Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents

CFCA Practitioner Resource – April 2015

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.

Family

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

Education

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.

Employment

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.