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Family Support Project Report 2003-2004

Project Officer: Zulekha Nazir

This report covers the last eight months of the project from August 2003 until March 2004. In this period the women and their families in Blacktown and Fairfield areas who were served by this project presented the following issues:

· Many women have difficulty understanding the legal system;
· Prejudice against refugee and immigrant women in their local community;
· Families cannot access workers with cross cultural skills;
· Lack of knowledge of government bodies;
· Not enough understanding of the school system;
· Children with mental health problems not being acknowledged;
· Housing lists are getting longer and some refugee families with many children living in 2-bedroom accommodation;
· Many service providers lack empathy for refugee women and children.

Community Development and Casework

Playgroup continued to be the access point for parents with young children. Through playgroups, the parents are able to meet, make contacts and share parenting and family issues and concerns such as parenting and cross cultural issues, physical and emotional development of infants, including toilet training of infants, and dental health.

Information sessions were held to present the various services provided by the state, federal and local government agencies. The sessions covered the services for families experiencing domestic violence; migrant youth in the Fairfield area; children with disability; young people – on pregnancy, health and marriage; children having difficulties at school; refugees; nutrition for children and child abuse.

Learning Circles and Discussion Groups were used as forms of community education and awareness to help families learn and understand basic principles and values for properly functioning families. Discussion focus were on topics such as young people and nutrition; pregnancy among the young people, including prenatal and antenatal check-up; how to support and assist children having difficulties at school; violence in the family and child protection laws and procedures were tackled. Invited speakers gave valuable information and advice during these sessions.

Schools, namely Holroyd, Merrylands and Blacktown High Schools, were approached to gain access to young people and their parents. It was interesting to know that Holroyd High School have a high attendance of young refugees with students coming from Auburn, Blacktown and Parramatta. Of particular note is the creation of the Refugee Girls Support Group. The sessions with this group has been well attended since it had focused on the needs that was not met before due to the unavailability of a resource person whom young refugees can consult with on issues that were taking place in their homes. It raised awareness on a number of issues that are happening in their own homes such as –

· Domestic violence, with a talk on “What do we want to know about Domestic Violence?”;
· Child abuse;
· Parenting and the role culture in a new environment;

· Pregnancy and Marriage, particularly in young people;
· School, studies and the difficulties faced by school girls especially of those from the Pacific Island and Arabic backgrounds.

The positive outcome of the group session resulted with more involvement from the school administrators, counsellors and other staff members and the development of more awareness programs to address the issues.

The Project Officer also held discussion sessions with hospital staff, health centre workers and TAFE Welfare students. A plan, the Family Health Access Project of Western Sydney Area Halth Working Party, had advocated for health workers to look into the needs of women in small and emerging communities like those who are using the Auburn public hospital to give birth.

A meeting with social workers assigned at Mt. Druitt and Blacktown helped raised concerns of women who are involved in domestic violence and how the hospitals and centres can assist the Family Support Service to provide information and casework.

The meeting and information session during a welfare class at the Nirimba TAFE in Blacktown also created awareness on issues affecting refugees. The session was used to assists students in their training as community workers.

Communities and groups reached within this period were from Africa, Indian, Melanesia, Somalia, the Philippines, Arabian and Nigerian. Clients were also served through telephone assistance.

There were 70 cases served through the phone. The Project Officer has provided casework for 25 clients and some of the cases are still ongoing. The requests for assistance in the last eight months were from women in emerging communities who have presented a range of problems such as housing, health issues, problems affecting children’s health, financial and domestic violence. The Project Officer was able to achieve a 95% success rate in dealing with matters that involved family support casework. This was measured by the verbal expression of satisfaction of service recipients after the short-term casework and referral.

Project Outcomes

The following activities and outcomes were indications of project success particularly in areas of:

1. Playgroup for Women Refugees
• Families were re-united;
• Families have gained information on services available to them such as health, work, legal, etc.;
• It had provided women with a venue to go out and be a part of the community and be able to share information and ideas on childcare and development;
• Education classes to parents and students on awareness on domestic violence and refugee families and its impact on children and the wider community;
• Young people became more aware of the conflicts faced by their parents in raising them in a new environment. Better level of communication was raised as the key issue;
• Teachers and school counsellors are more aware on how to communicate with refugee students and their parents and were able to discuss issues that affect them;
• Home visits for new arrivals had helped women gain access to support from the community.

2. Association and coordination with other service providers including relevant government bodies -
• Awareness on the lack of literature and information in relevant community languages and the conflicts that occurs in certain CALD communities. A cross-cultural service was now available for Muslim women who did not have access to these services before;
• Service providers like hospital and welfare workers were more informed about cross-cultural issues when dealing with families from CALD. Interpreting services were also made available to assist them for better communication in dispensing instruction and health advices;
• Settlement issues and information were made available to both families and service providers. Most notable are the new and emerging communities like the one in Blacktown LGA.
• Real estate agents were given information about the housing needs and situation of CALD families;
• The Centerlink and the Department of Housing were given feedbacks on the situation and circumstances of the affected families.

3. Health, Education and Legal services
• Information on the availability of courses such as English language, home and personal development in TAFE and other institutions;
• Group sessions on better parenting involving men were held. Relevant topics on child raising and the roles of parents, primarily of fathers, in creating a stable and safe home environment for families;
• Health and nutrition information on newly arrived mothers especially for those with children with nutritional deficiencies and development problems;
• Legal workers are more aware of problems faced by refugee women in gaining access to AVO services, particularly the different visa status given to some women.

4. Young People
• Through group discussions in schools, teenagers are more aware of the conflicts and adjustments faced by their parents particularly in rasing them in a new and culturally diverse environment;
• Some students had shown interest in going into service careers such as youth, health and community workers. Of particular note were the hope and aspiration shown by pregnant teenagers;
• Young girls with mental health issues gained access to services and not made to feel stigmatised in the community.

5. Relevant churches and community groups opened their doors to welcome new arrivals. The Community of Christ Church assisted the Nigerian community by holding weekend group activities for families

The Family Support Project had been very successful in implementing its key activities, had achieved a relatively high outcome and had made a positive impact on the communities and service recipients. It is imperative that this type of projects be continued. The Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association of NSW, through the Project Officer, had transferred all current cases to appropriate service providers. Some clients were not satisfied with this situation due to the long waiting list for some services and the fears that mainstream community workers will be unable to provide a culturally suitable support. It was unfortunate that this project had been a one-off scheme. It is recommended that future funding for similar projects be made available.

We wish to acknowledge the support and hospitality of the Swinson Cottage in Blacktown and the Hewitt House Neighbourhood Centre in Guildford (where family support services were provided to the Fairfield population covered by the centre). The two service organisations have generously provided the space for our Project Officer to meet clients and hold group activities for women and children. We also thank the Casino Community Benefit Fund for their financial support, all the service agencies – both government and non-government- for their willingness to work with us, and to our service recipients for their trust, my co-workers at IWSA; Jane Corpuz-Brock, our Executive Director, and the Management Committee members and volunteers, especially Amelia Galao.