Working with migrants
Updated: 04 July 2016
As New Zealand's migrant population increases, our work involving supporting migrant families to care safely for their children will also increase. We are already seeing this increased diversity in caseloads across the country.
New migrants often have many practical settlement needs - they need to find a home and employment, they need to enroll their children in school, and learn how to use the many different systems of a new country. Migration stress and the grief and loss that can accompany a move to a new country can result in them having needs across a range of dimensions: health; mental health; education and economic needs, in addition to cultural and language support needs (Briskman & Fiske 2009).
Child care and protection work with new migrants interfaces with service needs across the sector. When we work with a migrant family with complex needs it is important that we connect with other professionals and cultural supports to ensure that our collective response meets the child's need for safety and the family's need for support, including mental health services.
Migrant and refugee families can be affected by complex layers of prejudice and discrimination. Consider this case example (drawn from Connolly, Crichton-Hill and Ward 2006 p. 22-23):
Child protection services have been involved with a migrant family and the children in this family have been witnessing domestic violence. The child protection practitioner was aware that the mother was regularly exposed to severe beatings by the father and decided to involve a support service worker in her discussions with the mother. The discussions focused on helping the mother to understand how the violence was harmful, not only to herself but also to her children. The mother agreed to leave the family home with the children, and the support worker assisted the mother to find accommodation and financial assistance.
The move was extremely difficult for the mother who had never lived independently with her children and had only recently moved to the country. She also had trouble speaking English and was not yet connected to other people from her country of origin. After a few weeks, feeling alone and isolated, the mother returned with her children to the family home.
Concerned about her safety, the child protection worker contacted the support worker to arrange a follow-up visit. On receiving the call, the support worker expressed a reluctance to be involved with this family. She had found the mother difficult because of her limited ability to speak English, and was somewhat resentful that she had put all this work into the family to no avail. She commented that there were plenty of English-speaking families that needed help, and that she thought it a poor use of resources and time to work with people from these countries who always went back for their 'daily bashing'.
The case study illustrates the ways in which cultural needs and feelings of displacement can have serious consequences when working within the child protection and family violence areas. Under such circumstances it is easy to see how child protection services can be pressured to take action to secure the safety of the children within the home. Nevertheless, culture is a resource that can be harnessed and used to build solutions in child care and protection practice. Our job is to mobilize cultural networks to support safe solutions for children and foster enduring change within families.
Briskman, L. & Fiske, L. (2009) Working with Refugees. In Connolly, M. & Harms, L. (eds), Social Work: Context and Practice (pp. 135-148). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Connolly, M & Harms, L. (2009). Social Work: contexts and practice. (2nd edition). Oxford University Press: Melbourne.
Connolly, M. Crichton-Hill, Y & Ward, T. (2006). Culture and Child Protection: reflexive responses. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: London.
Crichton-Hill, Y. (2007). Family Violence and Cultural Context. Social Work Now 37 (September) 12-16.
Furness, S. (2005) Shifting sands: developing cultural competence. Practice, 17(4) 247-256.
Hanley, J. (1999). Beyond the tip of the iceberg: Five stages toward cultural competence. Reaching today’s youth. 3(2) 9-12.
Su’a Hawkins, A. & Mafile’o, T. (2004). What is Cultural Supervision? Social Work Now 29 (December) 10-16.
Webber-Dreadon, Emma (1999) He Taonga Mo o Matou Tipuna (A gift handed down by our ancestors): An indigenous approach to social work supervision. Social Work Review Vol 11(4), 1999.