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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.

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Cultural Playgroups in Diverse Communities - Promoting Family and Community Safety


Victorian Cooperative on Children’s Services for Ethnic Groups (VICSEG)

 

What is the project about?

The project used existing cultural and language specific playgroups as a platform to explore respectful relationships and raising children.

Project activities and aims

Overall, VICSEG supports 40 facilitated CALD and multicultural playgroups across the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne.

The project included professional development and support for 26 playgroup facilitators working with children under 5, about sensitive conversations on the nature of intimate partner relationships and how culture impacts on relationships, gender roles and raising children. These conversations informed the second stage of the project, which was led by the interests and knowledge of the participants who decided on some aspects of family violence prevention that they wanted to explore.

Playgroup facilitators invited experts from various community agencies to present information on identified topics. The topics included:

  • types of family violence, including financial abuse
  • Centrelink processes
  • law in regard to family violence
  • the specifics of spousal visas
  • divorce and child protection.

The aim was to increase awareness of community support services for CALD women and their families.

Action research focus

The benefits, challenges and outcomes of doing prevention work and increasing awareness of support services in playgroup settings.

Research activities

The project’s action research was supported by ANROWS. The conversations provided a space to both collect research data and apply findings to further extend conversations about preventing violence. Facilitators also debriefed and shared their observations with each other, which provided more data to inform future research and program development.

 

Where was the project conducted?

The project was conducted across five municipalities in Melbourne’s North West (Hume, Brimbank, Wyndham, Melton and Whittlesea). It involved 26 playgroups (over 300 women and 330 children) from culturally diverse communities, including: Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Tamil, Chin, Karin Burmese, Assyrian Chaldean, Syrian, Iraqi, South Sudanese and a number of multicultural playgroups.

The semi structured conversations were facilitated by playgroup leaders and coordinators, usually in participants’ first languages. Some multi-cultural playgroups held conversations in English.

 

Time frame:

July 2016 – June 2019

 

How has this project impacted communities, organisations and your region?

This project has:

  • provided specialised support to playgroup participants based on their needs and interests, which has in turn empowered and informed newly-arrived families and their children;
  • demonstrated the importance of playgroups in being a protective factor for children and their mothers and a preventative measure for family violence;
  • provided insight and understanding of the needs, interests and concerns of playgroup participants – allowing for an understanding of cultural factors that influence values and beliefs in relation to gender equality and respectful relationships; and
  • increased awareness and knowledge about family violence, gender equality and maternal child health and wellbeing within playgroup settings – providing this information has promoted agency, control and empowerment for women and their children.

What worked well?

Facilitating these conversations in the playgroup setting supported the women in a familiar and comfortable environment to explore sensitive issues. Playgroup participants, who have established relationships with each other, come from the same cultural background and speak in their first language, assisted in the implementation of the project collaboratively and supportively.

What did not work?

The most significant challenge arose when a small number of playgroup facilitators expressed their personal concerns and reluctance to initiate and converse about family violence and gender equality. Facilitators feared that participants may not return to the group after disclosing, if they later regret telling their story, and that others in the group may be forbidden to return, if their partners found out the issues discussed. Facilitators also mentioned anxiety about not being able to support a victim’s triggered emotions, or not having the confidence to facilitate the conversation. Finally, they worried that the conversation would damage the community’s trust in them.

Despite this, the facilitators were happy to translate whilst playgroup coordinators and placement students led the conversations. This process was successful, as playgroup facilitators remained involved, maintaining the established trust and safety within the group – whilst being supported to operate within their own personal parameters.

What did you learn from the project?

  • Playgroups provided a safe environment for women and children to collaboratively learn from and support one another.
  • Playgroups play a protective role and can assist with early intervention for women and children. Not only is it a setting that provides families with a safe and supported opportunity to play and interact with one another, it is also a space where families can be provided with information regarding available support services and psychoeducation about maternal child health and wellbeing. It is also a safe space for women to destress and children to play.
  • Participating women were able to discuss sensitive topics within the playgroup setting due to the trust and ongoing sustainability of playgroups
  • CALD women who participated in the playgroup sessions increased their knowledge of respectful relationships and bringing up children in a respectful and loving home.
  • Participants were aware of and wanted gender equality for their children.
  • Women had existing knowledge about family violence and the playgroup discussions helped validate their thinking and increase their awareness regarding the universality of family violence. The discussions also informed them about the varying types of family violence, available support services and the relevant legislation.
  • Successfully engaging with key stakeholders and the local CALD community helps drive sustainable changes in community awareness of the importance of preventing and intervening early in family violence.

Do you have suggestions for policy-makers, educators or service providers?

In order to continue to play an important role in the prevention space and provide such support, ongoing funding for supported playgroups is recommended. Funding allows playgroups to continue to be a platform for the prevention of family violence by promoting empowerment, psychoeducation, enhancing social connections and building capacity to navigate service systems.

In addition, we recommend attention should be given to the development of programs that target fathers in diverse communities.

Where to from here?

The next iteration of the project in 2019/2020 focusses on bringing up young children in a context of gender equity, while at the same time remaining respectful of culture. At the time of writing we are training facilitators in a fun program to support young children and their parents to think about how girls and boys are the same and how they are different, and how mothers and fathers are the same and how they are different.

People and organisations to thank:

VICSEG New Futures would like to thank the following collaborating partners for their contribution to this project: Our Watch; Berry Street; Women’s Health in the North; Women’s Health in the West; Relationships Australia; Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health; Maternal Child Health and Refugee nurses in 5 Municipalities; WEstjustice; Northern Community Legal Centre; Drummond Street; DHS Centrelink – Multicultural Service Officers; and Arabic Welfare Inc.

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