Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents

Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents

CFCA Practitioner Resource— April 2015
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.

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Authors and Acknowledgements

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.

Publication details

CFCA Practitioner Resource
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, April 2015.

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