Date Published: 29 September 2006
Health system must look beyond Anglo-Australian values concerning parenting
Having a baby or caring for a sick child can be an anxious time for any parent, but a new report reveals it can be particularly difficult for families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds living in Australia.
These families can sometimes find themselves isolated and unsupported, living within a Western health care system while still influenced by culturally-specific parenting practices.
The report, 'Culture, Health and Parenting in Everyday Life', has been produced by the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Cultural Research, in partnership with Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, and the Multicultural Health Service of South East Sydney and Illawarra Health Service (SESIAHS).
In a year-long study, 60 Arabic-, Vietnamese- and Chinese-speaking parents and carers were asked about their experience of health care services and the influence of culture on their own parenting practices. A dozen child and family nurses working in local Early Childhood Community Health Centres were also interviewed.
Despite being well-established in Australia, the research found that many Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic migrant communities are still socially, culturally and economically isolated, making it difficult to access the health care services they really need.
In these circumstances familiarity becomes important, with most parents preferring to seek medical treatment and parenting advice from local GPs who may share a similar cultural background or speak their language. They also seek support through informal means, like extended family and friends.
The report found boosting community-based health services and strengthening outreach programs can connect and engage CALD families with both formal and informal support systems that work towards bridging the cultural divide.
It recommends area health services and hospitals build strong alliances with GPs in their local areas, who can help link migrant families to health services and community networks, like culturally-specific mothers' groups and play groups.
UWS chief investigator Dr Sharon Chalmers said it's important to look beyond Anglo-Australian values when it comes to parenting.
" We assume that because Chinese, Vietnamese and Arabic communities are well-established in Australia that they have a large family and community support network around them, but that's not always the case," said Dr Chalmers.
" The isolation is felt hardest by women who are usually the primary carer, and can find themselves in unfamiliar situations bringing up children in Australia with little or no family support and limited English skills.
_ It's vitally important that culturally-aware health systems work to fill the gap, by firstly understanding how health care can be influenced by clients' culture and parenting practices, and secondly developing health care training and service delivery to meet these needs."
Executive Director of Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, Prof Les White, and SESIAHS Director of Multicultural Health Service, Mr Sam Choucair, believe the report will help strengthen health services to culturally and linguistically diverse families.
" With a high proportion of non-English speaking populations accessing the hospital, the findings provide important information about how we can continue to grow relationships between health care professionals and our culturally and linguistically diverse communities," said Prof White.
" The findings will inform policy and health care delivery to our many communities and will help ensure Sydney Children's Hospital and the area health service are leaders in cultural diversity."
Mr Choucair said that the Multicultural Health Service is having a lot of success with community outreach programs.
" Informal networks, like ethno-specific early childhood play groups and mothers' groups, are an important part of our approach. We have a number of these groups within the SESIAHS region which are very popular with mothers from culturally and linguistically diverse communities," he said.
" Not only do they offer a means for women to access health information and education, but they enable mothers to meet up with other families in the area and establish friendships and support networks."
Source: University of Western Sydney (Australia)