The Ask Maria Project
Women’s Legal Service (SA) (WLSSA)
What is the project about?
WLS SA has developed an interactive phone and website application called Ask Maria. Ask Maria is for women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds living in regional SA. It has information and referral for women in different languages and includes written and audio formats. The audio ensures that women who may not be able to read are still able to get support.
The aim of Ask Maria is to:
- Create safer pathways for women seeking support for family violence and personal safety in a culturally safe manner and provide these women with information around their rights and support systems; and
- Create a new digital resource for service providers in SA to access and stay informed about best practice when working with women from CALD backgrounds.
To meet objective (1) we conducted observations in a series of workshops with migrant and refugee women in regional SA, which included the following activities:
Healthy tree/unhealthy tree activity
- Dissecting and exploring what makes a “healthy tree” (happy family) and what contributes to an “unhealthy tree” (family in need of support).
- Analysing the results and women identifying healthy and unhealthy behaviour.
- Groups ranged between 5 – 30 participants.
Staying at home vs packing a bag
- Exploring if women are in an unhappy home what they need to do to stay home safe versus what would they pack in their bag to leave the home.
- Exploring women’s existing safety nets and understanding of supports available to them.
- Groups ranged between 5 – 30 participants.
To meet objective (2) we conducted the following action research activities:
- Surveys to service providers to identify areas where there is a lack of knowledge/understanding of CALD working practices both at an institutional level and when working with communities. Approximately 10-12 surveys were distributed to key social service providers and around half were returned.
- Face to face consultations with service providers in the targeted regional areas. We have met with close to 15 service providers and their teams working within the targeted regions.
Action research focus
Our project team focused our research on the needs of CALD women living in regional SA. To further define “needs” we focused on what areas of law most affect women’s lives and ability to engage with the wider community in a safe way. We also hoped to discover what the limitations are for women being linked with regional services, the retention rates and reliance on support services. Through this research we will discover if and why service providers are not engaging with local CALD women and what some of these reasons might be.
Where was the project conducted?
Our project consultations were conducted throughout towns in the Eyre Peninsula and Limestone Coast regions of regional SA. These regions are identified as having strong and emerging new arrival communities.
The project team strategically picked towns that have either basic or intensive settlements services or communities in order to connect with women from CALD backgrounds. We recognise that a shortcoming of this approach was that there are “unseen” and “unheard” women in these regions. Without established connections with some services in the area it would be impossible for us engage with these communities.
November 2017 – November 2019
How has this project impacted communities, organisations and the region?
Impact on communities
- The CALD women we engaged with now hold a better understanding of the law in Australia and their rights when engaging with the police and other services, such as: when engaging with support services to ask for interpreters, as they are free for most social services; and that they can use services to support their family and this won’t result in their family being separated.
- Women have appreciated learning about services other than their “one-stop-shop” settlement services in the area.
Impact on organisation
- Settlement services in the targeted areas have expressed appreciation for a new and emerging resource tool that can assist the women they work with to self-identify their area of need and where to go to for help. This has been particularly appreciated by social workers who want to empower the women they support to navigate services in SA as independently as possible and build confidence in advocacy.
What worked well?
- “Piggy-backing” on settlement service workshops to connect with the women. Building on an existing relationship helped the project move forward more quickly than if we had to seek out the women ourselves.
- Identifying issues through positive-based language. Activities such as the “healthy tree” exercise provided a space where women could discuss the principles of staying safe and happy without prefacing the discussions with family violence which can be insensitive and overwhelming to talk about. The activities provided rich and in-depth discussions. What became clear is the women know when a situation is unsafe or not okay – the issue is knowing where to get support and feeling confident in seeking that support.
- Extending “feeling safe” and “violence” to include when in public spaces and when working with services and government institutions.
- As SA is a vast state, meeting with service providers face-to-face was far more successful than discussion over email or phone. Regional service providers are often isolated and under-resourced so taking the time to meet face-to-face was much appreciated and made it easier to discuss the challenges those services face.
What did not work?
- Discussing family violence in the way we would in the workplace or between service providers.
- Overpromising what the phone application can deliver and provide help with.
- Coordinating online discussions and follow up with regional service providers.
- Not meeting with service providers face-to-face.
- Not having translators for all women for some sessions.
- Providing support and information strictly on family violence issues. Other pressing needs that put strain on the family included but were not limited to: health, immigration, debt, housing and parenting concerns.
What did you learn from the project?
- The women we worked with are able to identify behaviours that are not safe and often do discuss these family/relationship problems within family or their community. The general attitude is that family violence is not okay and as women living in Australia they have rights; the attitude around seeking support from external services was the main challenge.
- The women we spoke to were not averse to seeking support from other services but previous negative experiences often hindered seeking any further help. For example, some women reflected on experiences of people “not caring” and being continually being told “we can’t help” with no direction of what to do next. Some women even identified the Government and services as perpetrators of abuse, describing having been intimidated or humiliated by government officials.
- New and emerging communities in regional SA often do not engage with services until one person “gives it a go” and if there is successful feedback then there is a “flood” of women seeking support.
- There is a lack of CALD-specific programs in regional SA outside of settlement services. The women get absorbed by mainstream supports that predominately work with and support Anglo-Australian women. Service providers for families in the region have limited access in how best to engage and work with CALD women and families.
- In regional SA there are fluctuating rates of women seeking support from family services and this can make it difficult to collect data and identify barriers to women seeking help.
- From our sessions the greatest hurdle for CALD women is knowing what services are available to them and how to get in contact for support.
Do you have suggestions for policy-makers, educators or service providers?
From the research and data of our project the biggest finding is that CALD women in regional SA were able to understand the context of abuse and its various forms. Our findings were unanimous that the settlement experience for the women was heavily influenced by their experiences in working with social services. How the women experience interactions with essential services such as Centrelink heavily dictated their confidence in other social services.
We are unable to comment definitively but it can be suggested from our research that the lack of confidence with government services had or will have an impact on the women seeking other supports in time where there may be abuse in the home.
Where to from here?
The information around our chosen focus areas of information is unlikely to change in the next twelve (12) months. Any updates to our phone application can be made by WLSSA and will be updated by volunteer and placement students. The project will continue to seek support from our settlement service supporters, Multicultural Aged Care Inc and the Australian Migrant Resource Centre.
People and organisations to thank:
The WLSSA would like to thank the women who met with us during consultations for their honest feedback, personal stories, worldly knowledge, kindness, hospitality and laughter. Without your participation and trust our project would not be able to be completed.
We thank Multicultural Aged Care Inc for your experience and linkages to supports and resources. We thank Australian Migrant Resource Centre for your shared spaces, feedback and open door policy when working on the project.
Lastly we thank all the regional workers who took time out of their busy schedules to welcome us and provide us with local knowledge that only they can provide.