Still fighting the language barrier

Progress but still a way to go, is the finding of an annual review of access for CALD people to government agencies and funded services. And the new MyAgedCare gateway service is a disappointing case in point, says FECCA’s Pino Migliorino.

pino migliorino

Above: Pino Migliorino, Chair of FECCA

“Again only lip service has been paid to diversity.  You need to design the system from the start to cope with diversity – not tack it on at the end.  The concept [of the ‘one stop shop’ gateway] was making it as simple as possible and they have made it more complicated.”

By Keryn Curtis

Simply being able to find out about available services and then the desire to be treated with ordinary friendliness and respect during interactions were two of the overwhelming messages from this year’s report looking at barriers experienced by people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD ) when accessing  the services of government agencies and government funded service providers.

The report, Multicultural Access and Equity: Strengthening connections between communities and services, is part of an ongoing research and reporting process conducted by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) each year to monitor the experiences of people in CALD communities when accessing Government programs and services.

Chair of FECCA, Mr Pino Migliroino said without knowing about the services available, CALD people cannot use them.

“Many people consulted in the development of the report described how hard it was to find relevant, understandable information about Government services and programs.

“The report urges government to ensure, via the relevant agency, that CALD Australians are aware of its services, by providing sufficient information in languages other than English via a variety of formats and by setting up a central access point.”

Mr Migliorino said that, while the report did not address access to aged care in much detail this time, it does positively acknowledge the Government’s Ageing and Aged Care Strategy for People from CALD Backgrounds, developed with assistance from FECCA and announced in December 2012.

Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda, Mr Migliorino said it was disappointing in this context that the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) had failed to brief developers and suppliers of the department’s MyAgedCare website – described as the single point ‘gateway’ for consumers and one of the core elements in the government’s Living Longer Living Better (LLLB) aged care reform package – to supply multi-lingual information.

“The ‘gateway’ is really important for the CALD community.  It was the biggest thing commented on in the PC report. It was really significant in all the consultations.

“But when the gateway was set up, there was no provision made for other languages. The suppliers just weren’t briefed to supply multi-lingual,” Mr Migliorino said.

“So the CALD advocates advocated and in response, the supplier group was asked to develop a multilingual capacity. Now it’s being back fitted, and there are six languages being catered for so far,” he said.

Lip service to diversity

Mr Migliorino said it was not unreasonable to be surprised, with all the attention to this area and the CALD strategy paper, that the capacity for different languages was not considered in setting up this core element of the reform package.

“My view is, if we are only catering to six language groups, then do we have the capacity to identify who we are not getting to?  Can we register them when they call and then correlate population data for particular areas with the number of calls to the gateway and see the gaps?

“I would like to see this issue addressed.  If it is too late to redesign the gateway from scratch then there needs to be a strategy to measure and review it.  And then develop a secondary access point that can be identified as being far more accessible, maybe linking through a provider in each state.”

Mr Migliorino said it would be simpler to have another phone number for each language group.

“The Australian Electoral Commission does this all the time in the lead up to elections.  You have a number specific to the Italian community; one for the Mandarin community; one for Bahasa etc.

“Again only lip service has been paid to diversity.  You need to design the system from the start to cope with diversity – not tack it on at the end.  The concept [of the ‘one stop shop’ gateway] was making it as simple as possible and they have made it more complicated.

Cultural competence and just being polite

The FECCA report also recounts how CALD people are treated by Government agency staff.

“We asked people what was most helpful when seeking to access services from a Government agency or Government-funded service provider. Overwhelmingly, the top response was staff who are friendly and respectful,” said Mr Migliorino.

“While people also spoke about the value of both bilingual staff and interpreters, the basic idea about the importance of respect, sensitivity and cultural competency from staff came through really strongly.”

Looking at some of the mechanisms and models the Australian Government has developed and provided to respond to CALD Australians’ needs, it notes that they are not always adequate or effective.

It recommends that, in instances where Government bodies or Government-funded organisations require certain education qualifications of their employees, including TAFE certificates in aged care, that a cross-cultural communication component of such study should also be required.

FECCA also recommends that the Australian Government require its agencies to demonstrate via regular reporting mechanisms that their commitment to culturally competent service provision is supported at all levels of the agency and by any contracted service provider.

One reportable element should be a demonstration that there is a sufficient funding allocation to train staff to provide culturally competent service in all direct service delivery situations.

About the report: 

FECCA is commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship each year to conduct direct consultations with CALD clients and to prepare a report summarising the key issues arising. The report then informs the Government’s Multicultural Access and Equity Policy. 


Tags: aged-care-gateway, cald, fecca, my-aged-care, pino-migliorino,

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