Refugee Family Resource and Mentoring Program Evaluation Executive Summary. 15 August 2011

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1 ++ Refugee Family Resource and Mentoring Program Evaluation Executive Summary 15 August 2011

2 Executive Summary The importance of early childhood initiatives is well documented in government and research publications in Australia and overseas. Culturally specific and multicultural services are identified as important in meeting the needs of vulnerable groups of families and children such as refugees. Culturally specific support workers are a key feature of these services and current Federal, State and Local Government policy acknowledges the requirement to support refugee families with young children in ways that are culturally appropriate and engaging. Social inclusion is emphasised as a way for enabling families to participate in their community and the service system. The Refugee Family Resource and Mentoring Program (the Program) has been established with three year funding from the Myer Foundation to assist vulnerable families from among the more recently settled refugee communities to understand and access the Australian early childhood service system and so enable both parents and children to derive the benefits that are available to them. Where appropriate, the program has also been engaging with service providers in making their services more culturally sensitive and responsive. The Program has enabled newly arrived families to access services with the support of family Mentors who share the same culture and language. The family Mentors have had the support of an experienced early childhood practitioner, the Program Coordinator, able to both advise on the interactions with parents and children and facilitate meetings with or referrals to specific service providers. The Program has been operating in the North West Region of Metropolitan Melbourne, which includes localities with high densities of recently settled refugee families, an effective settlement support system and urban growth corridors to the north and west of Melbourne. Findings The evaluation of the Program identified ten pillars which have been integral to the successful implementation and development of the Program as follows: 1. Philosophy underpinning the development and delivery of the Program 2. Policy Context 3. Development of the Program 4. Professional Practice Model Mentors Attributes, Skills and Knowledge 6. Positioning of the Program within the Service Sector 7. Positioning of the Program with the Local Community 8. VICSEG-New Futures Capacity

3 9. An Outcomes Approach 10. An Action Research Approach The evaluation over three years has identified that there is a great need for the program in the community and within the range of health and community services available to newly arrived refugee families with young children. Consultations with mainstream, specialist and migration services workers confirm that the program has been developing and refining its support to families and workers alike but ultimately achieving real outcomes for families and children who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. The approach adopted in the delivery of the program objectives is consistent with key findings of similar initiatives in Australia and overseas and it is embedded in current government policy. The evaluation has identified that the Program has had a positive impact and outcomes for all stakeholders including the children and families who participated in the programs, the VICSEG-New Futures Mentors, management and other staff; and service providers who have had a relationship with the Program, e.g. maternal child health nurses and school staff. The program has fulfilled each of the program objectives, specifically: Providing information to families from a refugee background with young children regarding the range and value of early childhood services Encouraging and assisting families from a refugee background to access universal children s and other services that may be of value to them and their children Building partnerships with relevant community service organisations (CSO s) to establish targeted enrichment activities or make existing activities more inclusive for refugee children and their parents Assisting early childhood service practitioners with cultural and strategic advice to make their services more culturally responsive and accessible to families from a refugee background Facilitating access and referrals for individual parents, particularly in crisis or emergency situations e.g. domestic violence services, specialist children s services, conflicts at school etc. The impact and outcomes of the Program on children, families and service providers have included: A greater degree of social inclusion and community participation by refugee families in their local neighbourhoods, particularly in the case of mothers caring for young children. Increased capacity in refugee communities to endorse and promote services for families and children as a valuable and necessary part of life in Australia.

4 An increase in knowledge among refugee families of children s development and early learning and a corresponding readiness among parents to be proactive and interact with their children. Greater familiarity among parents with the family and children s service system and its key practitioners and greater confidence in accessing services for themselves and their children. More joined up local services that are capable of responding to refugee families in a collaborative and systematic manner Enhanced skills for early childhood practitioners to engage with refugee families and provide more culturally responsive services The Program includes best practice elements as identified by previous research. According to research and government publications best practices for inclusive services: Engage vulnerable families Are flexible, add value, involve service co-operation and additional resources Focus on making personal connections with families Have staff that are culturally attentive, aware and sensitive, approachable, trustworthy and above all non-judgmental and proactively engage and sensitively follow-up vulnerable children and parents who are at risk of dropping out Include the employment of culturally specific workers and local community members, including culturally specific staff as role models or mentors Employ skilled and responsive staff working from a family-centred, culturally sensitive perspective Recognise the need to operate at the individual, community and societal level Are located in areas of community disadvantage and therefore geographically accessible and add value to existing services Are affordable and well publicised Provide outreach and support with transport Provide a family-friendly and culturally inclusive physical environment Promote social connectedness through informal supports Establish strong reciprocal links with other relevant services (universal and specialist) Minimise the practical (structural) access barriers and support parents to overcome their knowledge, financial, transport and time difficulties to maintain attendance Provide free access to suitable interpreters Have resources available in the relevant language

5 Have facilities to meet the needs of the specific culture Have a management structure that involves cultural leaders from the specific culture Can reach out to link with other agencies and communities as well as mainstream services Are in close partnerships with culturally specific and multicultural agencies and mainstream services, including co-location, comanagement and co-delivery of services Sims et al. (2008) suggests that culturally specific services tend to be most successful when their staff are of the same cultural background as the clients of the program, and are able to develop extensive networks with the community targeted by the program. These services are particularly useful for cultural groups where there is a high probability that members have experienced high levels of trauma, (as is often the case for refugees) as they provide a familiar setting (familiar language, customs and procedures) which helps establish feelings of safety. Workers from the same cultural background as the target groups can be said to work as Mentors for members of the group. Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship that involves a more experienced person (or Mentor ) helping a less experienced person (or mentee ) to achieve their goals. In this context a Mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. The evaluation has identified that Mentors can have a critical role in supporting and encouraging refugee families to learn about the service system and gain confidence in accessing services for their children and themselves. There is however a number of important issues that also need to be considered when Mentors are engaged. For example, the role of Mentors within their community, their workload and remuneration; and how they interface with interpreters. Recommendations It is recommended that VICSEG-New Futures: 1. Seek to receive ongoing funding for the continuation and expansion of the program to include new and emerging refugee communities and in order to meet increasing demands for support from refugee families and health and community services. This should include: a. Seeking partnership opportunities with other organisations for joint funding of Refugee Family Resource & Mentoring Program and related activities

6 b. Accepting the offer of the Myer Foundation to host a promotional activity of the Refugee Family Resource & Mentoring Program in order to secure funding from other funding sources 2. Continue to refine and develop the program to ensure the best possible outcomes for families and their children including: a. Providing clearly defined roles and responsibilities for bi-cultural Mentors including a consideration of privacy and workload issues and revised job descriptions b. Providing early childhood training for Mentors as appropriate c. Providing professional development for Mentors on working as a professional and professional boundaries, and related issues, e.g. record keeping, managing privacy and confidentiality etc. d. Developing a framework for data collection that will identify examples of capacity building at an individual, program and organisational level to support future program development e. Formalising partnerships with services that have strong links with the Refugee Family Resource & Mentoring Program 3. Continue to foster current and new partnerships and opportunities for joint program funding to support the transition of families to mainstream services 4. Identify opportunities to contribute to early childhood services policy development in respect of refugee and newly arrived CALD families

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