20 November 2007

Queensland’s child safety officers need more resources and cultural training to better protect children who come from culturally diverse families, according to new social research.

The research, based on interviews with 66 child protection investigation officers from South East Queensland last year, found child safety officers wanted to work culturally appropriately but lacked cultural awareness and resources.

They were asked about their cross-cultural awareness training and how they worked with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families.

Child safety officers investigate reports of child abuse and neglect.

UQ postgraduate Jatinder Kaur, previously a child safety officer and now a senior policy officer with Queensland’s Department of Child Safety, said this was the first research in Australia on how child protection authorities engaged with CALD families.

Mrs Kaur said she hoped this research would drive future policy, increase the cultural awareness of child safety officers and funding for cultural support services for foster carers and CALD families.

She said the results showed that universities needed to cover cross-cultural issues in social work, psychology and human service degrees as new graduates working in the Department indicated their university studies had not prepared them to work with CALD families.

Her findings also highlighted a need for more interpreters to be trained in child protection terminology when working with CALD families.

Mrs Kaur said she focused her research on CALD issues because of her personal experience as a child safety officer in Inala where many CALD families came into the child protection system.

She said there was limited resources, policy guidelines and research available for frontline staff when working with CALD families.

“The issues that impact on culturally and linguistically diverse communities are quite different to Anglo Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, because there’s a huge variation and difference between cultures, languages and different ethnic groups.”

She said children from CALD backgrounds needed to be recognised as a separate demographic groupsand recorded as such in annual data.

Currently, there is no data on the number of CALD children entering the child protection system in Queensland or Australia-wide.

“There’s a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Anglo communities, but CALD communities don’t get any mention in legislation or in the annual child protection data.”

She said cultural practices often caused misunderstandings such as the Vietnamese healing remedy of cupping, where hot stones were placed on a child’s body which left bruises but was not harmful.

An inexperienced officer could misinterpret that practice as child abuse.

“We need to understand that different cultures have different child rearing practices and being more culturally aware is not about forcing the Western dominant culture values on to very culturally diverse communities.”

Mrs Kaur is building on her Masters research by continuing with a PhD through UQ’s School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences.

The PhD will explore cross cultural issues that impact on CALD children entering out-of-home care in Queensland.

The 29-year-old Punjabi Sikh from Thornlands is compiling the first comprehensive statistics on abused children from culturally diverse families in Queensland.

She will identify prevalence and abuse types, how cultural issues impact on foster care placements and whether or not Queensland’s child protection system is meeting childrens’ cultural, ethnic, religious and language needs.

She plans to interview up to 100 children from CALD families who are in foster care across South East Queensland.

MEDIA: Mrs Kaur (07 3239 3490, jatinder.kaur@childsafety.qld.gov.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (07 3365 2619)