Innovation: it’s in our DNA

Ethnic Community Services Co-operative has a long history of innovation. Depending upon how you are connected with us, you may know part of our story. But did you know that we…

  • Pioneered the model of Bicultural Support in early childhood through our Casual Ethnic Workers’ Pool (now Bicultural Support). This model has been acknowledged internationally as one of the most effective models for inclusion and in 1997 UNESCO recognised our program as a model of best practice in Early Childhood.
  • Established the first disability advocacy group for people from CALD backgrounds in NSW.
  • Developed Multicultural Respite Services (initially known as the Partners Program) for people with disability, where a person with a disability was given opportunity to enjoy recreational activities with a peer without disability. This was the first disability respite services specifically focused on meeting the needs of CALD people with disability.
  • Have led the way in addressing intersectional disadvantage for people from CALD backgrounds with disability, including developing the model of ‘double disability’ in the 1980s and training organisations in implementing the Step-by-Step guide to inclusion of people with disability.
  • Established the first Home and Community Care Sector Support project in NSW known as the Bilingual Access Program and later Multicultural Access Project (MAP), following ECSC’s research project on the needs of frail aged people from CALD backgrounds.
  • Established the Multicultural Disability Interagency (MDI), in collaboration with a range of disability and multicultural organisations, to bridge the gap between our sectors and improve outcomes for people from CALD backgrounds with disability.
  • Developed the IDEA Pathway bicultural playgroup initiative, a unique program which facilitates access to early childhood education for families from CALD backgrounds, through bilingual playgroups, family mentoring, community capacity building, and Bicultural Support.

Our history of innovation prepared us well to respond to the challenges of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, we covered some of our strategies in this blog post. At that stage, we didn’t know what a significant impact these innovative responses would have upon participants of our programs. Many of the strategies we implemented became a lifeline of connection and mutual support.

For example, during the first lockdown, our Multicultural Aged Care Services (MACS) team partnered with the Addison Rd Community Centre, Randwick Council, Viral Kindness and Harris Farm Market for the “Fresh Produce Bag” initiative, which delivered 100 complimentary bags of fresh fruit and vegetables to isolated older people each week, providing much needed financial relief, stability and social contact. But this project delivered unexpected benefits too. The produce bags motivated participants to call each other and share the recipes they had created. Participants also posted their recipes on the MACS Facebook page and encouraged one another to try new recipes or foods. After providing support to participants to use social media, the MACS Facebook page became a one-stop source of multilingual information and connection for 412 seniors from CALD backgrounds, with 112 seniors participating in the weekly ‘Stay Standing’ exercise program streamed via the Facebook page. This quote from a 79-year-old participant from a Russian background says it all:

“Thanks to MACS during the last year I’ve learned how to use Facebook to communicate with my friends and family and finally discovered in my 79th year of life, how to properly use weights while exercising. It helped me significantly to survive throughout the COVID 19 isolation. Morning exercises with Monique via MACS Facebook had become my daily routine”.

Here at ECSC, innovation is in our DNA. But we don’t innovate just for the sake of creating something new. We innovate in response to what CALD communities are telling us is important to them. For us, consultation comes first. We connect with communities at the grassroots, building relationships of trust, and listening carefully to what matters in peoples’ lives. Then we take a step back and look at how we could address the barriers to these goals becoming reality. We are not daunted by the concept that ‘it’s never been done before’. Instead, we think, plan, research, collaborate, and test ideas, all to move us that little bit closer to our vision of ‘an Australian society that celebrates and values diversity and equal opportunity and encourages participation and inclusion’. Our approach to innovation is shaped by our values, vision and commitment to grassroots engagement.

What does innovation look like in your organisation?

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“I love coming to school!”: Let’s support CALD children to Start Strong

Over the past two years, ECSC’s Integrated Diversity Early-education Access (IDEA) Pathway bilingual playgroups have supported hundreds of children and families from CALD backgrounds to successfully engage with preschool. Many of these families came from new and emerging communities and faced a range of barriers to accessing preschool. These included language barriers, a lack of information about the early childhood education system in Australia, and fears and misconceptions about the preschool environment. Funded under the NSW Government’s Start Strong Pathways initiative, ECSC’s IDEA Pathways playgroups have achieved outstanding results in connecting with families, reducing isolation and addressing these access barriers. But it hasn’t come from nowhere. 

The IDEA Pathway playgroups draw on ECSC’s decades of experience in providing high quality Bicultural Support to children from CALD backgrounds and their families. The program reflects key aspects of our Bicultural Support model, including: 

  • Highly trained Bicultural Support Workers, who are recruited for their language and cultural skills, and who hold (as a minimum) a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care and who participate in ongoing training and support with ECSC. 
  • A strengths-based approach to language and culture, which affirms children’s home languages and promotes the benefits of cultural diversity within early childhood settings. 
  • Actively affirming home languages and cultures through songs, dances, rhymes, stories, dolls and other resources. 
  • Facilitating access for families to information about early childhood education, child development, allied health services and government support. This also includes addressing fears and misconceptions in culturally sensitive and non-threatening ways. 
  • Supporting Early Childhood Education and Care services to meet the needs of children from CALD backgrounds and their families. 

Over a six-week period, each bilingual playgroup built a safe and familiar environment where children participated in a culturally rich, semi-structured play time. Children quickly became comfortable with the environment and looked forward to attending each week. Parents had the opportunity to express their thoughts, experiences and questions about early childhood education. Our workers then provided active support to families to apply, access and settle in, to early education services in their local area. While the gains have been significant, there is still much more work to do in supporting the thousands of CALD families with young children across NSW to successfully engage with early childhood education and care.  

ECSC’s Bicultural Support team is ready to work alongside Early Childhood Education & Care (ECEC) providers to welcome and include children from CALD backgrounds and their families. The service includes working 1:1 with CALD children to help them settle in to the ECEC setting, as well as facilitating culturally appropriate activities such as music, storytelling, art and cooking, with all children in the centre to promote a welcoming and inclusive environment. While the Start Strong program has received a welcome extension for the next 12 months, funding is available on an ongoing basis to engage our Bicultural Support Workers through the Commonwealth Government’s Inclusion Support Programme. Contact us to find out more on (02) 9569 1288 or 

Together, we can address the barriers and give children from CALD backgrounds the best chance to ‘start strong’ on a lifetime of learning. 

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Minister Reynolds: Commit to CALD Access!

Our last blog post highlighted the significant outcomes being achieved by the National Community Connectors Program (CALD) (NCCP). The NCCP is so successful because it uses a community development approach to outreach and engage CALD communities, providing 1:1 support tailored to each person’s cultural and linguistic needs, and building mutual trust and understanding. This model reflects ECSC’s learning of many decades about how to most effectively engage CALD communities and address barriers to accessing services and support. ECSC has long argued that such an approach should be included as an integral part of the NDIS, to ensure that people from CALD backgrounds with disability will “benefit from the NDIS on an equal basis with the broader population” (NDIS CALD Strategy, 2018, p. 4).

Since the time of writing our last blog post, ECSC has been informed that funding for the NCCP will cease on 30 June 2021. This decision was made by the outgoing Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Hon. Stuart Robert MP, and has not been reversed by the incoming Minister, the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC. This is devastating news for the thousands of people from CALD backgrounds with disability across Australia who have not yet accessed the NDIS. Access to the NDIS for people from CALD backgrounds continues to lag significantly behind the general population. Data from the latest NDIS Quarterly Report (Dec 2020) shows that only 9.3% of participants nationally are from a CALD background, despite research showing that CALD people make up around 29% of people living with profound or severe disability in Australia (Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, 2020, Culturally and linguistically diverse engagement principles, p. 5.)

The NDIA’s CALD Strategy and Community Connector Framework show that the NDIA is aware of the barriers that prevent many people from CALD backgrounds with disability from accessing the NDIS, such as “language and cultural differences… discrimination and trauma” (NDIA, 2020, Community Connector Framework, p. 3). These barriers require time, trust, sensitivity and expertise to address. The NCCP has engaged a committed and highly skilled workforce, who have invested time in community outreach, building relationships of trust with community leaders, individuals and families.  To withdraw these workers after 11 months will undermine the progress made in building trust and addressing fears around accessing disability supports. Ending the NCCP will also cause confusion for many CALD communities, who have come to understand that they can meet with their local Community Connector for help to access the NDIS.

Across Australia, the NCCP is currently working with hundreds of people from CALD backgrounds with disability, providing culturally appropriate information and support to connect people with the NDIS and to implement their plans. Community Connectors provide essential support that Partners in the Community (PITCs) are unable to provide, either due to the limitations of their role, or practical constraints such as time pressures or organisational policy. This includes meeting face-to-face in people’s homes, providing 1:1 support to participants to collect the evidence they need for access to the NDIS, and providing tailored cultural and language support. Without this support, many people from CALD backgrounds with disability are simply unable to engage with the NDIS at all. If funding for the NCCP ceases, where will CALD people with disability go for the support they need to engage with the system?

We are dismayed that Minister Reynolds and the NDIA seem to view community outreach and culturally appropriate support as a cut-and-paste temporary solution, rather than as a fundamental aspect of ensuring access and equity to the NDIS. After finally funding an approach which is making a real difference in the lives of CALD Australians with disability, they are ending the program after only 11 months, undermining the trust built with communities and losing a valuable workforce. We urge Minister Reynolds to consider the outcomes of the NCCP to date and continue to fund its vital work.   

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant to ECSC

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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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Human rights are for everyone: Older people and coronavirus

Recent news coverage of the ravages of coronavirus in residential aged care has highlighted significant issues and risks in the aged care sector. While questions have been raised about systems, responses, funding and qualifications of staff, the underlying issue is the human rights of older people.

The focus of much of the messaging around coronavirus and older people is upon the increased vulnerability to the disease which comes with age. While our public health response most definitely needs to take this vulnerability into account, we must be careful not to paint a picture of older people as merely passive victims. We must respect the autonomy, decisions, and self-determination of older people as for other groups in society. We must consult with, and act upon the views of, older people when preparing and responding to coronavirus outbreaks. The Four Corners investigation into the coronavirus outbreak at Newmarch House highlighted the denial of residents’ rights to exercise choice and control over their own lives, with resident Alice Bacon telling her daughter repeatedly, “Get me out of here!”, while a public health order effectively kept her locked inside.

Human rights do not diminish with age, and decisions about access to medical care and the allocation of medical resources must not be made on age alone. Again, the Four Corners investigation highlighted the denial of access to critical medical resources on an equal basis with others, through the imposition of the “Hospital in the Home” program which lacked access to essential medical equipment and a delay in accessing IV fluids.

Taking a human rights approach to our coronavirus response also means considering the impacts of policy decisions upon different groups in society, including older people. Coronavirus has had far-reaching impacts on older people beyond their medical vulnerabilities, including impacts on mental health and social connection. Older people are more likely to live alone and face barriers to using the online communications technologies others take for granted. Changes to the ways in which businesses operate, as well advice to stay at home during outbreaks, may have significant impacts for people who rely on regular medication, pre-prepared food, or access to therapy providers. Restrictions on religious gatherings may also have a significant impact on the spiritual and social wellbeing of older people for whom these gatherings were an important weekly habit.  Some of these issues may be further heightened for older people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds, many of whom face additional barriers to accessing information and supports and building social connections.

It is also important that aged care workers from CALD backgrounds are not vilified in investigations into failures of the aged care system in responding to coronavirus. In mentioning an increasing proportion of “migrant workers” in the aged care workforce, this ABC news article implies (without providing any data) that these workers are likely to be “unqualified” and only taking on work in the sector because it is undesirable to “locals”. In contrast, recent research from the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre found that overseas-born care workers have higher levels of formal education than their Australian-born counterparts. Furthermore, while there are clearly significant issues with pay, conditions and supervision in the aged care sector, the cultural and linguistic skills of workers from CALD backgrounds are an asset, not a liability. With 1 in 5 of Australia’s older people having been born in a non-English speaking country, having workers who can speak additional languages and understand cultural norms is invaluable. Our blog post back in March highlighted the significant difference that ECSC’s multicultural Senior’s Support Groups have made in the lives of older Australians from CALD backgrounds. Australia needs a multicultural aged care workforce to meet the needs of our multicultural older population.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed life for all of us over the past few months. While “older persons have become highly visible during the COVID-19 outbreak… their voices, opinions and concerns have not been heard” (Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights). It is critical that we take a human rights approach to consultation, planning, decision-making, and access to resources as we continue to respond to the pandemic. We must also value the skills and knowledge of the diverse workforce which supports Australia’s older people; and ensure that our aged care workers are well supported to continue their vital work.

Ingrid Boland, Social Work Consultant for ECSC

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Inclusion: Every child’s right

Amidst all the news about childcare over the past few months – including “free” childcare, changes to drop off and pick up routines, and prioritising care for children of essential workers – one change has gone largely unnoticed. Following months of consultation, the guidelines for the Commonwealth Government’s Inclusion Support Program (ISP) have been updated and came into effect in March 2020. The changes are mostly good news: expanded eligibility criteria for support for children with additional needs, increased timeframes for short-term support, and an increased approval threshold for Innovative Solutions funding. However, it’s what is missing from the changes that is most disappointing.  

In our submission to the then Commonwealth Department of Education in November last year, we highlighted the continuing gap in the Inclusion Support Program for inclusion support for children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, particularly those from refugee or humanitarian backgrounds or who have experienced trauma. Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services often require additional support to meaningfully include these children and their families, such as language support or cultural training for staff (Productivity Commission 2014, p. 523). These needs may be heightened when supporting inclusion of CALD children with disability, as cultural differences in how disability is understood around the world can impact significantly on effective engagement with families and access to early intervention support (Early Childhood Intervention Australia, National Guidelines for Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention, p. 10-11).

We have feedback from thousands of Bicultural Support placements over 40 years about the difference Bicultural Support can make in facilitating the inclusion of CALD children within a childcare setting. These include stories of children who would not participate in lunch until supported by a Bicultural Support Worker; of CALD families of children with a disability who have been engaged in culturally safe and respectful conversations about their child’s needs; of children whose mood and confidence changed immediately upon hearing a worker speak in a language they could understand. In addition, Bicultural Support can be a vital link in helping ECEC services support CALD children to maintain their home language as well as learn English, through building capacity to understand the learning journey of bilingual children and respond positively to diversity. A few hours of Bicultural Support can make all the difference to a child from a CALD background settling into a childcare service, and the service being equipped to offer meaningful inclusion.

Despite the positive impact and value-for-money approach of Bicultural Support, changes to the Inclusion Support Program in 2016 introduced a mountain of ‘red-tape’ to access Bicultural Support. Following these changes, the uptake of Bicultural Support in NSW fell dramatically from around 100 allocations of a Bicultural Support Worker per month (prior to 2016) to just one 1 allocation per month (2019). In addition, the time required to apply for and access the funds for Bicultural Support means that it is often not available during the most critical period – the child’s early days at the centre.

The review of the ISP Guidelines last year offered the perfect opportunity for the Department to address these issues. However, the revised guidelines do not incorporate any of our recommendations. While we applaud the changes to the guidelines which will make it easier for children with disability to access support, particularly prior to diagnosis, we remain concerned that children from CALD backgrounds are being left behind and left out of inclusion support. We urge the Commonwealth Government remove the administrative hurdles and make Bicultural Support freely and easily accessible to the children, families and ECEC services who need it.

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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