Australia failing to understand needs of migrant children | Pacific Beat

Australia failing to understand needs of migrant children

Australia failing to understand needs of migrant children

Updated 29 November 2012, 11:29 AEST

Australian community groups are putting pressure on the state government of Victoria to boost the number of foster carers and child protection officers from ethnic backgrounds.

They say it's unclear how many children from migrant and refugee families are being taken into care, because no record of their cultural or religious background is being kept.

Presenter: Samantha Donovan

Speakers: Mohamed Donovan, President, Care with Mel; Bernie Geary, Child Safety Commissioner (Victoria)

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: For many migrant and refugee families Australian attitudes to child-rearing are a mystery. And the idea that a government can intervene and take children into care is a particularly foreign concept.

MOHAMED ELMASRI: Often families will not understand about the child protection system and like maybe smacking as a discipline tool. They see it as a crazy sort of scenario where they may have protected their children from bullets flying overhead and from famine to come to Australia only to have their children removed from them because they were trying to discipline them.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mohamed Elmasri is the president of Care with Me, a Victorian volunteer program that supports children from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds who are in foster care.

The organisation also encourages people from ethnic communities to become foster carers.

Mr Elmasri says no data is kept on the ethnicity or religion of children taken into care in Victoria but he puts the number at about 280 in the last year. He says many of them are from families that have arrived from Africa or Vietnam or who are Muslim. But he says they can rarely be placed with foster carers of a similar background.

MOHAMED ELMASRI: The worst case scenario for us is to see a child come into the care system speaking a second language and being perhaps the main translator for their parents, to go back to their parents six months later perhaps and having lost that ability to speak the second language. And while the parents have not gained the ability to speak English, that bond between parent and child is therefore severed because of that disruption of the language.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Victoria's child safety commissioner Bernie Geary agrees that very little is known about the number of children from ethnic backgrounds in care in the state and the challenges their families are facing.

Earlier this year the Victorian inquiry into protecting vulnerable children recommended data should be collected to record and track children from diverse backgrounds in the child protection system.

Mr Geary strongly supports that recommendation.

BERNIE GEARY: And if we can't track them in the first instance, how can we work with these communities? It's us getting a better understanding of them rather than the other way around. We need to work a lot harder to understand how their culture differs from ours in so many ways. If we don't know what their circumstances are, we can't even start to do that work.

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