Enabling social supports for humanitarian migrants

Content type
Event date

3 August 2022, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEDT)


Lisa Button, Blaise Itabelo, Hemavarni (Varni) Doma, Andrea Shepherd, John De Maio




About this webinar

This webinar was held on Wednesday 3 August 2022.

Migration, especially through humanitarian means, is a challenging experience with long-term effects on families’ socio-economic circumstances, and mental health and wellbeing. In particular, many humanitarian migrants experience a loss of social connections when they are forced to move from their home countries. 

New research highlights the benefits of social support in the early stages of resettlement to long-term mental health and wellbeing. 

Learn how your practice can contribute to building social and community connections for recently arrived humanitarian migrants.  

Learning objectives

  • Learn about the latest research on the importance of social support for recently arrived humanitarian migrants.
  • Reflect on the current challenges and service gaps in building social connections with recently arrived humanitarian migrants.
  • Identify opportunities for building social and community connections for recently arrived humanitarian migrants.

This webinar will be of interest to practitioners and organisations who engage with humanitarian migrants as part of their work, but are not specialised settlement services.

Audio transcript (edited)

JOHN DE MAIO: Welcome everyone to today’s webinar, Enabling Social Supports for Humanitarian Migrants, produced by AIFS Child Family Community Australia Information Exchange, which is funded by the Department of Social Services. My name is John De Maio, I’m the Manager of quantitative data in the Family Law, Family Violence and Elder Abuse Team here at AIFS, and in a previous role I was managing the Building A New Life in Australia study, a large-scale longitudinal study of recently-arrived humanitarian migrants.

Before starting, I’d like to start with an acknowledgement of the Bunurong and Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which I’m meeting today. I would like to pay my respects to the elders both past, present and emerging, as well as any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining us today.

Today we’re talking about the role that social supports play in supporting the wellbeing of humanitarian migrants upon resettlement, and in this webinar when we refer to humanitarian migrants we mean those who have arrived in Australia as either refugees or asylum seekers. We have pulled together a diverse panel of speakers that will share their insights and reflections on the research and practice related to this topic. I’d like to introduce Varni Doma, a research officer at Monash University. Welcome, Varni.


JOHN DE MAIO: Andrea Shepherd, a senior practitioner who works in community development in the southeast region of Victoria. Welcome, Andrea.


JOHN DE MAIO: Blaise Itabelo who brings over 10 years of experience in community engagement and development -

BLAISE ITABELO: Hey everyone.

JOHN DE MAIO: And works alongside our next speaker, Lisa Button, CEO of Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia. Welcome, Blaise and Lisa -

LISA BUTTON: Hi everyone.

JOHN DE MAIO: And thanks everyone for joining us online today. Today we are wanting to explore what we mean by the concept of social supports, why it’s important and ways practitioners can support recently-arrived humanitarian migrants build both social and community connections. So I think we’ll kick off the discussion by first looking at what we mean by social and community supports and why they are important. So Varni, can you tell us a little bit about what your research showed and how you define social supports?

VARNI DOMA: Thanks John. Well my research is a well-established framework to define social support as an exchange of resources, assistance and aid through social interactions. So this framework conceptually differentiated social support into four different types which you’ll find I’ve listed on slide two of the handout. So the four types are: emotional support which refers to expressions of care, comfort and empathy in social interactions. Instrumental support which involves providing aid assistance and service to another individual. Informational support which involves providing suggestions, advice and new information to another individual. And finally appraisal support which refers to communicating information that is important for self-evaluation like constructive feedback. So these support types are often provided by a social network such as family, friends and community.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Varni, great to hear those insights. I’d also like the opportunity to bring in the other panellists here. Just wondering, Lisa, might start with you and if you had anything to add about social supports and connections?

LISA BUTTON: Yeah thanks, John and Varni. I just wanted to add in one observation that often when we start talking about social supports we start to talk about the concept of community, and in our work it’s become important to really tease apart what we mean by community. People tend to use that term quite loosely with their own meaning ascribed to it. We can have communities of identity in terms of people who identify as being from a particular ethnic or linguistic or religious group, we can have communities based around location, we can have communities based around shared kinship. In the sense that we use the term we’re often talking about the community in the broadest possible sense, the people around us who we’re proximate to but we break through all those different boundaries. So just wanted to throw that out there as something to bear in mind.

JOHN DE MAIO: That’s great, thanks. Varni, I thought I might just circle back to you as well and if you were happy to discuss a little bit about your main findings in relation to the relationship between social supports and mental health outcomes for humanitarian migrants.

VARNI DOMA: Sure, thank you, John. So to provide some background, my research is data collected from the Building New Life in Australia longitudinal study to look at the relationship between three different kinds of social support and mental health of a large cohort of humanitarian migrants at multiple times after a settlement in Australia. So the three types that I looked at were emotional, instrumental and informational support. So on slide three of the handout you can see that overall we found that among the whole sample population included in the study, as emotional and instrumental support that was received within the initial months of resettlement increased, psychologist distress decreased three years after resettlement. And on slide four you can see that as informational support received three years after resettlement increased, psychologist distress decreased after five years.

So this shows that being supported emotionally and performing tasks such as buying groceries is vital in the initial phases of resettlement, but being self-sufficient, so knowing how to find a job, access bank services, use public transport is crucial for longer-term mental health. My research also analysed groups of humanitarian migrants at different outcome, and the mental health outcomes as well, and you’ll find those on slides five to eight of your handout. So first informational support influenced the severity of psychological distress of both women and men at different times after resettlement. So, I found that women receiving informational support in the initial months of resettlement was associated with less psychologist distress after five years. However, for men informational support that was received three years after resettlement was associated with less psychological distress after five years.

So, I also found the relationship varied amongst age groups. So, for those 18 to 29 years old emotional and instrumental support that was received in the initial months of resettlement led to a decrease in psychological distress after three years of resettlement. However, for those older, so those between 45 to 75 years old, it was more informational support that was received in the initial months of resettlement that led to less psychological distress after five years. So, these findings demonstrates that different subgroups of humanitarian migrants have different supports needs after resettlement, and these findings are currently under review and we hope to see it published soon.

JOHN DE MAIO: That’s great, thank you. It’s really great to hear those perspectives from the BNLA, and the relationship between social supports and psychological distress. I’d now like to throw it over to Lisa and Blaise, and hoping you could introduce us to the concept of community sponsorship and tell us what you see are the main challenges and gaps in achieving social connectedness among recently-arrived humanitarian migrants.

LISA BUTTON: Thanks John, and Varni, those findings are really interesting. It’s great to see your research in this space. Before I get into addressing those specific questions, we thought we might just share a two minute video which really shows what this concept of community sponsorship looks like in practice. You’ll have to bear with us in that this video was developed as a promotional tool, so it’s not aimed so much at practitioners as the general public who we’re hoping to get involved in this approach.

[Video plays]

LISA BUTTON: So Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia, we’re a national – an independent Australian charity. We’ve been around in various forms for the last four years, initially as an advocacy and research organisation, trying to persuade the Australian government and the Australian community to get on board with this idea of community sponsorship. But in the last couple of years we’ve moved that into running programs, initially a group mentor program for newly-arrived refugees, and more recently we’ve been funded by the federal government to run what I’d describe as a more full community sponsorship program inspired by the very successful Canadian community refugee sponsorship program that’s been running for more than 40 years.

A lot of people have heard about the Canadian program, but those who haven’t, that program has enabled everyday citizens in Canada to sponsor the migration of more than 325,000 refugees into Canada in the last 40 years, in addition to those who are arriving through the government funded program, which is similar to what Australia has had in recent decades. So as an organisation we want to see that kind of approach developing and scaling up in a way that expands and improves refugee resettlement in Australia, and the key to this is harnessing the generosity, goodwill and social capital of groups of everyday Australians and community groups. When we talk about community, we’re usually talking in the broadest possible sense about the people who live in a particular location who can walk the journey that a refugee newcomer experiences when they arrive in the country, and help shepherd them through that process, and help them to build their own independence and give voice to their own wishes and agency as part of that program.

There’s a few principles that really underpin what we do in this space, but I’d say the key is that it’s very much a group-based approach. So, it’s not about one person sponsoring or working with another person, it’s about a group of everyday citizens who have expertise in their own lives and in their own professions and in their own local community working with a single refugee newcomer family and supporting them in their journey to become fully-established members of the Australian community. It’s about an informal and organic relationship that underpins the settlement support that that group provides to the newcomer family. Sometimes it becomes friendship. Not always, but it’s often described in terms of friendship. But the key to it is it is informal, it is organic, even though you might have some sort of key expectations around the type of support that that group might be providing. The idea is that these informal groups of people are very self-directed in their work.

So they don’t get told, ‘On a Tuesday afternoon you have to do driving lessons and on a Wednesday morning you have to do English classes.’ The brief is basically, ‘Get to know the family, find out what they need, and then support them in achieving that in whatever way you and that family deem appropriate and find workable and successful.’ So it’s whole of family, whole of life approach, and typically the support period goes for six to 12 months. I’m going to now hand over to my wonderful colleague Blaise who can talk a little bit more about some of the gaps and how this approach addresses those gaps in social support for newly-arrived refugees.

BLAISE ITABELO: Thank you Lisa, and thanks John for the introduction. I guess as we all know starting a new life in a new country is never easy. There are challenges that comes with migration, and obviously when we’re talking about refugee and migrant there are those challenges that comes with starting a new life in a new country and languages, learning a new culture, getting to know someone in your community. But when it comes to really looking at our current settlement program, which I tend to call our traditional settlement program, that comes with a – there is no systematic opportunity for newly-arrived members or community or newly-arrived refugees to meet members of the broader community. There is no opportunity for someone who arrives today to really get to know John and Blaise who lives within the same geographical area. The focus on the mainstream settlement program is on registration, a needs basis.

So really it’s all about someone responding to the needs of the client when the needs arise. And I guess the biggest out of all is this structural aspect to the professional settlement. The settlement service is often done within working hours by a professional case manager, and it’s done Monday to Friday, and there are some very strict boundaries in terms of what they can and can’t do, like any other workplace. So that really brings a little bit of a challenge in terms of the inability of case managers to go beyond what is written in the book. And what we see as an end result is really the lack of a framework to systematically bring newcomers and established Australians together in ways that force the natural, organic, meaningful and holistic relationships, and the development and/or transfer of social capital. We’ll talk very briefly about our two flagship programs, and Lisa touched base on this. I will be very brief on this.

Our first program that Lisa mentioned, this was started as a ballot program, it is called the GMP, Group Mentorship Program. This is very light touch program, and the way the program runs is that the refugee is already in Australia, and the group will just provide that light touch support to supplement support because the family has already got a case manager through the government funded program. And as I said early refugees will already be in Australia accessing humanitarian settlement program, then the group will just provide a mentorship and the additional support. If I look on the other end, the CRISP. This is our new program and we’ve just launched it in May, and we are very excited – and I should maybe say this very quickly, we are very excited to receive – to be expecting our first family, our first refugee that will come through this program on the 1st of September. The way this program works is that –

Again maybe I should potentially put it this way, the way program works is that a group will come together and support a family, and I’ll come back to that, but the program is what we call full settlement support. The group will provide support from the date of arrival. So the expectation is that Blaise is coming from a refugee camp in Congo, he is already connected to John and Lisa who lives in Sydney and they will be at the airport, so that first point of contact when they arrive in the country. So these people, or the refugee that are coming in the program, they will already have a visa that has been granted through UNHCR and the Department of Immigration. And what the group will provide is that holistic support throughout 12 months over the arrival the refugees when they come in Australia. As we say both are two programs, they all forecast on bringing locals, everyday Australians together, a group of five people, to provide that support.

The expectation is that the group will only give at least 10 plus hours a week to provide that practical support. There are elemental fundraising in those two programs, and I must say the fundraising is not for CRSA, the fundraising is for the group to be able to really support the family they are looking after. We’ve seen success throughout these two programs, and as Lisa mentioned the CRISP program started in Canada, and over 300,000 people have been settled through that program. We know that through the gaps that I mentioned earlier, these two approaches can actually bring a solution to some of those challenges that newly-arrived refugees are facing when they arrive in Australia. As we said a group of individuals in the same geographical area supporting one newly-arrived household. So this is really Blaise and Lisa that lives in the area, and brings that person in that area and providing them with that holistic support.

Because it’s a group of five it’s not like they traditional settlement support where a single caseworker is actually supporting numerous families. This is just five people supporting one household, and giving in at least 10 hours a week, 10 plus hours a week. The program is very flexible, holistic and organic. The nature of support can change day-to-day, so if John today needs this the group is there, and the five people bring different expertise, different ability that makes it easy in supporting the individual. It’s not just about the head of the household, the support goes to the whole family. The general social support to build the social capital and support in particular settlement goals, and we see things like someone arrives here, the group will pass on the knowledge of local services, the group will act as though they are mentors, and that will give them an opportunity to practice their English, and way of also seeing professional networks and knowledge of employment opportunities coming out of that.

So having said that, you’re probably wondering, what is it they need from me or how can I get involved, what can I do? I think the first thing I can say, just be aware of the program, as your future client or your next client could be involved in this program. Most of our programs are new and we’re still looking at reaching out to everyday Australians, and we believe through you, through your network we could be able to reach out to more people, so please help us spread the news. If you’ve got a mailing list that usually goes out we would love to report an article in there that can reach out to your audience. Please join our mailing list and share emails, follow us on social media. There are ways of getting involved. In your private life you can really do this, and I want to take this time to invite you. We’ve got an information session on the 17th of August. There is a link there in the handout, please click there and register.

One thing I would really love to say as well is we do actually have a community of practice and this brings together people that are involved in this program to share their expertise to really support one another, and if you think you’ve got the expertise that can really benefit that community of practice, we’d really invite – we would like to hear from you. The next slide is just there for my contact. If you would like to hear more, or if you have a group that would like to hear more happy to be contacted, happy to come and deliver a tele-presentation to your group. Thank you very much.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Blaise and Lisa. Sorry, you were going to say something Lisa?

LISA BUTTON: I just wanted to add that our mission here is to work alongside colleagues who are working in the traditional settlement services sector. There’s a lot of wonderful people doing great work in that area, but as Blaise’s presentation highlighted, there are obviously boundaries when you’re doing that work for an organisation as a staff member rather than in a private capacity. So we want to see this approach growing refugee settlement in Australia by bringing in private actors alongside of professional settlement service, and see the whole thing creating an Australia that can do more for refugees and provides them with a wonderful experience. Thank you.

JOHN DE MAIO: Yes, thank you both. It was really great to hear about that new settlement model and the benefits it’s actually going to provide to both the migrants and the sponsors, so thank you for that. Andrea, I might circle back to you now, and I was just wondering if you could speak a little bit about your own experience working with these communities and what do you see as the challenges they face in achieving social connections?

ANDREA SHEPHERD: Thanks John. I think if we think about the basics and going back to basic needs and thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; the need for shelter and clothing and food, I think that really takes priority. Social connections, friendships that sit in that middle tier, and keeping in mind we’re focusing on humanitarian migrants, so they can face significant barriers to just meeting those basic needs so then everything gets pushed down that priority list as well. So I think that’s something to keep in mind. But I’d also like to flip this conversation a little bit as well, and get us all to really think about what are we doing to enable social connections. I think as Lisa and Blaise have presented around their programs that’s one way, and also just for all of us working in organisations, are we doing everything we can to promote social connection?

So how are we promoting our programs in a culturally safe or appropriate manner? Do we have fliers that are translated, are we using imagery that’s inclusive and representative as well? Are we minimising those barriers for participation in terms of is the venue close to public transport, are we providing childcare if that’s necessary, are there interpreters available? I think we need to keep in mind that we’re the service providers, and if we take that rights-based approach as well to our work our programs need to be inclusive, and so we as a service as well as an organisation can improve how we enable and minimise those barriers for community.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Andrea, great to hear those insights also. And Varni, I’m just wondering is this shortage of social supports also evidenced in your research?

VARNI DOMA: Thanks John. I guess just to add on to what Andrea was speaking about, we have seen in my research that there’s been shortages of social support in different subgroups. So among the three support types that my research looked at, so emotional, instrumental and informational support, we found that subgroups of humanitarian migrants received varying levels of support at all times that were measured after resettlement which spanned five years. So these levels of support were measured in the initial months of resettlement, three years after resettlement and five years after resettlement, and you’ll see a breakdown of this in the handout on slides nine and 10. So we found that older humanitarian migrants received less of all three support types at each time point that was measured after resettlement compared to younger humanitarian migrants.

We also found that women received less informational support but more emotional and instrumental support at all times after resettlement compared to men. Humanitarian migrants with 12 or more years of education received more informational support but less emotional and instrumental support at all times after resettlement, and this was compared to those with six or fewer years of education. And overall we found that those with higher English proficiency received more of each support type than those with lower English proficiency. Those reliant on government payments as their main source of income received less informational support than those who earned a salary through employment. And finally we found that humanitarian migrants who resided in regional Australia received more emotional and instrumental support within the initial months of resettlement than those who resided in major cities.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Varni. So now I just want to talk a little bit about how we can facilitate community connections in practice, and Andrea, I know you work directly in community capacity building, and some of which is focused on obviously building connections. So it’d be great to hear from you a few examples of how community connections were facilitated at Southeast Community Links and what the impact of these were.

ANDREA SHEPHERD: Yeah, definitely John, thank you. I have a couple of examples I can share with everyone. I’ll start with one of them where we have developed recently a group program that was initially focused around building women’s digital literacy skills, so looking at developing their confidence in using digital devices like laptops or their smartphones, because really that feedback from the community came in terms of that digitalisation of services, things like they need to access Centrelink or even school communication these days, it’s all through an app. But keeping that in mind, we also wanted to consider other feedback in terms of community members saying how they were feeling isolated and alone, they didn’t have a lot of opportunities to come out of the house, particularly for women in the community.

So taking all of that into consideration we developed a program after that feedback from community in particular around developing this program where we didn’t have a really rigid structure in terms of making sure that we needed to have a particular curriculum in place. While we recognise the importance of building those skills and the confidence, we also recognise the importance of building connection amongst the women. And given that we allowed space for that to happen, so giving opportunity while the focus was about building digital literacy skills that they still had opportunity to talk about things that are relevant to them, issues that they may be experiencing, and learn from one another as well, sharing those resources about what they’ve learnt through their experience and their settlement so far.

So it was about minimising that rigidity in the program, and giving space to allow that connection to organically happen amongst the group as well. Following on from that we of course do evaluations and feedback, and it was really fantastic that while originally the intention may not have been to build that connection, we recognise that that was still valuable. And that’s what strongly came back through the evaluation as well of the program that all of the participants were saying how they felt more connected, they felt more included in community as well through their participation in that program. So that’s one example. Taking again that community development approach and framework we also work quite closely and in partnership with ethno-specific associations.

So those organisations that may have established themselves to support their own community, we work alongside them. So I think, again, they will identify a need or an issue in their particular community. So one example is a community group recognised that older women were quite isolated and needed that opportunity to connect with others, and also connect with services as well, because we recognise service literacy is another huge issue. But in doing so, the group proposed the idea of having a craft group that also incorporated English. But that group didn’t have the resourcing, the funding, the space to be able to allow that to happen. So that’s where we partnered with them together and through our connections applied for local funding through the local Council to enable that to happen, provided support around administration, finding that venue as well.

So that enabled the group to happen and occur, and again the women said for some of them they hadn’t left their homes since they arrived in Australia. That was that first opportunity where they were able to connect with others, and also have that shared experience of wow, someone else has also been through this experience. So I think partnership with those ethno-specific associations was another really great way to enable that to happen. We also have a mentoring program that we established, and that was again established through a codesign effort. So it was meeting with community and asking them, ‘What is particularly firstly preventing – or what were the barriers to engaging with employment and education?’ and a lot of people said it was because they didn’t have anyone to really explain or talk through about what were the different pathways available.

So this codesign group, they suggested having a mentoring program where someone could be connected to someone in the broader community who can provide that guidance and support on that individual basis, understand what are the goals that that individual wants to achieve and then work with them towards that. So that again, while it had that focus around education and employment, it also provided that real valuable opportunity to build a friendship, expand their networks, gain opportunities within different workplaces as well. So that really enabled that more holistic support in addressing those different domains of someone’s life in terms of education, employment, health, housing, that mentor provided that support and connection. So that’s just a few examples there John of how we’ve been able to do that across our organisation.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks, and obviously the last example you gave there, there’s some parallels with the new community support sponsorship model that Lisa and Blaise were talking about as well. So one of the questions from our preregistration for the webinar was around how we encourage people to attend workshops in a community centre setting like [those that you facilitate] 00:33:25, so we’re just wondering do you have any reflections from these initiative and what practitioners can do to enable these social supports?

ANDREA SHEPHERD: Yeah, certainly John, and I think this comes back to a point I raised earlier in terms of one of the first things I’d encourage people to do is just understand are there any barriers that are preventing people from participating or attending those workshops or groups. Is it about childcare, is it about the timing of it, that can be something really simple, is it at a convenient time for people? And how is it being promoted, are we ensuring that again it’s in different languages, or the imagery that we use on our fliers, does it represent the community we’re trying to engage, and is there language support available as well in that? I think a couple of other things people could also consider is about whether you have capacity to bring on board someone from the community or the target group that you’re focusing that particular program on?

So reaching out to those people and saying, ‘Can you partner with us, can you work with us to try and engage others from the community?’ A couple of things that are really, really simple and really practical ways I think as well of encouraging that is - something I know that we get asked quite often at our programs is, ‘Will I get a certificate if I come?’, and I think that’s that acknowledgement of people’s time. People are time-poor, and so just providing something simple like that which, then again I guess it supports and acknowledges their time and their commitment to that particular initiative. The other really simple thing is providing food. We know that food just has such a fabulous way of bringing people together, and people need to eat at the end of the day. So I think those are two simple, practical ways as well to encourage that engagement.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks. So at this point I might just throw it open to the other panellists, what do you see as the key considerations when working with humanitarian migrants and supporting them to build these connections, and Varni I might start with you and if you just want to talk a little bit about any implications from your research on this topic?

VARNI DOMA: Yeah sure, thank you John. My research findings demonstrated that humanitarian migrant populations are not homogenous, meaning that different groups will have different experiences and therefore they will have different support needs at various times after resettling. So I think to address these findings I think we can start by investing more in resettlement services to ensure that they provide the support that are reflective of the needs of the humanitarian migrants that are being resettled in Australia, and we could also tailor services so that subgroups are provided the support at the right time after resettlement and for a longer period than what is currently being provided.

JOHN DE MAIO: Great, thanks for that. And Blaise, do you have anything you wanted to add on this topic as well?

BLAISE ITABELO: Yeah, thanks John. I think I agree with Varni and Andrea in terms of your contribution on some of the things that can be done, and I think for me it starts with the program, it starts with the activity you are putting up there. Is that an activity that the humanitarian entrants will be interested in, because you may be struggling to get people just because what you’re proposing is not what they need. When someone comes in this country our needs are different. So if someone has been here within three months taking them to a Cert III in something may not be something they want, they just want to know where they can take their kids to this and that. So I think that’s the number one, but number two is all about understanding the people you want to bring, and Andrea did put some good points here.

You want to target humanitarian entrant, do you understand who they are, do you understand what sort of cultural background you really want to bring in your door, do you understand their needs, do you understand what they’re interested in? That will shape how you promote the program, that will shape what you actually present to them, that will shape how you actually market the whole endeavour, and I think that’s another key ingredient to success. Thank you.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks. Lisa, do you have any reflections on this topic?

LISA BUTTON: Only just to reinforce I think what other speakers have said but at an individual level. It’s one thing to try and understand people as a cohort, it’s another thing to recognise the nuances in each individual. One of the things that we do in our training is, I’m sure you’re familiar with this idea of a cultural iceberg, and who are we culturally speaking, and it’s influenced by so many different factors. And so culturally speaking even people from a similar language group or religious group may still have a lot of differences in their culture, in their needs and in their aspirations, and that can be very hard for large programs to accommodate and tackle, but nevertheless I think it should be an aspiration wherever possible to try and allow the individuals that we’re trying to support to I guess shape and choose their own adventure a bit rather than having a lot of assumptions made about what they need at an individual level.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thank you, and thank you everyone for that very stimulating discussion. It was great to hear both the perspectives from the research and practice side of things. So now we might just go to some live questions from the audience, and firstly I was just going to ask do you think we need to identify and tailor our practice to this population, or do we change our practice so that everyone feels welcome, and I know we’ve touched on this a little bit throughout the discussion as well.

ANDREA SHEPHERD: I think I can jump in there John -

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Andrea.

ANDREA SHEPHERD: I think it’s really important that we do take an intersectional lens and approach to this. So keeping in mind that obviously there are different aspects of a person’s identity that can expose them to different overlapping levels of discrimination and marginalisation, and privilege as well. So if we apply that lens to I think our work, I would say that we do need to tailor our practice, and it isn’t necessarily about excluding people or not making people welcome, but recognising that there are additional barriers for people to be able to participate, so how can we minimise those or remove those?

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks. Blaise, did you want to say something as well?

BLAISE ITABELO: Yeah, if I can just add to that, Andrea, I think in today’s age we need to look at how we can make our services more accessible with anyone, regardless of their background, the challenges they may be going through. And I think for any service I think it’s okay if you’ve got a specific program that you really want to target specifically newly-arrived refugees I think you really need to tailor that program specifically for them, but I think if you’ve got a service and you really want to see a diverse range of customers or clients or patients on the door, I think it’s about taking a step back where you ask yourself if someone walks in here who doesn’t speak English how are we going to respond to their needs?

If someone walks in here and needs Auslan translation how are we going to respond to their needs? It is taking that approach to that level, and both refugees and people with other challenges will be able to access the services.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks. And we’ve got our next question, this might be best for you Andrea but I’ll throw it open to everyone as well. A member from a multicultural supported playgroup is trying to organise employment support for migrants, so do you have any info on some of the pitfalls in your experience in setting this up, and what doesn’t work so well or what might work well?

ANDREA SHEPHERD: So employment support for humanitarian migrants?

JOHN DE MAIO: Employment support, yeah.

ANDREA SHEPHERD: I think something to be considerate of is, and this particular organisation may have done this, but do a bit of service mapping as well. So what is already out there, what’s already being done? You don’t want to create something that’s already happening. I know that employment support, there is such a focus through government funding, there’s a real push on those three Es of English, education, employment. So I think firstly exploring is something already happening in our particular region? If it is happening are there particular gaps there in terms of what they might not be addressing to provide that employment support that you might be able to fill as an organisation?

I think it’s about also providing that readiness support before even getting into employment. So do people understand the different pathways, where can they find different jobs? Also we talk about Australian culture, I don’t like to use that very often, but in terms of in a workplace setting what does that look like preparing them for that? That’s just some of my reflections.

JOHN DE MAIO: Do any of the other panellists want to add anything there? No, all good. So the next question, I think this is definitely for Blaise and Lisa, is a member just wants to confirm that your program, it’s not going to replace the support from the government, HSP providers would be an addition, is that correct?

LISA BUTTON: I might take that one. So the CRISP program, which is the one I think this question is referring to was introduced – it was announced last year under the coalition government, and it’s set up as a pilot, so it’s relatively small – significant but reasonably small in scale, it’s 1,500 refugees over four years. At this stage it’s not additional to the general humanitarian quota, but for those familiar with the Albanesegovernment’s policy platform or the ALP policy platform there’s a very clearly articulated aspiration that community sponsored places will be additional, an aspiration of building that to 5,000 places per annum, in addition to a larger government funded humanitarian quota. So the idea is that they’re parallel ways of supporting the settlement of people, and I think when you look at that, particularly through the prism of regional Australia, you can see the value of the two programs working alongside of each other.

The community sponsored approach, it can work anywhere, but it’s particularly useful in areas where there is not a lot of existing settlement infrastructure, but where there are communities who wish to grow their populations, welcome people from diverse backgrounds and so forth. The other thing just to flag is that the HSP program, the Humanitarian Settlement Program, is there as a stopgap. So if for some reason there was a breakdown in the relationship between the local supporter group and the refugee family, there’s a safety net of that individual getting support through the Humanitarian Settlement Program, and those individuals do also have access to some of the more specialised and intensive services on a case-by-case and needs basis. So it’s a slightly nuanced answer to that question, but I hope that suffices.

JOHN DE MAIO: And there’s obviously a little bit of interest in the CRISP program because there’s also another question, so while we’re in that space; CRISP support, can it be offered for unaccompanied minors in out-of-home care?

LISA BUTTON: That’s an interesting question. In practice the way it’s working at the moment is the referrals are coming in through the UNHCR process. So they’re identifying, as they do every year, refugees to refer to the Australian government for resettlement in Australia. Of that pool a certain number are identified as potential candidates for participation in the CRISP. So it would depend on whether those individuals were being picked up through that process. In theory that could work, but it would just rely on that sort of pipeline. I would say that it’s a two-way process.

So if we’re hearing that there’s appetite from suitable members of the community to support refugees with a particular profile, so whether they be unaccompanied minors or women at risk or refugees from the LGBTIQ community, we can be feeding that information back up through the government to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got some really strong community capacity to support someone from this background. If you can filter people into the program who might benefit then we can make that work at a matching level.’

JOHN DE MAIO: Great. And we’ve got one final question and then we’ll probably have to wrap up. So what kind of community-based or volunteer organisations provide support to asylum seeker families who have lived in Australia for longer than five years? Does anyone have any insights on that question?

BLAISE ITABELO: Can you repeat again the question John sorry?

JOHN DE MAIO: So they’re interested in supports after the five year settlement period. So that’s community-based or volunteer organisations that can support humanitarian migrants after they’ve been in Australia for five years or more.

ANDREA SHEPHERD: I could answer that John in terms of our region in the southern region of Victoria. I know that our Neighbourhood Houses provide fantastic support to people, and they don’t have those strict criteria or eligibility in terms of people needing to fit into within five years. So Neighbourhood Houses is one fantastic place I think we refer people to. Also the Community Information and Support Services, or CISS for short. Again these are obviously Victorian based, but they’re another agency that would provide that – they provide crisis support, but also they can provide I know casework support as well for people who may be finished with their five year support through the Humanitarian Settlement Program. So those are a couple that I can think of.

JOHN DE MAIO: Blaise, you wanted to add something there as well?

BLAISE ITABELO: If I can add I think I’ve seen in Queensland and even in New South Wales organisations like neighbourhood groups, community centres, Salvation Army and the rest tend to pick up that load, which it is actually quite heavy because it’s often unfunded and it’s relying on volunteers to take on the challenge. But the support is somehow there and through faith groups as well, so churches and mosques tend to really step up in supporting people even after five years.

JOHN DE MAIO: We have a few follow-up questions about the new CRISP program as well, and one of our members wants to know is CRISP being rolled out Australia-wide?

BLAISE ITABELO: Thanks, John. I think the best part and the most exciting thing about this program is that it’s not actually designed to go in the traditional migration areas. So the program is open across Australia, and as we speak, we started getting interest from groups. So the way things will happen is that refugees will be matched with groups where those groups lives. So if the group lives in Wollongong, the refugee family will be going to Wollongong. So it is open across Australia, and the interest that we’re receiving right now are coming from across Australia.

So anywhere you are, wherever you are, anybody can come, and I think again this brings that opportunity of a community to start their own migration program. A community that have never settled anybody before can now decide to say, ‘We want to see our community diverse’ and put their hands up to be part of the CRISP program.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Blaise. And another one about CRISP, so an audience member notes that it seems to be great when there are not other members from their cultural and linguistic background, so in terms of location, however in areas where there is community from their cultural and linguistic backgrounds do you find that newly-arrived refugees still want to connect individually with members of the wider community?

LISA BUTTON: Yeah, so this is a really interesting one in that from where we’re sitting there’s no reason why members of the same cultural or linguistic background couldn’t be involved in or in fact instigate the formation of the groups who provide the support. I think a dream team of supporters would include members of that cultural and linguistic community as well as members of the broader Australian community. I think as another answer to that question, what we’ve noticed in our initial pilot program is that it really comes down to the individual refugees.

For some people it’s of great comfort to have the support of people from their own cultural and linguistic community, for others they perhaps want to be part of a more multicultural society, or really want to work on developing their English for example as their primary aspiration and feel that they’re better doing that in an immersive environment where they’re forced to speak English. So, it really just comes down to the individual and their preference. But in short, I think we should try to encourage both those specific communities as well as the broader community to get involved.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Lisa. And a final one about CRISP, how does accommodation support work for refugee families under the CRISP program?

LISA BUTTON: I’ll take that one. So essentially the community supporter group is responsible for initially having temporary accommodation lined up for the family upon arrival, but then once the family’s in the country and is able to participate in working with that group to find longer term accommodation the idea is that they would move into their own independent accommodation as soon as possible. So initially it could be a hotel or an Airbnb in the same way that humanitarian migrants generally might arrive in Australia, but then moving into rental accommodation as they look for that permanent place to call home.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Lisa. Blaise, did you want to add something?

BLAISE ITABELO: Yeah, if I can jump in very quickly as well. I think it’s fair to mention that refugees coming under the CRSA program will have all the benefits like any other refugees including all their Centrelink, rental assistance like any other refugee that comes with a humanitarian visa. So, the expectation for the group is just to, as Lisa mentioned, is really providing that initial support while they’re waiting for their Centrelink to kick in, but as soon as that is active they start getting their benefit, they should be able to move on with their lives like any other refugee, even similar to those who are in HSP programs.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Blaise. So changing tack a little bit now, and this question might be best for you Andrea. How do you deal with the dilemma of what is considered important for the client themselves, in terms of the refugees, and what the service provider might consider important?

ANDREA SHEPHERD: Thanks John. It’s a great question and I think there’s no easy, simple answer and a really common tension that organisations can feel, but in terms of what we say is best practice I think ensuring that initiatives are community-led. So, working with communities to understand is this really relevant for them, is this important to them, is this something that they’re going to engage with and find beneficial? Because initiating something that people aren’t going to benefit from or there aren’t going to be positive outcomes, it seems a bit of a waste of resourcing. Also, if we take that person-centred approach as well, people are the experts of their own lives, they know what they need, so I think if we take that approach, it is probably in the best interests of an organisation to ensure that whatever the initiative is, that the community themselves are involved and they’ve said that, ‘This is what’s important to us.’

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks Andrea. Well thanks everyone. We might wrap up there, but before I do so I just want to say I feel like we’ve only just scratched the surface here. And thank you all for sharing your insights, and thank you to everyone for attending, for your great questions. Clearly, we’ll have to do another one soon. We look forward to seeing you at our next webinar. Until then stay safe and have a good week, and I’ll just invite each presenter to say goodbye. So, Varni, we’ll start with you.

VARNI DOMA: Thank you everyone.

JOHN DE MAIO: Lisa and Blaise.

LISA BUTTON: Thank you so much for having us AIFS, and go well everyone.

BLAISE ITABELO: Yeah, thank you for having us.

ANDREA SHEPHERD: Thanks everyone. It’s been a pleasure joining you all so thank you.

JOHN DE MAIO: Thanks everyone. Bye for now.

Slide outline

1. AIFS WEBINAR: Enabling social supports for humanitarian migrants: Understanding the relationship between social support and mental health of humanitarian migrants resettled in Australia

Hemavarni Doma BSc(Hons) MPH

Global and Women’s Health, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University

2. Defining social support

Resources, assistance and aid exchanged through social interactions. (House, 1981; Heaney and Israel, 2008)

Four types of support:

  • Emotional: provision of empathy, love, care and trust
  • Instrumental: provision of aid and services to assist an individual in need
  • Informational: provision of advice, information and suggestions
  • Appraisal: provision of information useful for self-evaluation (e.g., constructive feedback) (House, 1981; Heaney and Israel, 2008)

Aims of the study

After resettlement of a cohort of adult humanitarian migrants in Australia, we:

  • Determined the relationship between social support and mental health at different times for all humanitarian migrants and according to gender and age.
  • Described the groups of humanitarian migrants who received more or less social support

3. Overall relationship between social support and mental health

  • More emotional and instrumental support received 3-6 months after resettlement
  • Better mental health 3 years after resettlement

4. Overall relationship between social support and mental health part 2

  • More emotional and instrumental support received 3 years after resettlement
  • Better mental health 5 years after resettlement

5. Relationship between social support and mental health in women

  • More emotional and instrumental support received 3-6 months after resettlement
  • Better mental health 5 years after resettlement

6. Relationship between social support and mental health in men

  • More emotional and instrumental support received 3 years after resettlement
  • Better mental health 5 years after resettlement

7. Relationship between social support and mental health in 18 - 29 year olds

  • More emotional and instrumental support received 3-6 months after resettlement
  • Better mental health 3 years after resettlement

8. Relationship between social support and mental health in 45 - 75 year olds

  • More emotional and instrumental support received 3-6 months after resettlement
  • Better mental health 5 years after resettlement

9. Social support received after resettlement

Received less informational support:

  • Older age
  • Women
  • Humanitarian migrants from South-East Asia
  • Humanitarian migrants reliant on government payments as primary source of income

Received more informational support

  • Humanitarian migrants with higher education
  • Humanitarian migrants with higher English proficiency

10. Social support received after resettlement part 2

Received less emotional and instrumental support:

  • Older age
  • Humanitarian migrants from Central Asia
  • Humanitarian migrants with higher education

Received emotional and instrumental support:

  • Women
  • Humanitarian migrants with higher English proficiency
  • Humanitarian migrants residing in regional Australia

11. Key considerations in supporting humanitarian migrants

  • Invest in resettlement support services to ensure provisions of support reflect the needs of resettled humanitarian migrants.
  • Tailor existing services toward the needs of specific subgroups of humanitarian migrants.
  • Ensure support is provided at certain times and for extended periods after resettlement.

12. References

  • Heaney CA, Israel BA. Social networks and social support. Health behavior and health education: Theory, research, and practice, 4th ed2008. p. 189-210.
  • House J. Work stress and social support. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. 1981.
  • Doma H, Tran T, Rioseco P, Fisher J. Understanding the relationship between social support and mental health of humanitarian migrants resettled in Australia. 2022. [Manuscript under review].

Useful resources

Related resources

Additional resources


Portrait of Lisa Button

Chief Executive Officer | Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA)

Lisa has been leading the work of CRSA and its predecessor, CRSI, since she instigated its establishment in 2018. She began her career as a commercial lawyer and has been working in refugee law and policy for more than a decade with organisations such as the Centre for Policy Development, Save the Children and Refugee Legal. Lisa is also a Fellow with the Centre for Policy Development and has been director of a number of refugee-led organisations. Lisa holds a Masters in Public and International Law in addition to her BA/LLB(Hons) from the University of Melbourne. She lives in Melbourne and is the proud mum of three teenage boys.

Portrait of Blaise Itabelo

Community Engagement Manager | Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia

Blaise was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sadly, the 1996 war in DRC forced Blaise and his family to flee and, for the next decade and a half, Blaise and his family called a refugee camp home. Blaise migrated to Australia in 2011 and is a proud Australian citizen. He has worked extensively on assisting newly arrived migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum in their settlement journey in Australia. Blaise has over 10 years of experience in Community Engagement and Development with a particular interest in community capacity building and mobilisation and has held various roles with local and International NGOs including Access Community Services Ltd, SSI and WorldShare.

Portrait of Hemavarni (Varni) Doma

Research Officer | Global and Women's Health, Monash University

Varni holds a Master's in Public Health and is currently a Research Officer with Global and Women's Health at the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University. With the Global and Women’s Health group, she generates evidence to explain health inequities and promote health for all. Varni’s recent work aimed to understand the relationship between social support and the mental health of humanitarian migrants resettled in Australia. She is interested in sharing insights from her research on different types of support and their relationship to medium- and long-term refugee mental health.

Portrait of Andrea Shepherd

Senior Practitioner Inclusion & Prevention | South East Community Links

As a Senior Practitioner at South East Community Links, Andrea leads a number of community development and family violence prevention programs that engage migrant and refugee community members living in the south-east region of Victoria.
Andrea is excited to be part of this webinar and to have the opportunity to share her experiences, insights and learnings to hopefully contribute to stronger outcomes for our society as a whole.


John De Maio | Manager, Quantitative Data

Manager, Quantitative Data | Australian Institute of Family Studies

John joined the Institute in 2008 to work on the Evaluation of the 2006 Family Law Reforms. Between 2013 and 2019, he managed the BNLA. He was responsible for managing data collections, questionnaire design and testing, day-to-day project management and client liaison, preparation of survey reports, data management and processing, data documentation, collaborative working with a range of stakeholders, and quantitative data analysis. John also led the Empowering Migrant and Refugee Women project and undertook research that explored service delivery outcomes for migrant and refugee women who had been living in Australia for at least five years, identifying some of the challenges for these women in the post-settlement period.


Featured image: © GettyImages/Hispanolistic