imprisonment or destruction of personal property such as housing or legal documents (NSW Refugee Health Service & NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, 2004). Disruptions to schooling are likely to have occurred (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2008).

These experiences have a profound, long-term effect on the wellbeing of the young person, their sense of safety and belonging, their ability to trust others and develop relationships, as well as a myriad of physical, mental and spiritual concerns. Some common long-term effects of torture and trauma include:

  • cognitive impairment;
  • chronic pain and poor mobility, difficulties in walking;
  • mutilation of body parts, and subsequent scars or disfigurement;
  • sexual and gynaecological dysfunction;
  • loss of trust and meaning;
  • diminished capacity to trust others;
  • sensitivity to injustice;
  • jumbled moral concepts;
  • identity confusion or disruption;
  • grief and loss; and
  • mistrust in, or fear of, authority (Murray, Davidson, & Schweitzer, 2008).

Absence of visible signs of abuse on clients does not indicate that physical torture has not taken place.

The following resources support professionals to recognise and respond to the long-term effects of torture and trauma among newly arrived young people, particularly refugees.

Mental health

The diversity of people's understanding and responses to mental illness is formed in part by their cultural heritage and life experiences (US Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Social, biological, religious and psychological factors contribute to cultural explanations of mental health. This is particularly true for people when interpreting, and responding to, suicidal thoughts or behaviour (Department of Health and Ageing, 2007). For many cultures, the Western approach to mental health and treatment can be seen as unsuitable, and often does not resonate with individual's experiences. To avoid stigma, adolescent refugees are more likely to seek help from peers than from professionals (National Mental Health Commission, 2013).

For some, unresolved grief and loss from the trauma of oppression or war may result in a multitude of psychological and emotional symptoms, as well as physical manifestations of their stress. For CALD adolescents, uncertainty regarding the whereabouts of their parents or kin, due to migration, war, death or family separation, can exacerbate existing trauma or symptoms of anxiety (Refugee Council of Australia, 2003).

CALD adolescents, particularly refugees or migrants who have been exposed to human rights violations, are at a higher risk of psychological harm (Australian Centre for Child Protection, 2009), yet it has been observed that people from CALD backgrounds are less likely to seek formal support to address mental health issues, in comparison to members of the mainstream community (Diversity Health Institute, 2011).

The resources below include some information that is not youth-specific but still of relevance for professionals supporting CALD young people.

Alcohol and other drugs

Navigating adolescence can be tricky for the average Australian young person. While stress is not unique to the migration experience, it is now recognised that a large portion of refugee youth suffer from PTSD, following traumatic events in their lives. For refugee or migrant young people, psychosocial influences or difficulties specific to the refugee experience (such as conflict between cultures, and difficulty finding their place in a new community) are likely to contribute to higher rates of substance misuse and its associated problems (DrugInfo Clearinghouse, 2010)

For CALD young people, there are likely to be cross-cultural misunderstandings of alcohol and other drugs and their effects, as well as systemic and personal barriers to accessing services for intervention or prevention. Barriers could include a lack of familiarity with the models of counselling and treatment available (State Government of Victoria, 2008) or reluctance to seek treatment for fear of being ostracised by families or the wider community (Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, 2014).

These resources investigate reasons for drug misuse among CALD communities, and offer strategies for prevention intervention and treatment.

Education and employment


Students from refugee backgrounds in schools, especially those with disrupted or no previous schooling, require additional support to develop the English language and learning skills they need to succeed in Australian schools. (Victorian Department of Education and Training, 2014)

In Australia, the system of age-appropriate placement in schools can further compound challenges for refugee and migrant students. Being placed in grades that reflect their age, rather than level of comprehension, can be confusing for children and young people (Multicultural Development Association, 2011).

Understanding the breadth of issues for newly placed CALD students requires an understanding of the refugee or migrant experience, including the journey to Australia, settlement issues, an individual's capacity to learn and any additional demands outside of the school environment. For older adolescents, schooling can compete with the young person's potential to earn additional income and relieve financial burdens on the family.


In addition to the usual challenges that adolescents may face when looking for work such as a lack of experience, mistrust or stereotyping, young CALD jobseekers may confront additional barriers to employment such as a limited knowledge of workplace culture and expectations and racial discrimination in interviews (Liddy, 2012).

  • MYAN NSW. (2014). Employment and multicultural young people: A report from the MYAN NSW Forum November 2013. The report includes a summary of discussions and recommendations on ways to improve employment outcomes for young people.
  • Liddy, N. (2012). Multicultural young people in Australia: Exploring structural barriers to education and employment. In this paper, the National Coordinator of MYAN advocates the benefits of a targeted response of policy and service delivery to address structural barriers for CALD youth's participation in Australian society.
  • The Ucan2 program was developed in response to the substantial number of young adults and older adolescents from refugee backgrounds who have experienced barriers to successful educational or employment pathways after completion of an on-arrival language program. See the Evaluation of UCan2: Promoting social inclusion for refugee youth.
  • Centre for Multicultural Youth. (2014). Facilitating the transition to employment. This report reviews the recent data on experiences of humanitarian migrants in education and in their transition from education to employment. The paper explores "what works" in assisting young refugees to navigate a pathway between education and employment.
  • Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA). (2014). Youth employment in new and emerging communities. This fact sheet aims to provide information on key issues identified by newly arrived young people as the main barriers to employment.

Legal issues

The public perception of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds is often associated with crime or offending behaviour. (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2014b)

Refugee and migrant youth face significant disadvantages in understanding how the law and the justice system operate in Australia, and are often uninformed until they are presented with a crisis (Legal Services Commission of South Australia, 2015). Limited awareness of their legal rights and responsibilities, or discriminatory targeting by police can create anxiety of the justice system or a fear of police.

Young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to community stereotypes of being "trouble makers", or members of gangs, given they are both "ethnic" and "young" - two factors commonly associated with criminal behaviour (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2014c).

In relation to family law, there are factors associated with the process of resettlement itself that present serious challenges for CALD young people, affecting their family relationships and further threatening their safety and wellbeing (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2013).

Although not youth-specific, the following resources provide professionals with an overview of common legal issues experienced by newly arrived refugees and migrants.

Out-of-home care (OOHC)2

Specific issues related to the needs of CALD young people in out-of-home care have been identified. A literature review of the Australian research on CALD and refugee children and families found three preliminary exploratory studies undertaken between 2006 and 2011 of CALD and refugee children and young people placed in OOHC.

Key findings from these studies focused on three priority areas in relation to culture and practice when working with CALD young people in this setting (Kaur, 2014):

  • family connectedness;
  • finding a culturally suitable carer; and
  • ensuring culturally appropriate strategies for placement, where a culturally matched carer is not available.

The literature review identified the following difficulties affecting OOHC casework practice when working with CALD families:

Housing or accommodation

For newly arrived adolescents, navigating barriers such as lack of social capital or unfamiliarity with complex housing systems (Liddy, 2012) can jeopardise access to long-term, appropriate housing, and further compound stress faced by this group. Homelessness is common, with refugee youth being "six to ten times more likely to be at risk of homelessness than Australian-born young people" (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2010). Young people residing with their families may also experience difficulty attaining safe housing due to discrimination in the property market, financial hardship and family separation or breakdown (Refugee Council of Australia, 2013).

Young women

Young CALD women may experience specific issues that differ from those experienced by women from non-CALD backgrounds. For some, contradictory attitudes to gender roles in their families and communities may limit their access to activities or events outside of the home, and strict domestic responsibilities may be demanded of them (Centre for Multicultural Youth, 2013). Parents may feel threatened by their daughters' exposure to the values of a culture that is new and unknown to them, and may prohibit them from accessing programs or services that they are not familiar with (NSW Kids and Families, 2014).

Across the globe, there are diverse understandings of what constitutes sexual violence, and the cultural values and norms around violence against girls and women. In contrast to Australian law, refugee and migrant women often arrive from countries with limited rights of control of their own bodies (Allimant & Ostapiej-Piatkowski, 2011). Further to this, there is evidence that the majority of refugee women have suffered experiences of rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence (Pittaway & Rees, 2005-06).

LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or intersex)

While little research has been undertaken to distinguish the experiences of LGBTI refugees or migrants in Australia, it is recognised that young LGBTI people from CALD backgrounds would benefit from specific support and services (Youth Action and Policy Association [YAPA], 2007). Cultural and religious groups vary in the way they concern themselves with gender and sexuality, ranging from anti-homophobic to extreme homophobia (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2005).

Young LGBTI people from CALD families are less likely to disclose their sexuality to their parents than adolescents from non-CALD backgrounds, and if they do, are less likely to receive a supportive response (Hillier et al., 2010). In the 2014 Growing Up Queer report that explores issues facing young Australians who are gender variant and sexuality diverse, 18% of the 1000 respondents reported having experienced a conflict between their cultural background and sexuality/gender identity (Robinson, Bansel, Denson, Ovenden, & Davies, 2014). In many cultures, identifying as "gay" is seen to conflict with religious or cultural ideals. Of the young people interviewed in the Growing Up Queer project who practiced a religion or faith, 56% reported having experienced a conflict between their religion/faith and their sexuality/gender identity.

Practitioners should be aware that CALD LGBTI young people have reported experiencing high rates of homophobic abuse and related feelings of danger, excessive drug use, self-harm and higher than national averages rates of suicide. (Hillier, Turner, & Mitchell, 2005)

Access to information for CALD LGBTI adolescents and their parents or carers may be limited due to language barriers, lack of understanding of supports available or associated shame. Parents from CALD backgrounds may benefit from targeted education to support them with their feelings and responses to their child's disclosure.

Further research is required to better understand how to support and promote the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTI people from CALD backgrounds (Suicide Prevention Australia, 2009).

2 Out-of-home care refers to the care of a child or adolescent (to 18 years) where they are unable to live with their family. The arrangements vary to suit the needs of the young person, and may or may not involve intervention with statutory authorities. See other CFCA resources on out-of-home care.

Intake/assessment with a young person from a CALD background

Although there is no one rulebook when interviewing culturally and linguistically diverse adolescents, research has demonstrated a number of effective culturally aware practices for working with young people from CALD backgrounds, as showcased throughout this guide.

Each young person adopts and expresses their culture/s differently, and practitioners should adapt a flexible approach to their work to promote dialogue that is sincere. The effectiveness of an Intake interview in building trust and receiving information is affected by the worker's ability to ensure the young person is comfortable, and to be responsive to the individual's communication needs.

The intake/assessment process is critical to establishing a trusting relationship with clients and demonstrating a capacity to identify and respond to issues they present with. If clients feel unsafe or unwelcome, or do not clearly understand why they are attending the service, they may be reluctant to share information. It is important that professionals assure the young client that a translator is available to them; that their private information is protected; and that their family is welcome to participate in the Intake process, should it benefit the young person.

As with most young people, the CALD adolescent's connection to family is crucial to navigating adolescence. For this group, however, cultural beliefs, gender roles, and compliance to religious practice can place additional demands and expectations on their time and behaviour, and potentially their capacity to participate in a service. Workers who take the time to understand how the young person and their family identify problems (and how they seek help) will more competently support the client to engage in treatment.

Appreciating that culture, religion and individual life experience affects each person differently, is a key principal of cultural awareness. Examples of cultural considerations when working with CALD adolescents include:

  • accepting that communication and authenticity is a fundamental key to providing a welcoming and trusting environment;
  • awareness of personal cultural biases, and avoidance of benchmarking others' behaviours or beliefs against personal experiences;
  • understanding adolescence to be a time of identity formation and that not all young people share the beliefs of their family's cultural or religious background;
  • appreciating that culture itself is fluid, and the young person and their family may be undergoing transformations through the migration experience;
  • avoiding generalisations about culture, language or ethnicity. Cultural particulars should be confirmed or conveyed by the client.

In an Intake interview, workers can begin to build trust through dialogue that explores the client's understanding of the service being provided and the role of the worker. This is also an opportunity for the client to better understand their obligations and expectations when participating in the service, such as arriving on time, or attending court or related appointments, which is particularly important if the intervention is mandated.

How to use this component of the resource

The information in the following practice examples was developed by identifying key messages through existing literature on cultural awareness when working with CALD adolescents. Links to Australian research and practice-related literature are presented throughout this resource.

The following extracts of a typical Intake scenario are intended to highlight the sensitivities and awareness required to create a welcoming environment for young CALD clients. Each practice example includes evidence-based reasoning, a "Worker checklist" of pre-interview considerations, and some examples of relevant questions or statements for the young person. Workers are encouraged to use the scenarios as suggestions only, and to trust in their existing professional interpersonal skills. It is recommended that workers gauge the need for an interpreter prior to an initial meeting with the young person or their family.

Support the young person to attend the appointment

Many cultures operate within a different concept of time and clients may not be aware that timeliness and "appointments" are very much a part of the service delivery system in Australian culture.

Clients that are not aware of the notion of appointment times may arrive late and be surprised that they are unable to access the service, or that their meeting time has been cancelled.

Arriving after the specific time allocated for an appointment may have consequences for the young person and may jeopardise any statutory obligations in place.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Are you confident your client is aware of their appointment time?
  • Are there any consequences of lateness or non-attendance of appointment?
  • Are you certain your client is able to locate the place of your meeting?
  • How will the young person arrive at their appointment?
  • Is the client familiar with modes of local public transport?
  • Do they have sufficient funds to travel?
  • Are they familiar with the ticketing system?
  • Do they have access to a timetable, or alternate route, should a hiccup occur?
  • How will your client secure/store your contact details?
  • What means will they use to contact you, should they need to?

Examples of interview questions:

"I have emailed/sent a map to you that shows the details of the (train/bus/tram) you will need to catch."

"My day is arranged by appointment times. It is important that you arrive 10 minutes before our meeting, otherwise you may not receive support on that day."

"I noticed you have a mobile phone. Are you able to store my number in your phone? That way, if you are running late, or need to cancel an appointment, you can phone or text me."

"If you text me, I will call you back. If you do not have credit, you can ring my phone, then hang up. When I see your missed call, I will phone you back."

"If you do not attend the appointment, you will have broken a rule of your order, and we must notify the court, who will discuss the issue with you."

Establish trust through a comfortable and welcoming environment

The initial meeting with a service is critical to building trust with a young person.

Young refugees and migrants often have complex issues, and may be asked to recall traumatic experiences. Allowing time for such responses - not rushing the client - will demonstrate empathy and respect.

Clients will present with their own biases, influences and judgments. They will form an opinion of practitioners' experience based on their own values or life experience, which may influence how they respond to questions, or participate in the service. It is critical that practitioners present themselves in an impartial, approachable manner.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Have you allowed ample time for your interview?
  • Is the meeting space comfortable and free of interruptions?
  • Are there any images in the room that may be offensive or upsetting to your client (e.g., many human rights posters depict images of torture, such as person with a gun to their head, or hands that are tied up - which is likely to be confronting or re-traumatising for a young person who has experienced similar violence)?
  • Have you familiarised yourself with culturally appropriate greetings? How should you address the parents or family members? Is a handshake suitable? Eye contact?

Examples of interview questions:

"Welcome. My name is (state first name). I have prepared a quiet room for us to talk."

"Is this seating arrangement suitable? Would you like me to move the chairs around?"

"As I mentioned, my name is XXX, how do I pronounce your full name?"

"How would you prefer to be addressed?" Thank you (repeat their response)."

"If at any stage you have any questions, or feel uncomfortable throughout today's session, please let me know."

"How will you let me know if you are uncomfortable?"

Be yourself

While practitioners are trained to be open-minded and impartial, it cannot be expected that they be void of emotions, or refrain from expressing empathy in their communications with clients. Speaking informally and genuinely, and articulating compassion and empathy to clients can be particularly useful in building rapport with young people. By presenting in a sincere and caring manner, clients (and their family) are more likely to feel safe and trust practitioners with their life story.

The language of the service may often include acronyms or sector-specific slang or jargon. Using simple and common words will support the client's understanding of the situation and encourage participation.

Young people and families will be naturally cautious and curious of new practitioners. Be prepared for personal questions to be asked, often as a way to establish credibility, or to measure their trust.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • What information could you share about yourself to build trust with the young person and their family?
  • Are you sensitive to gender issues? How will you respond to a client who may have expected, or preferred, a worker of a certain gender?
  • Will you be able to recognise the impact of your own culture and beliefs when interacting with the client and their family?
  • How will you respond if you are asked questions about your personal life? Questions may reflect the young person's natural curiosity (e.g. "Are you married?"; "Where does your family come from?"), or may directly relate to issues currently affecting them (e.g. "Have you ever taken drugs?").

Examples of interview questions:

"Thank you for the interest in my life experience. So that I can be the most help to you, it is important that I stay focused on your needs at the moment."

(You may wish to share an anecdote or some general personal information that supports your rapport with the adolescent.)

"Please know that I am qualified to discuss these issues with you, and can connect you to other services if further assistance is needed."

"I do not have my own children; however, my studies and life experience provide enough information to know how to support your child."

Ensure your client understands the purpose of intake and assessment, and how it will be delivered

Clients must be aware that the intake/assessment process involves being asked personal questions and depends on their ability to respond to them truthfully. By providing context to the Intake process, the adolescent (and any family members) will better understand the need to gather information, and how it directly relates to service provision.

Adolescent refugees or migrants may have experienced dangerous or distressing interactions with "officials". They may be suspicious of answering personal questions, seeing note taking, or anxious about their information being recorded.

Young people and their families may find the worker's enquiries into their family histories and personal matters to be disrespectful or culturally inappropriate. The questioning component of an assessment may be associated with interrogation; seen to be authoritative; or daunting to young people or their families.

It is essential that clients understand that formal records will be kept, and how they will be stored and used.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Have you provided the client with an overview of the organisation, and the support/services that will be available to them?
  • If you are not the person who will provide the treatment/service, have you identified yourself as the Intake worker, and how your roles differ?
  • Have you explained how the session will be delivered? What will be asked of your client? What questions they can ask?
  • How will you explain confidentiality to your client? CFCA has developed a poster on Privacy, Referrals and Duty of Care
  • Have you described how information will be stored and accessed?
  • What written/visual information can you provide to empower your client to understand:
    • the assessment process;
    • the service/s available to them;
    • record taking and confidentiality; and
    • their consumer rights?
  • Have you outlined the service and support available to your client? Have you discussed your role, and its limitations?

Examples of interview questions:

"Our discussion today will be private. I will take notes to help me to develop a Support Plan with you." (Explain what a Support Plan is.)

"Your information will be stored on the computer - which is safe, and can only be accessed using a password."

"If a referral to another service is required, some of your personal information will need to be shared with their Intake worker. I will not share any of your information without speaking to you first."

"Once I have completed your assessment, I will share your information with our team, and we will match you to a caseworker. Your caseworker will contact you directly."

Avoid assumptions about the young person's cultural identity, connection to family or community, cultural influence and experiences

Asking specific questions that relate to the client's ethnicity, language, family and support systems will prevent typecasting and ensure accurate information is received. Asking specific questions will demonstrate respect and compassion for the unique experiences of your client.

Interviewing from a family-aware approach acknowledges and addresses the role of the family in the young person's life and advocates that families (where appropriate) could be, and should be, part of the young client's support (Jesuit Social Services, 2009).

By working from this approach, the practitioner can demonstrate cultural sensitivity and acceptance of young people and their families, and can empower clients to share their own perspectives.

Acknowledging young people's connection to culture will empower them to balance their family's expectations with their own interests, and to develop an understanding of their cultural identity.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • How will your interview prompt questions about your client's culture as it may relate to their current circumstance? Areas to explore are:
    • cultural identity;
    • connection to culture and cultural community;
    • religious identity and practice;
    • family composition (here and overseas);
    • preferred language;
    • settlement process (places, length & experiences);
    • education history and any disruption from migration;
    • domestic responsibilities, and role within the family;
    • level of independence;
    • how decisions are made in the family; and
    • list of current family and community supports.
  • Are you willing to discuss your client's cultural background and its influence on their current circumstance and future goals?
  • Are you aware of your own cultural biases and perceptions?
  • Can your client express their view of the world, and their situation in it?
  • How is your client's connection to family and/or culture supporting or hindering their life at the moment?
  • What flexible arrangements are in place to build a relationship with the family, should it benefit the client?
  • Are there any real or perceived cultural restrictions that may affect your work with your client?

Examples of interview questions:

"In my involvement with other refugees, I have learned that many people have experienced frightening or traumatic events. I do not want to upset you by asking questions about your migration but it is important to understand your history so that we can work toward your future."

"What are your interests in remaining connected to your culture?"

"Would you like to (attend church/improve your native language/attend cultural celebrations)?"

How can I help you to reconnect with your community?"

"Would it be appropriate for us to speak with your family about your connection with our agency?"

"What is the most appropriate way for me to make contact with your mother/father/sibling?"

"It is not my intention to separate you from your family. Rather, I am here to provide expertise to support your wellbeing. I would like to explore your family's involvement, and how this may be helpful to your current situation."

"Since you are required to go straight home from school, could it be possible to negotiate with your parents that I meet you at your home?"

Highlight protective factors using a strengths-based interviewing technique

Strengths-based practice is an approach that recognises the resilience of individuals and, rather than focusing on limitations or challenges, centres on the person's capacities and potential (Scerra, 2011). Refugee and migrant young people often present with remarkable resilience and bravery, even when they have experienced or witnessed extreme violence and deprivation. Encouraging discussion of achievements, friendships, resilience or good fortune may inspire the young person to reflect on positive factors in their life.

For young people, connectedness to family and culture can be a significant protective factor in fostering their overall wellbeing. These connections should be recognised, and supported where possible. Where suitable, encouraging connection with family, community and culture can contribute to the health and wellbeing of the young person.

Before meeting the young person

Worker checklist:

  • Are you coming from a strengths-based approach in your interviewing?
  • How will your service promote family involvement, where it is recognised as being a protective factor for the young person?
  • How will you involve your client in problem-solving and decision-making that affects them?
  • How will you avoid stereotyping your client and assuming you know what issues they are presenting with?
  • How will you prompt your client to recognise their values and what is important to them? For example, where a young person identifies kinship as a priority in their lives, how will you conduct future interviews in a family-inclusive manner?

Examples of interview questions:

"Thinking of a time when you have had to work through a problem, what resources did you use to help you improve the situation?"

"Our service is here to address areas of your life that you identify as being difficult or requiring support in. We will also use our expertise to discuss issues."

"You keep saying that you're not able to help yourself but you have taken the steps to be here, which is courageous. By attending future appointments, you will gain more information and tools to continue to support yourself."

Directory of key contacts for practitioners working with CALD adolescents

This directory presents a summary of organisations and peak bodies across the nation that support professionals working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities. CFCA recognises that there is a multitude of programs and projects that support CALD children, young people, families and communities as a whole, across different sectors.

The work of some of the organisations or agencies below, as well as many other contributors to research, advocacy and community development can be found throughout this resource. Workers are encouraged to share related information, data and resources through the CFCA information exchange , or by providing feedback through CFCA's research and information helpdesk.


Australian Multicultural Foundation (AMF)
AMF initiates programs and projects that raise awareness of Australia's cultural diversity, to advance its social and economic wellbeing.
Federation of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia (FECCA)
FECCA is the national peak body representing and advocating for culturally and linguistically diverse communities. One of its online resources includes a community perspective on pressing issues affecting new and emerging communities in Australia.
Raising Children Network
This page provides links to a range of national and state resources, services and support organisations for multicultural and CALD communities.
Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS)
ASeTTS provides services to people who are humanitarian entrants or are from a refugee background and who have experienced torture or trauma in their country of origin, during their flight to Australia, or while in detention.


Multicultural Youth Services ACT (MYS)
MYS provides services to young people of migrant and refugee backgrounds in the ACT, including direct one-to-one support, group sessions, life skills development, family relationship support, recreational activities and community development with young people.
Multicultural Youth Affairs Network
This service seeks to improve supports for multicultural young people, strengthen local multicultural youth services, strengthen connections between "mainstream" and multicultural youth services, and raise the profile of multicultural youth issues in the ACT.
Companion House
Companion House is a not-for-profit organisation that works with people who have sought refuge in Australia from persecution, torture and war-related trauma. In addition to community development and therapeutic services, they provide training and professional development sessions focused on refugee issues, working with survivors of torture and trauma and cultural diversity.


Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network NSW (MYAN NSW)
MYAN is a network of services committed to improving the opportunities and outcomes for multicultural young people in NSW.
Multicultural Disability Advocacy Association of NSW (MDAA)
MDAA is the peak organisation for people from CALD/non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) with a disability, their families and carers in NSW.
NSW Service for the Treatment And Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS)
STARTTS provides treatment and rehabilitation to torture and trauma survivors through a range of services .supporting individuals and communities to empower themselves to heal.
Youth Action (Formerly Youth Action & Policy Association NSW; YAPA)
Youth Action is the peak organisation representing young people and youth services in NSW.
Ethnic Communities Council of NSW (ECC)
ECC is the peak body for all culturally and linguistically diverse communities in New South Wales.


Multicultural Affairs
This department assists migrant and multicultural communities, and promotes cultural and linguistic diversity by sponsoring grants and awards programs; and provides information, such as fact sheets, calendars of events and other publications.
Multicultural Services of Central Australia (MCSCA)
MCSCA provides services, representation and leadership for the CALD community in Central Australia.
MyNT: Multicultural Youth NT
MyNT is a youth-led organisation, which builds the capacity of young Territorians to be active members of their community.
Multicultural Council NT Inc. (Nican)
The council was established as a non-government community-based organisation with a role of advocacy, information and representation.
Melaleuca Refugee Centre Torture Trauma Survivors Service of the NT
Melaleuca Refugee Centre provides an environment for resettlement and healing of refugee survivors of torture and trauma, their families and community through confidential, high-quality and holistic services.


Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland (ECCQ)
ECCQ is the peak body in Queensland for ethnic communities and cultural diversity, engaged in policy research and development, sector collaboration and community education and training around leadership and better health outcomes.
Partners in Cultural Competence (PiCC)
PICC helps organisations, professionals and individuals develop cultural competence through active diversity management strategies that include effective cross-cultural training and consulting.
Access Community Services
This service focuses on settlement and employment initiatives, and community development. Personal support programs address the needs of disadvantaged youth and community groups, including migrants, refugees, humanitarian entrants and visa holders.
Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network Queensland (MYAN QLD)
This organisation provides opportunities to work collaboratively to improve settlement outcomes for young people through community advocacy and sector development.
The Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma (QPASTT).
This service provides flexible and culturally sensitive services to promote the health and wellbeing of people who have been tortured or who have suffered refugee-related trauma prior to migrating to Australia. QPASTT run youth-focused programs.


Multicultural Youth South Australia Inc. (MYSA)
Multicultural Youth South Australia Inc. (MYSA) is a community-based, not-for-profit organisation that provides a diverse range of services and programs to support multicultural young people and young families living in South Australia.
Multicultural SA
Multicultural SA is the agency responsible for advising the government on all matters relating to multicultural and ethnic affairs in South Australia. Their website provides a list of programs for newly arrived children and young people across the state.


Migrant Resource Centre (Northern Tasmania)
This Migrant Resource Centre offers a Family Support Program for families from CALD backgrounds, and runs community education programs on parenting and relationship issues and cross-cultural awareness training for workers.
Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network TAS (MYAN TAS)
This informal network of services works to promote the needs and issues of young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds in Tasmania. MYAN TAS operates in partnership with the Migrant Resource Centre, Southern Tasmania Inc., Multicultural Tasmania and the Youth Network of Tasmania.


Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY)
CMY supports young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds to build better lives in Australia. CMY works to support organisations and decision-makers, through publications, programs and consultation on strategies and policies.
Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health (CEH)
CEH provides specialist information, training and support on cultural diversity and wellbeing to health and community service professionals. Several resources on cultural competency for workplaces are available online.
Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV)
ECCV is the peak body for ethnic and multicultural organisations in Victoria. EECV helps build the capacity of new and emerging communities and develop policy on a wide range of issues including undertaking original research.
Migrant Resource Centres: Metropolitan Victoria
These organisations provide settlement services in various locations across Melbourne to improve access to participation in community life.


Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre, WA (MMRC)
MMRC provides needs-based support and advocacy for youth through sports, arts and youth development activities.
Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN WA)
The MYAN WA aims to provide a forum for those who work with multicultural young people, to network, share information and address sector issues.