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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Coronavirus: Staying connected across cultures, ages and abilities

What incredible changes we have seen in our world since we last posted on our blog one month ago. In the midst of an overwhelming amount of information about coronavirus, we want to take the opportunity to share briefly with you about some simple strategies we have implemented to support vulnerable CALD communities during this time. 

While the spread of coronavirus and the response of our government has significantly changed life for all of us, it has had a greater impact on those who were already vulnerable to social isolation. Some of these groups include older people, those who have recently arrived in Australia, families with young children, and people with disability and their families and carers.

While recent weeks have seen a welcome surge in information about coronavirus available in other languages, many of our clients face barriers to using technology that would help connect them with this information. These same barriers mean that many of our clients need support to be able to use technology such as video calling to connect with services, their extended families and communities.

Of course, our face-to-face programs have ceased, and many of our clients are telling us already how much they miss the social connection facilitated by these programs. Many of our playgroup families, in particular, are struggling with the lack of structure to their week and opportunity to connect with other families and are wondering how to support their young children through this difficult time.  

In response to these challenges, we have talking with our clients and thinking hard about how we can stay connected and provide support in ways that are genuinely helpful. 

A starting point for clients of our Multicultural Aged Care Services has been to make regular phone calls and distribute information in community languages and Easy English via the post, as these are the technologies with which many of our clients feel the most comfortable. For those clients who are familiar with accessing our website and Facebook page, we have also been using these platforms to share resources for staying healthy at home, such as ‘Stay Standing’ and ‘Chair Yoga’ videos.  

Our Multicultural Children’s Services team have been recording stories and songs in community languages to be shared on our social media sites and via email with childcare centres and our playgroup participants. We are also looking at working with our team of Bicultural Support Workers to call families in their language to see how they are going, and whether we can help them connect with any information or services they may need.

Meanwhile, our Multicultural Disability Services team have been busy consulting with clients to develop a suite of activities for our new ‘ECSC at HOME’ program. We are offering activities such as: dancing, karaoke singing, cooking lessons, nail-polish and makeup lessons, lunch and dinner hangouts, exercise, storytelling, reading, and others suggested by participants, to be delivered flexibly using a range of technology from WhatsApp to Zoom to telephone! This support is aligned to their current goals, or new goals that have surfaced due to COVID-19. We have also made the commitment to contact all of our NDIS participants by phone at least monthly to check in on their wellbeing and advocate on their behalf should they need anything – free of charge. 

These ideas are only a start – and of course we are limited by our own resources. But by asking our clients what would be helpful to them, and by harnessing the language and cultural skills of our workers, we are helping to maintain connections with and between the people who access our services, and to connect them with the information and support they need to navigate through this challenging time.

How could you utilise the cultural and linguistic skills of your workforce to connect with and support those who may be especially vulnerable at this time? We’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

By 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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