Safer Pathways for Refugee and Immigrant Women who are Experiencing Family Violence (Ballarat and the Wimmera)
Ballarat Community Health
What is the project about?
The Safer Pathways for Refugee and Immigrant Women project is delivered by a consortium of Ballarat’s specialist family violence agencies, child and family services, multicultural agencies, community health, the hospital, police, regional health professionals, legal services and local government, among others.
The project aims to address some of the barriers that women from refugee and immigrant backgrounds in regional and rural Victoria perceive or experience that prevent their full uptake and use of family violence services.
Action research focus
Safer Pathways action research is therefore focused on:
- Improving communities’ knowledge about family violence and relevant services
- Improving service providers’ ability to provide a culturally safe response.
Project and research activities
- We mapped knowledge of the family violence service system among community members and service providers in the region through:
- Online surveys: 17 responses from mainstream agencies (general practices, Community Health, Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative, City of Ballarat Child and Family Services, Ballarat Health); and responses from 6 workers and 8 managers of family violence or sexual assault agencies (WRISC Family Violence Support, Berry Street Family Violence, Centres Against Sexual Assault, SalvoConnect Western, Relationships Australia, Centacare).
- Focus groups (Victoria Police, Central Highlands Community Legal Services, and community consultations with 10 women from a range of ethnic backgrounds and 6 young women aged 16 to 18, from African and Asian backgrounds).
- We identified where there were knowledge gaps and then developed resources to bridge these gaps. For example, we produced a service directory and a family violence response flow chart geared to mainstream service providers in the Central Highlands. The resources have been adopted by the state-funded Strengthening Hospital Response to Family Violence initiative for health services and the Health Pathways portal of Western Victoria Primary Health Network, and are currently being adapted for the Wimmera region and by other projects (e.g. Save the Children at Shepparton).
- The data also informed the development of a series of 4 full-day workshops aimed at building the capacity of service providers to identify and respond to family violence in refugee and immigrant communities, and to better understand and use referral pathways in their region. Between 19 and 26 staff from more than 12 agencies attended each workshop.
- Community workshops (3 in total) conducted in Ballarat empowered women and girls from age 16+ with knowledge and understanding of Australian laws, gender inequality and the drivers of family violence and sexual assault.
- We regularly consulted with our women’s reference group, It Takes Courage, to learn about key issues, discuss project activities and outcomes, and deliver education. These women were from 14 different ethnic backgrounds, including from South Sudan, Kenya, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, Botswana, Croatia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines, among others. We also consulted on a few occasions with Sisters for Life, a closed online support group for women from a number of African countries.
- A successful, 5-week parenting program was conducted with 19 members of the Karen community at Nhill. The program focused on modelling healthy relationships in the home, self-reflection and communication skills.
- We produced a digital story with CALD community members, called Her Strength. It features the experiences of two local women and encourages women to seek help and to help others.
Where was the project conducted?
The project is being conducted in the regional city of Ballarat and the Wimmera region of Victoria.
November 2017 – June 2020
How has this project impacted communities, organisations and the region?
Our project showed that when given the opportunity and appropriate support through both formal and informal structures, many women from diverse refugee or immigrant backgrounds are willing to actively contribute to family violence prevention and response initiatives in the interest of supporting their peers. Project participants’ lived experiences of discrimination and family violence have contributed to an improved understanding amongst mainstream and specialist family violence services of the particular issues and barriers faced by women from diverse cultural backgrounds in receiving family violence information, support and assistance in our region.
What worked well?
- The Safer Pathways project has improved understanding amongst services of the particular issues and barriers faced by women from diverse cultural backgrounds in receiving family violence information, support and assistance. For example, all workshop participants felt confident to start a conversation with their organisation/project team about adopting culturally safe practices that reflect the communities that they work with. One local family violence service provider in particular, is leading the way in translating this understanding into practice change through an organisational audit and program and policy changes.
- The strong partnership between Ballarat Community Health and its partner organisations – in particular, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health and Women’s Health Grampians, has enabled opportunities to build on other projects or initiatives, therefore ensuring a continuation, rather than a duplication, of effort.
- The parenting program (with a focus on healthy relationships) delivered to the Karen community at Nhill was an effective way to build trust with community, as members were, over time, more willing to talk about family violence.
What did not work?
- It has been difficult to engage general practitioners in training about referral pathways and culturally appropriate responses to disclosures of family violence, even though they are often the first point of contact for women experiencing family violence in regional areas and acknowledge that family violence is a healthcare issue. One way we have tried to circumvent this issue is to produce a short video explaining the local referral pathway and service directory resources specific to migrant communities, to be distributed in a Western Victoria Primary Health Network e-Newsletter to regional practitioners.
- Talking about family violence directly, or before establishing trusting relationships with community or community leaders, was often a barrier to further engagement.
What did you learn from the project?
- Establishing relationships and developing community champions takes time, and also requires a considerable amount of engagement out of regular business hours. This needs to be factored into any community engagement worker’s responsibilities at the start.
- The 14 women in our project reference group are now actively advocating in their community for the prevention of family violence and informing them about the rights and supports available. As some of them observed:
“I can recognise family violence and all the types of abuse.” (Kenyan-Australian reference group member)
“I have told my friends that you don’t need to have money to get help.” (Vietnamese-Australian reference group member)
“I realised that when I said no to financial abuse, I had taken a big step.” (South Sudanese-Australian reference group member)
- Refugee and immigrant communities across regional Victoria will differ in their readiness for change, as well as in their level of need. We have taken this into consideration when prioritising communities and project activities, and adapted to diversity within and between cultures where we could.
- Although Safer Pathways is focussed on improving women’s access to culturally appropriate support from service providers, the work has expanded to include some prevention of family violence, as requested by communities.
- In our experience and that of other projects, family violence is a sensitive topic for most communities in Australia. For the particular communities we are working with, we found it to be more productive to couch our community education and empowerment work in terms of family safety, family health and family development. Offering parenting programs for new and emerging communities was a more acceptable way of framing discussions around family violence prevention and response.
Do you have suggestions for policy-makers, educators or service providers?
Governments at all levels should continue to focus on community empowerment as a means for the community to take ownership of the problem of family violence and its solution. Rather than adopting a top-down approach, it is crucial to assist and support communities to address family violence in their own ways, and to involve them in decision-making wherever possible by providing culturally tailored information and letting the community decide about the best course of action. This approach is neither threatening nor stigmatising, and so any initiatives emerging belong to the community and are relevant and useful to community members.
Where to from here?
This project is ongoing until the end of June 2020. We are continuing to build both the capacity of service providers in the Wimmera region and refugee and immigrant communities in that area. We are in discussions with project partners about sustaining the work through train-the-trainer initiatives and sharing expertise. We will also be seeking funding from various sources to continue to support communities. Ballarat Community Health is currently funded by the Victorian Government to deliver a prevention of violence against women project that is focussed on new and emerging communities in Ballarat, for example.
People and organisations to thank:
Research support: ANROWS (Particularly Dr Elizabeth Orr and Dr Maria Koleth)
Partner organisations: WRISC Family Violence Support, Women’s Health Grampians, Nhill Learning Centre, Wimmera Development Association, Centre for Participation (Horsham), Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council, Ballarat Health Service, Centre Against Sexual Assault, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health
Committees: Central Highlands Integrated Family Violence Committee, Wimmera and Southwest Family Violence Partnership
Community: This project would not have been possible without input from community members, particularly the It Takes Courage group.