Who cares for our carers?

Nurse, doctor, teacher, lawyer: professions many of us and, no doubt, our parents would have typically cited as the things ‘to be’ as a grown-up.  But aged care worker? For many immigrant and refugee families, caring for the elderly isn’t something you aspire to be let alone be paid for.

If you’re from a migrant background (and especially if you’re also a woman), caring for an elderly family member is part of family life, it’s something you just do. What must it be like then, for the many overseas born workers (34% in 2012) who make up Australia’s aged care workforce? Does the cultural imperative of caring for the aged necessarily make the job easier for them? These were some of the questions arising from research MCWH recently conducted in partnership with the University of Adelaide’s WISeR research centre and Southern Cross Care Victoria (SCCV) into supporting the professional development needs of SCCV’s culturally diverse workforce.

We’ve mentioned before that caring isn’t any easier just because you’re paid to do it and our research certainly confirmed this. The majority of migrant aged care workers who participated in the research cited workload pressures and lack of teamwork and miscommunication as the things that made their jobs more difficult. Not surprisingly, the factors that made work easier were not only the exact opposite of whatever made things difficult, but also individual factors such as enjoyment of their work, a positive disposition and good health. Over half of the workers interviewed cited the residents as the main reason for what they like most about their work: being appreciated and feeling that a difference is being made to the quality of their lives.

These findings suggest that despite the stereotypes, migrant women workers don’t possess an innate quality that makes them want to do aged care work or that they’re naturally skilled for it because of their ‘culture’. Rather the findings highlight the important role played by personal values in care work and how these come into play when they intersect with the work-day reality of many immigrant and refugee women.

The majority (74%) of the workers interviewed cited one or more systemic issues relating to gender, migration, settlement and employment, which led them to pursue a job in the aged care sector because of their limited employment opportunities. This reason alone points to the need for immigrant and refugee women to be supported in all aspects of their professional development so that their jobs aren’t seen as an opportunity born solely of luck, but as a profession and an opportunity for advancement.

For further information about the research project, please contact Dr Regina Quiazon, Senior Research and Policy Advocate, email regina@mcwh.com.au or call 03 9418 0912

Caring for our unsung heroes


As the nomination period draws to a close for our next Australian of the Year, we at MCWH would like to acknowledge the great 2015 line-up.  There have been multiple factors lifting the visibility of violence against women and children, and the work of Rosie Batty as the 2015 Australian of the Year has been a prominent one.

Following the theme of acknowledging the unsung heroes of our community, this year we will be barracking for the award to go to a carer. Carers are such an important part of our community, helping loved ones manage everything from chronic pain, loneliness, anxiety and personal care, to shopping, housework, and accessing health services. Anyone who has been a carer for a spouse, child, family member or friend knows that caring can be a deeply rewarding and enriching experience. But it can also be emotionally, physically and financially challenging. With the health and wellbeing of their loved one as their main priority, carers often find little time to think about their own wellbeing, isolation or grief.

The act of caring is gendered in almost all societies, and often the primary burden of caring falls on women. Our population is ageing at the same time as more women enter the workforce and as we collectively delay retirement age. These trends have placed rising demands on women to juggle paid employment with caring duties.

And with approximately 20% of people aged 65 or more born overseas in non-English speaking countries, it is clear that a significant proportion of our working caregivers also come from immigrant and refugee communities. For this group, the challenges intensify: health service systems in Australia can be formidable to navigate, and often do not provide in-language or culturally-appropriate services that resonate with diverse cultural understandings of what it means to genuinely “care”. Carers are often hesitant to use respite facilities where these diverse models of caring are not manifested, staff do not speak the same language, serve appropriate food, or take the time to provide attentive and tailored care. This can leave them with few breaks from their demanding caring roles.

We are excited to announce that MCWH has started work on our newest project, ‘Dealing with it myself’. The project is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services (DSS), and provides support for immigrant and refugee working carers.
If you would like more information on ‘Dealing with it myself’, or would like to be involved in the project, please contact Rosi Aryal (Project Officer) on rosi@mcwh.com.au.

‘Dealing with it myself’: A new project to support working carers

MCWH has been funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services for an important new initiative focusing on people from an immigrant or refugee background who are in paid employment at the same time as informally caring for a family member or family members at home.

The project is called ‘Dealing with it myself’ and aims to raise awareness about the health impacts of being a working carer and to support working carers to manage their multiple responsibilities and maintain their health and well-being.

Regardless of their cultural backgrounds, many people prefer to receive care in the comfort of their home. However recent research suggests that immigrant and refugee Australians probably rely more heavily on family members to provide care services, such as housework, transport and cooking, than Anglo-Australian groups, who show a greater dependence on formal service providers.

While responsibility for family members can sometimes be shared, in many ageing Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities, due to cultural and gendered expectations, family circumstances and language barriers, the burden of informal caring often falls on the women of the family, many of whom have multiple caring responsibilities including caring for children, grandchildren, children with disability, elderly parents, spouses with chronic illness and paid employment.

In the future, working carers are expected to become even more prevalent in CALD communities, as women increasingly continue in paid employment for longer, workforce opportunities for older women grow, economies tighten and superannuation opportunities narrow.

There is strong evidence that combining paid employment and unpaid caring has a substantial impact on working carers’ health and well-being. Managing multiple responsibilities arising from paid employment and unpaid caring is challenging and confronting. While there are resources available for carers, none are specifically tailored for the needs of working carers from CALD communities.

Dealing with it myself will aim to improve the physical health, psychological well-being and social connectedness of CALD working carers through the development and broad dissemination of tailored resource kits, the delivery of peer education sessions, and the establishment of ongoing Working Carer Support networks.