Making a difference: Spotlight on the CALD Community Connectors Program

It has been well known since the early days of the NDIS, that access to the NDIS has varied greatly for people depending on factors such as where they live and their cultural background. ECSC has consistently advocated for a comprehensive, integrated strategy to ensure that CALD people with disability are not left behind in the transition to the NDIS. However, the NDIA has been slow to respond, finally releasing its Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Strategy in 2018, several years into the roll out of the Scheme, and ignoring many of the recommendations made by ECSC and other CALD disability advocacy organisations.

A small, but significant shift occurred in June 2020, when the NDIA released the Community Connector Framework. This Framework not only recognises that many people (including those from CALD backgrounds) face additional barriers to accessing the NDIS, but also describes a new program that arguably takes a community development approach to addressing these barriers. Through community engagement, individual support, and systemic capacity building, the CALD Community Connectors Program is making a real difference in facilitating access to the NDIS for CALD people with disability across Australia.

I spoke with Dermot Carberry, ECSC’s Community Connector Program Team Leader, and asked what makes the CALD Community Connector Program so successful. He highlighted five key aspects of the approach that drive its success:

  1. The team provides 1:1 support to individuals and families, tailored to their cultural and linguistic needs. Bilingual workers meet people in places where they feel comfortable, either their home, the ECSC office or another place in the community. Workers can go with participants to support them in their visits to the GP or other professionals, to collect the evidence they need for access to the NDIS. Partners in the Community are simply not able to provide this level of 1:1 support. But without it, many CALD people with disability would never engage with the NDIS at all. One participant said: ““I feel like I won the lotto… I knew I needed NDIS, but I didn’t know how to get started.”.
  2. The approach is built on trust and developing mutual understanding. Community Connectors have the time to listen and understand the real barriers to access or the root cause of an issue. This then enables them to work with individuals and families to access and utilise the NDIS, or to re-engage with Partners in the Community. For example, a family who were illiterate in their own language had disengaged from Partners in the Community due to not understanding information they had been sent, but did not feel confident to explain this. Face-to-face support in a culturally appropriate manner allowed the Community Connector to identify the issue, educate the Partners in the Community agency, and reconnect the family with the NDIS.
  3. Community education is central. An important part of the role is building people’s understanding of the philosophy behind the provision of disability supports in Australia. Workers have found that this often demystifies the service system for participants, and reduces the fear that the important role of the family will be taken away if they agree to receive services. One participant said, ““It is great to have you as Community Connector here to provide me with essential knowledge and understanding about the NDIS. I understand more about my rights, choice and control when participating in the NDIS.”
  4. Community outreach and engagement build trust and respect. Community Connectors work with whole communities, engaging community leaders in promoting the rights of people with disability and the value of accessing appropriate support. For example, community leaders attended a community information session with the Nepalese community, helping attendees to see that accessing disability support is a potential option in Australia.
  5. The program builds capacity across the sector. Community Connectors work extensively with Partners in the Community, advising and supporting them in how to engage sensitively and effectively with CALD communities. Similarly, the program provides advice to government at all levels, based on its learning from grassroots engagement, to help improve the disability service system for all. One local government stakeholder who attended a Community Connectors sector information session said, “I cannot express how valuable the information I received last night was… my head has been full of ideas ever since!! I will contact LAC and CC and see how we can work together to assist our clients. The staff here (including myself) have very little knowledge of the workings of NDIS so to be able to utilise a service that can assist clients to make the applications and support them through the process will be amazing!”

This model reflects ECSC’s community development approach of many decades, acknowledging the important links between individual, community and systemic work. It is so effective because it takes an holistic approach which responds to the complexity of people’s situations. This approach requires time to build relationships with the community and the sector, understand the issues and develop appropriate responses; but it pays off in people accessing appropriate supports, at the right time, that enable them to participate more fully in their communities and the economy.

Unfortunately, the CALD Community Connectors Program has been funded for only 11 months, with funding due to end in June 2021. If the program ends, the valuable knowledge, networks and trust built by the workers will be lost. While the program has been building the capacity of Partners in the Community to engage with CALD communities more effectively, Partners in the Community do not have the mandate to work in the same way in community outreach, engagement and 1:1 support as the Community Connectors.

ECSC has long been arguing that the NDIS needs an approach like the Community Connector Program, not just as a stop-gap measure, but as an integral part of the NDIS. The barriers affecting CALD people with disability require time, skill, and expertise to address. This, in turn, requires stable funding to agencies to recruit, train and retain workers with these skills. We urge the NDIA to ensure ongoing funding for the National Community Connectors Program, so that it can continue its vital work of ensuring equitable access to the NDIS.

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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GroovABILITY 2020: This is Me

Collage of photos from GroovABILITY 2020, including MC Diana Khoury, guest speakers, panel guests and musicians

For the past 15 years, the first week of December has meant one thing to ECSC: GroovABILITY! Originally known as ‘CreateABILITY’ and then ‘SportABILITY’, GroovABILITY is an annual festival celebrating the International Day of People with Disability. In 2005, ECSC first collaborated with local businesses, not-for-profits, artists and musicians to host a festival that was all about celebration. Each year since, we have continued to play a lead role in leveraging local talent and resources to create remarkable events attracting hundreds of people. Each festival has showcased the talents and abilities of musicians, artists and entertainers with disability, while bringing together people with and without disability to enjoy music, dancing and food.

This year, despite the incredible challenges facing us all, GroovABILITY went ahead online. People gathered in groups to watch the webcast hosted by Diana Khoury. Live music, interviews and dancing could not be held back by COVID-19! Perhaps even more than in other years, we needed to gather together (even virtually), to celebrate our diverse identities and contributions, and share our stories.

People with disability have been adversely affected by COVID-19 to a greater degree than others, due to a complex mix of factors such as lower rates of access to health care and public health information, social and economic exclusion, and higher rates of underlying health conditions. Many of these issues are further exacerbated for people from CALD backgrounds. But while statistics give us a big picture understanding of the problem, the solutions are often more personal. This is reflected in the theme for this year’s GroovABILITY festival: “This Is Me”. Two aspects of this personal response are sustaining connection and appreciating diversity.

Firstly, sustaining connection. Here at ECSC, it has been our ongoing connection with people with disability and their families that has made all the difference during the pandemic and beyond. We have continued to maintain contact via phone and Zoom with participants who have been unable to resume face-to-face supports with us. By listening and understanding the challenges faced at the personal level, as well as the personal goals and aspirations of the people with whom we work, we have been able to respond with supports and initiatives that have built resilience, community, and well-being.

Secondly, diversity. While the GroovABILITY festival shone the spotlight on people’s stories at the local level, the ABC’s national campaign for International Day of People with Disability heard from more than 1,300 Australians with disability who shared their stories. A key theme to emerge was the diversity of experience and the uniqueness of each person: “While every story has its own message, perhaps one to take away from the 1,300 submitted stories is to never, ever make assumptions about another human being.”

As we move into the end of the year, each of us faces challenges, as our usual travel plans and celebrations will inevitably be marked by the continuing impacts of COVID-19. Yet, our experience of GroovABILITY this year has reinforced for us the importance of finding ways to celebrate together, of staying connected, and of appreciating the unique perspectives we each bring to our shared experience. From the ECSC family to yours, we wish you a peaceful and restorative holiday season, and look forward to working together with you to ‘build back better’ in 2021.

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Raising bilingual children: support on the journey

Here at ECSC, we have long championed the benefits of bilingualism – being able to use two languages in everyday life. Research has shown that children who grow up learning more than one language experience many advantages, such as connection with family culture and history, broader opportunities for travel and employment, and even improved memory and cognitive ability. There are also many benefits for the wider community, such as a better appreciation of different languages and cultures, and the economic benefits of stronger ties with other parts of the world. Despite the closure of our physical borders to many parts of the world, effective communication across language and cultural divides remains as critical as ever to enabling a peaceful and prosperous future for our world.

However, it’s not always easy raising bilingual children! It can take a lot of effort, and many bilingual families experience pressure to speak only English. Bilingual families need support to persevere on the journey of raising bilingual children.

One of the key forms of support is meeting with other bilingual families, to share experiences and to be reminded that ‘you are not alone’. Bilingual playgroups, such as ECSC’s IDEA Pathway playgroups, are a great opportunity to meet with other bilingual families and enjoy stories, songs and games in community languages. Even when we couldn’t meet together physically, our playgroup team kept families connected and continued to encourage bilingual children to practice their home languages, through hosting virtual story times and singalongs in 11 different community languages. These are now available as a collection of 32 songs and 21 stories on our Bicultural Support Facebook page, with over 20,665 views and counting!

Another challenge for bilingual families can be the transition to formal education settings, such as preschool and school. There is often a fear that a bilingual child may take longer to settle in and make friends, understand information or even to feel comfortable in the new environment. Education providers may feel out of their depth in supporting bilingual children to settle in while also encouraging them to speak both English and their home language. Providers may not be aware of the benefits of bilingualism; or may be fully committed to supporting bilingualism but are unsure of where to begin.

This is where ECSC’s Bicultural Support program can make all the difference. Our Bicultural Support Workers are available to support children as they settle in to Early Childhood Education and preschool, through customised programs built around the needs of both the child and the centre. We facilitate effective communication, enable understanding, and build confidence of both children and educators. The result is early education settings which celebrate diversity in meaningful ways, and children who feel a strong sense of belonging and identity. All children in the centre benefit, as they have increased opportunity to build friendship and understanding with children who come from a different cultural background to themselves.

In Australia’s multicultural society, building understanding and respect between people from different cultural backgrounds is essential to productivity and harmony. Supporting families to raise bilingual children is a critical part of enabling mutual understanding to flourish. What steps can you take to support bilingual families in your community or workplace?

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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Stand By Me – Don’t let time run out on disability advocacy in NSW

ECSC’s disability advocacy program, Ethnic People with Disabilities (EPDP), has been working alongside people with disability, their families and communities from CALD backgrounds for nearly 40 years, to promote human rights and equal access to services and the community – but that could all change by the end of this year.

Funding for disability advocacy services in NSW expires on 30 June, with some services receiving a 6-month extension. Last year’s Disability Advocacy Review found that “The need for advocacy will continue to be an important part of the lives of people with disability to ensure the continued promotion, protection and security of their rights, and enable their genuine participation in the community” (Report p.8 ). People with disability who have accessed EPDP have told us, “Nobody helps us like you do” (Feedback received from parents of child with disability, accessing EPDP). Tens of thousands of people have signed the #StandByMe petition calling on the NSW government to fund disability advocacy into the future. Yet, the NSW government has not released any further details about the future of disability advocacy in NSW and has not confirmed any funding past December 2020.

ECSC has long argued that the state government holds a key responsibility in promoting the human rights, access and equity of its own residents – a responsibility that cannot be shirked by relying on the NDIS to meet all the needs of people with disability living in NSW. This is particularly true of disability advocacy. The NSW government has long-term relationships with disability advocacy organisations across NSW that play critical roles in their local communities or in providing specialist support to those who need it. These organisations employ staff with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. It is important to build upon these relationships and ensure that the knowledge we have gained is not lost moving forward. Disability advocacy providers across NSW need certainty about their funding arrangements to be able to plan for the future and keep employing the staff who work with them.

It’s also critical that future disability advocacy funding builds upon the knowledge, networks and expertise that has been built in working with particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with disability from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. ECSC has invested decades building our knowledge about the complexities of disability in cross-cultural contexts. We have taken the time to build strong relationships with CALD communities at the local level, giving us opportunity to engage with CALD people with disability and their families who would otherwise ‘fall through the cracks’ of the NDIS and other service systems. This work is built upon relationships. Often, the people with disability and their families with whom we work have very limited understanding of the service system; they may not remember the name of our organisation, but remember the name of the staff member who has taken the time to build trust and rapport. When the time comes to refer to another service or staff member, it is important to do so in a relational way to respect the trust that has been built.

Without certainty about future funding, all this work is at risk. Grassroots organisations like ours need certainty to plan for the future, retain our staff, and where necessary, support our clients through change. We call on the NSW Government to make it a priority to commit to funding the future of disability advocacy, before it’s too late.

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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#UnityOverFear: Responding to coronavirus racism 

What have recent months taught us about the heart and soul of Australia? 

While coronavirus has prompted stories of community initiatives to support one another, there has also been a troubling rise in incidents of racial discrimination and phobia.  

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, around 1 in 4 people who lodged complaints about racial discrimination in February and March this year say they were targeted due to COVID-19, while an online survey of coronavirus racism incidents launched by the Asian Australian Alliance has collected hundreds of responses. 

Asian-Australians have reportedly experienced physical and verbal assault, vandalism, refusal of service and death threats. We should rightly be disturbed by these incidents and stand alongside Asian-Australians in calling out racist attacks and ensuring their right to safety and freedom from discrimination and abuse. 

However, calling out racism when we see it will never be enough – on its own – to bring substantial or sustainable change to the underlying values in our society.

For more than 40 years, ECSC has been dedicated to pursuing diversity and inclusion, and particularly to upholding the human rights of the most vulnerable people within our Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, including children, people with disability and older people.

Our work has taught us that three things are needed to address the fear and misinformation which stand in the way of inclusion. Firstly, we need better self-awareness, to understand our own cultural perspectives, values, fears and motivations. Secondly, we need to develop our skills and practice in effective intercultural dialogue, to better understand each other. Thirdly, we need to build a shared commitment to human rights.  

It is no accident that these three factors form the core components of our approach to building cultural competence amongst our own staff and through our training delivered to the community services sectorCentral to developing cultural competence is not just knowledge about other cultures, but developing skills in self-reflection, cross-cultural communication, and an ethical commitment to human rights 

These factors are also reflected in the upcoming World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development on Thursday 21st May. This day not only celebrates our cultural diversity, but also emphasises the critical role of effective dialogue in promoting peace and development for all peoples.

With Australia being home to people from more than 270 ancestries and more than 22% of households speaking a language other than Englishwe have a brilliant opportunity – and also a shared responsibility – to demonstrate the power of building understanding across cultural divides in pursuit of a shared vision of human rights and human flourishing.  

Where can we start? 

It may be introducing a habit that develops our own self-awareness, such as journaling or regular self-reflection activities in our supervision sessions or team meetings. It may be facilitating effective communication across cultural divides, through seeking to understand the values and beliefs affecting the actions of others. Or it may be looking for opportunities to promote a human rights perspective on situations we encounter in our work or personal lives. 

Let’s call out racism when we see it. But let’s also put in place practices and habits in our work and personal lives that increase our self-awareness, enable us to understand the perspectives of our neighbours, and promote everyone’s rights to peace, safety and inclusion. Only when all three are in place, will we see real progress toward realising the vision of multicultural Australia. 

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC 

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“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!”: The Future of CHSP  

What is the future of aged care in Australia?

It is well known that as the baby boomer generation enters retirement, the demand for flexible and responsive aged care services that support independence and consumer choice is only going to increase.

What is less well known is that 1 in 3 older people living in Australia were born overseas, with most of these being born in a non-English speaking country.

Against this backdrop, last week’s CHSP Futures Australia conference highlighted the critical role of the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) in enabling Australia’s older people to live the lives they want, in the homes they want, maintaining connections with their families and communities.  

One CHSP project highlighted at the conference was ECSC’s Senior Social Groups, which include participants from a range of cultural backgrounds and aim to build skills and confidence, increase social connection, and honour the traditions and cultures of participants. Members of the Indonesian social support group entertained conference delegates over lunch time with a special performance on the Angklung, a traditional Indonesian instrument.

Participants in the senior social groups talked about how their involvement has changed their lives: “gradually, over time, my social life improved, and now I feel much more “at home” in Australia”; “Now I’m not afraid of getting older”. 

While such comments clearly show the impact of CHSP projects in the lives of many older Australians, measuring and communicating outcomes can be complex.

At the conference, Dr Beatriz Cardona took closer look at the Australian Community Care Outcome Measurement (ACCOM) tool and its role in understanding the connections between social care provided to older people in the community, and changes in their health and wellbeing. In her published research, Dr Cardona notes there are additional barriers to measuring outcomes for CALD older people, as further research is needed to see whether existing outcomes measurement tools are appropriate for CALD communities. 

Another challenge facing CHSP providers is fully implementing a wellness and reablement approach to service delivery. These approaches move away from ‘doing for’ a person to ‘doing with’ them and aim to reduce reliance on formal services over time.

The Australian Government’s Wellness and Reablement Report Outcomes 2018 found that while 80 per cent of CHSP service providers “understand and implement wellness and reablement approaches” in their service delivery, more than half of providers feel they need more support and information about how to do so.  

An even greater challenge can be helping clients to understand and adjust to the new wellness and reablement framework, a challenge that may be heightened when working with older people from CALD backgrounds.

The Ageing Well in Three Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities report notes that while older people from CALD backgrounds share many of the same concerns as their non-CALD peers, these concerns may be exacerbated by cultural and language barriers and migration experience; and that maintaining cultural identity, values, practices and language has been found to be vital for people from CALD backgrounds as they age.

This is where CHSP providers can draw upon the expertise and support of Multicultural Access Project Officers, who can work alongside them to build capacity in community outreach and engagement, cultural responsiveness and interpreting wellness and reablement in culturally appropriate ways.

Building our capacity to effectively engage with and support CALD older people is essential if we are to promote the independence and inclusion of Australia’s diverse ageing population into the future. 

The “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”: 2020 CHSP Futures Australia Conference was held on Tuesday 10th March. Recordings of the main presentations will be available – contact ECSC to find out more.  

By Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC 

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The Disability Inclusion Act 2014: What needs to change?

The NSW Government is currently reviewing the Disability Inclusion Act 2014. When the Act was introduced, we welcomed the focus on human rights, inclusion and equality across the whole community, not just on providing disability services. But after nearly 5 years of the NDIS, does anything in the Act need to change?

Despite the rollout of the NDIS, we strongly believe that state governments (including here in NSW) still have a core responsibility to ensure that the rights of people with disability within their communities are upheld. This includes a chief role in shaping community attitudes and behaviours and addressing barriers to accessing mainstream services.

As one participant in the SAX review of the NSW Disability Inclusion Plan said in relation to stigma and exclusion, “People with disabilities are always fighting battles every day. Why do we have to keep fighting the battle? It shouldn’t be this hard.” (p.24)

For many Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) people with disability, the battle is even harder due to racial stigma, language barriers and different understandings of disability.

How can the Government take a lead role in addressing these barriers to inclusion?

A key piece of the Disability Inclusion Act puzzle is disability inclusion planning. The Act requires the NSW Government to develop an overarching NSW Disability Inclusion Plan (DIP); and most government departments, including local Councils, need to develop their own Disability Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP).

Part of the review of the Act is looking at how effective these plans have been, and what needs to change. The Sax Review found that while some departments were doing “some fantastic things” with their DIAPs, the process of developing the DIAPs was often siloed in an HR Department, lacked buy-in from the senior executive, and laid a heavy burden of over-consultation on disability advocacy groups. Participants in the Review also called for greater accountability, such as performance targets and public access to progress reports (p. 24-25).

We believe the NSW Government needs to be a leader in disability inclusion planning – with a plan that is comprehensive (not piecemeal) and with true accountability for disability inclusion action planning at the departmental and local government level. The Act needs to be strengthened to promote greater integration, resourcing, leadership and accountability in disability inclusion planning.

Another piece of the puzzle is providing sustainable funding for disability advocacy and safeguarding the rights of people who are ineligible for the NDIS but who still face significant barriers to inclusion or whose informal support networks are stretched thin. We are concerned that in the rush to embrace the NDIS, the NSW Government has moved too far away from its own responsibility to meet the needs of the 500,000+ people (aged under 65) in NSW who have a disability but who are ineligible for an

Individual Funded Package under the NDIS. We believe the Act needs to be strengthened to adequately set out the duties of the state government in funding advocacy and supports for its own residents.

ECSC is currently consulting with our participants, families and carers to see what matters most to them in promoting inclusion and human rights.

How could you consult to make sure the views of people with disability, their families and carers are heard during this important review?

You can give feedback to the review of the Disability Inclusion Act via an online survey here, by emailing your feedback to or posting it to Department of Communities and Justice, Locked Bag 4029, Ashfield, NSW 213. Alternatively you can join one of the many workshops listed here.

By Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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Premiers Award for CALD Dementia initiative 

We were honoured to be among the Finalists for the NSW Premier’s Multicultural Communications Awards (PMCAs), which recognise excellence in the multicultural media and marketing industry.

Ethnic Community Services Co-operative in partnership with Community and Cultural Connections Inc, Inner West Area Sector Support Development Officer, Inner West Council, Sydney Local Health District, Canterbury-Bankstown City Council and 16 other community organisations, were awarded finalists for Campaign of the Year – Community for their project the Sydney Inner West Dementia Campaign or Multicultural Dementia Campaign as it is also known.

NSW is one of the most successful Multicultural states in the world and as the PMCA web page states: “it is important to celebrate the benefits of our diversity and recognise the valuable contribution multicultural media and marketing plays in our society by connecting people to their culture, identity, and language.”

Attendees of the Awards night were encouraged to wear their favourite traditional cultural attire and our Multicultural Access Project officer Sharitah donned a stunning purple sari with rose gold and pink accents for the occasion.

While the awards celebrate and recognise the important role journalists, editors and publishers in print, radio, television and digital media play, they also honour innovative and creative marketing campaigns that inspire social cohesion and community harmony – like ours!

The main aim of the Multicultural Dementia Campaign was to determine the best way to provide information on dementia to 5 targeted Cultural and Language communities in the Inner West: the Chinese, Greek, Italian, Korean and Vietnamese communities.

Consultations were undertaken with each community in the relevant community language. A total of 99 people from the 5 targeted communities participated in face-to-face group consultations, and a carer survey.

The findings showed how these communities needed and wanted the information communicated to them in their language and that they generally would like more information about dementia.

The second phase of the project used the recommendations from these findings. Expos were held for each of these 5 communities where information was tailor-made and delivered in ways that each community identified that they needed. At each, expo over 100 to 130 people attended and this was highly successful from a community engagement perspective.

We hope the award will further demonstrate the ongoing need for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities to have information communicated to them in ways that are both culturally and linguistically appropriate. 

This project also highlighted the importance of consultation with communities for effective communication and development of the capacity of individuals within that community.

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