Review: Australian mental health nurses and transgender clients: Attitudes and knowledge

This is a longer version of a review of Damien Riggs & Clare Bartholomaeus’ paper published in the Journal of Research in Nursing: Australian mental health nurses and transgender clients: Attitudes and knowledge. Cite as: De Souza, R. (2016). Review: Australian mental health nurses and transgender clients: Attitudes and knowledge. Journal of Research in Nursing, 0(0) 1–2. DOI: 10.1177/1744987115625008

I have never forgotten her face, her body, even though more than twenty years have passed. She was not much older than me and she desperately wanted to be a he. I had no idea how to respond to her depression and her recent self-harm attempt in the context of her desire to change gender. There was nothing in my nursing education that had prepared me for how I might be therapeutic and there was no one and nothing in the acute psychiatric inpatient unit that could resource me. I feel embarrassed now that I had no professional understanding and experience to guide me to help me provide effective mental health care to my client. I was an empathic kind listener, but I had been immersed in a biologically deterministic (one’s sex at birth determines ones’ gender) and binary view of gender despite my own diverse cultural background which I had been socialized to see as separate from my mainly white nursing education. I had not been educated to critically consider discourses of sex and gender, to provide competent safe care to someone who wanted to change her gender and express her gender differently from normative gender categories (Merryfeather & Bruce, 2014). My work has since led me to consider the ways in which “differences” are produced culturally, politically, and epistemologically specifically in terms of categories including “race”, ethnicity, nationality, class, and more recently sexuality and gender.

Four critiques of biomedicine as a dominant framework for understanding ‘problems with living’ have inspired transformation of the mental health system. Firstly, the emphasis on participation and inclusion through consumer-led and recovery-oriented practice has profoundly changed the role of consumers from passive recipients of care to being more informed and empowered decision-makers whose lay knowledge and personal experience of mental illness are a resource (McCann and Sharek, 2014). This reconceptualisation has been formalised in the ‘recovery’ model, which has critiqued the stigmatising judgements of medico-psychiatric discourse about deviance and their accompanying social exclusion and disadvantage (Masterson and Owen, 2006). The third has been the recognition of cultural diversity and a critique of the limits of universalism. Finally, gender activism has exposed fractures in the sex/gender system and has led to a greater awareness of diversity, with regard to gender and sexual orientation.

Of these critiques, gender activism has received the least attention in mental health nursing; which is a concern, given the negative effects of heteronormativity and cisgenderism. Mental health nurses must continue to challenge or trouble the dominant binary views of gender and the discourse of biological determinism, the notion that the sex that one is assigned at birth determines ones’ gender (Merryfeather and Bruce, 2014). There is growing evidence of negative attitudes, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of sensitivity toward people whom are expressing diverse genders and sexualities. This discrimination creates barriers to the patients’ health gain and creates disparity (Chapman et al., 2012; McCann and Sharek, 2014).

The reviewed article on the attitudes of mental health nurses towards transgender people is therefore timely, given the relative invisibility of issues of gender identity within nursing theory, practice and research. As Fish (2010) wrote previously in this journal, the culture, norms and values of social institutions can inhibit access to healthcare and reinforce disparities in health outcomes. Cisgenderism (the alignment of one’s assigned sex at birth and one’s gender identity and gender expression with societal expectations) suffuses every aspect of clinical access to and through services, from written materials including mission statements, forms, posters and pamphlets; the built environment such as gender-specific washrooms; and interactions with both health professionals and allied staff, all of which reinforce a message of exclusion of transgender people (Baker and Beagan, 2014; Rager Zuzelo, 2014). In turn, these exclusionary practices are shaped through a dearth of policies and procedures, and scant educational preparation at the undergraduate and graduate levels (Eliason et al., 2010; Fish, 2010).

Nurses have a professional responsibility to challenge structural constraints and social policies, rather than passively accepting them. This paper provided compelling evidence for how nursing as a discipline and mental health nursing as a unique speciality can critically reflect on discourses regarding sex and gender; and on how these influence practice and consequently, can develop safer, ethical, effective and high-quality care for people whom either change their sex or express their gender differently from the standard culturally determined gender categories (Merryfeather and Bruce, 2014). Furthermore, this paper challenges mental health nurses to challenge heterosexism and cisgenderism; to speak out about social determinants of health that contribute to health inequities and health disparities, such as transphobia; and to address discrimination against transgender people. These challenges must be embedded into processes at the organizational, regulatory and political level (DeSouza, 2015).

References
Baker K and Beagan B (2014) Making assumptions, making space: An anthropological critique of cultural competency and its relevance to queer patients. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 28(4): 578–598. doi:10.1111/maq.1212.
Chapman R, Watkins R, Zappia T, et al. (2012) Nursing and medical students’ attitude, knowledge and beliefs regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents seeking health care for their children. Journal of Clinical Nursing 21(7,8): 938–945. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03892.
De Souza R (2015) Navigating the ethics in cultural safety. In: Wepa D (ed.) Cultural safety. Port Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, pp. 111–124.
Eliason MJ, Dibble S and Dejoseph J (2010) Nursing’s silence on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues: The need for emancipatory efforts. Advances in Nursing Science 33(3): 206–218. doi:10.1097/ANS.0b013e3181e63e4.
McCann E and Sharek D (2014) Challenges to and opportunities for improving mental health services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ireland: A narrative account. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 23(6): 525–533. doi:10.1111/inm.12081.
Masterson S and Owen S (2006) Mental health service user’s social and individual empowerment: Using theories of power to elucidate far-reaching strategies. Journal of Mental Health 15(1): 19–34. doi:10.1080/0963823050051271.
Merryfeather L and Bruce A (2014) The invisibility of gender diversity: Understanding transgender and transsexuality in nursing literature. Nursing forum 49(2): 110–123.
Rager Zuzelo P (2014) Improving nursing care for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing 43(4): 520–530. doi:10.1111/1552-6909.1247.

Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health

This was first published in the Spring 2015 edition (Issue 41) of the Federation of Ethnic Councils of Australia (FECCA) national magazine, Australian Mosaic. Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2015). Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health. Australian Mosaic (FECCA). 41, 34-36.

Decades afterward, I still recall the frequent waking, getting out of bed and moving around our Nairobi house in the dark. Sometimes I moved pots and pans, re-arranged furniture, but mostly I caused a disturbance. My parents decided to address my distressing behaviour by taking me to an older woman from our Goan community who chanted
prayers and anointed me with chilli and garlic. Her incantations arrested the nocturnal disturbances, which never perturbed me again. The evil eye was diagnosed, the somnambulism caused by envy, inflicted on me with a look. I later learned that the
evil eye is seen as the cause of many problems and illnesses globally with a multitude of rituals and remedies to either prevent or cure it.

Charm- Niall Corbet on Flickr

My own experience of being a multiple migrant and then a clinician, led me to consider many possible antecedents to mental illness. The dominance of biomedicine to manage health and illness, assumes cross-cultural universals. Yet, mental health is a contested specialty with problematic treatments. Culturally derived norms and values from a specific location impose labels on behaviour from another context, which drive treatments, or management that flattens those contexts. Psychiatry and counseling are often viewed skeptically by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds who instead turn first to informal sources outside the health system including self-help, family, community, social networks, various forms of spirituality, religion and church. Increasingly, clinicians are appreciating the part these sources of support play.

Once mental health services are accessed, if staff focus on mental illness without understanding the cultural context or without realising that clients and their families might integrate both biomedical and more “traditional” beliefs, quality psychiatric assessment can be impaired and the potential for inaccurate diagnosis and inappropriate treatment and care can occur. Incorrectly identifying culturally appropriate behaviour or experiences as psychopathology is problematic, just as assuming that something is cultural rather than psychopathology or symptoms. However, every culture has frameworks for understanding health and illness and how these are demarcated.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, where I have spent most of my life, Maori psychiatrist Mason Durie has conceptualised Maori health as encompassing mental (hinengaro), physical (tinana), family/social (whänau), and spiritual (wairua) dimensions. In Australia, the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) views wellbeing through a communal lens, broadening the concept of well-being beyond the to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. Situating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health within a framework of social and emotional wellbeing emphasise wellness, harmony and balance rather than illness and symptom reduction (AIHW 2012). Connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, interdependence between families, communities, land, sea and spirit are also seen as necessary for health. The Ways Forward National Aboriginal and Islander Mental Health Policy Report 3 (pp19-20) adapted from Swan and Raphael also prioritises holism, self-determination, the need for cultural understanding, the impact of history in trauma and loss, human rights, acknowledges the impact of racism and stigma, kinship, cultural diversity and Aboriginal strengths.

Contemporary neoliberal health discourses have co-opted patient rights movements and positioned patients as consumers ­­-active partners in health who are responsible for their own health. Consumer engagement and health literacy form a suite of strategies for inducing medical citizenship, so that individuals can participate and become knowledgeable consumers. Some would argue these are assimilatory processes. However, in order for medical citizenship to be a two way process, one’s own beliefs about the causes of illness and the corresponding treatments must also be considered. Health literate organisations must also be open to a multiplicity of illness explanations and to those locations from which such beliefs are derived. As Beijers and de Freitas (p.245), note:

Health care is transforming social suffering into illnesses and diagnoses, while often denying the social and moral origins and implications of the suffering

David Ingleby suggests that two perspectives are available for thinking about culture and mental illness. A technical perspective assumes mainstream frameworks and treatments can be universalised to all patients/clients and that more sensitivity and overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers will assist therapeutic efforts. With a technical approach to mental health, the goal of care is to deliver it efficiently and increase utilization (efficacy). Strategies can include access to language matched information and professional interpreting services, or improving mental health literacy and awareness, supporting community resilience and coping strategies. However, technical approaches do not ask questions about power imbalances between groups.

On the other hand when care is given through a critical lens (equity), the questions become what is going on when interventions developed for one population are applied to another? What are the underlying power relations? Whose interests are being served? Is there a covert attempt to impose the values and perspectives of the dominant group? Ingelby suggests that becoming a user of Western health care involves accepting its underlying philosophy and values and “acquiring health literacy”.

It is important that collaborations between traditional healing mechanisms and western practice are made possible, however within professional discourses traditional healing is frequently viewed as primitive and unprofessional, yet people often utilize different health beliefs simultaneously in their search for optimal treatment. Furthermore, assimilation and acculturation into the dominant culture are thought to negatively impact on migrant health status and to contribute to migrant ill health and disparities as the healthy migrant advantage that people arrive with reduces after a year. Developing collaborative models that combine traditional and Western health knowledges and combining health literacy and consumer participation with better access and quality of staff can indeed facilitate better health outcomes.

As an educator, I am interested in how I can do my part to increase the awareness and openness to pluralism, so that the next generation of nurses can be effective and therapeutic. There is guidance available from The Cultural Diversity Plan for Victoria’s Specialist Mental Health Services. There is an emphasis on being respectful and having non-judgmental curiosity about other cultures. Mental health workers are encouraged to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way, tolerate ambiguity and develop the ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations. In addition, developing a family-sensitive practice, where family and community resources are viewed as partners in recovery as appropriate allow syncretism and innovation to take place. There are significant institutional barriers remaining to this in mental particularly the emphases on privacy, independence and the one-to-one relationship between consumer and professional.

Learning to listen: Mental health and migration for CALD communities

In Victoria the goal of the Victorian Mental Health Reform Strategy 2009-2019 is to achieve better social and economic outcomes for people with mental illness, their families, carers and friends. Specifically Reform Area 6 outlines areas for reducing inequalities. The Cultural Diversity Plan for Victoria’s Specialist Mental Health Services, 2006-2010 suggests that achieving more culturally responsive services for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and refugee communities is a clear priority given that:

  • Victoria has a diverse population with 24 per cent of Victorians being born overseas.
  • A third of this group come from non-English speaking countries.
  • Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups often have poorer mental health outcomes compared to Australian-born people, because they tend to present to services when their illness is more severe and therefore are also likely to experience higher rates of involuntary treatment.
  • There are sub-groups articularly refugees and older people who are at risk of developing a mental health problem.
  • Each year Victoria accepts over 3,500 humanitarian entrants (refugees and asylum seekers).
  • Victoria’s CALD population is increasingly being dispersed across the state. in regional and rural areas which requires primary health and mental health services provide culturally appropriate care.
  • Almost half of all CALD Victorians report having experienced some type of discrimination based on their ethnicity or nationality.
  • Experiences of discrimination are associated with depression, stress, anxiety and problematic substance use.

Better mental health outcomes for people of CALD backgrounds must include:

  • Strategies to promote social inclusion;
  • Acceptance of cultural diversity;
  • Workforce development ie develop work practices and cultures in mental health services that support high quality, effective, consumer-focused and carer-inclusive care;
  • Improving access to culturally competent mental health care at earlier stages of illness;
  • Enhancing the capacity of primary health services and workers in CALD community settings to identify, respond earlier to, and refer people with emerging mental health problems;
  • Enhancing mental health literacy and reduce stigma among refugee and asylum seeker groups;
  • Provide mental health literacy training to multicultural, ethno-specific and refugee agencies to improve their understanding of mental illness, so that workers in these agencies can better navigate the mental health service system on behalf of CALD consumers and;
  • Encourage practical partnerships between these agencies and specialist mental health services to facilitate culturally-specific input into clinical treatment and psychosocial rehabilitation plans;
  • Address language needs of CALD clients in specialist mental health services and address supply of interpreters  and promote client and carer awareness of language services;
  • Build on the work of Victorian Transcultural Mental Health and the Action on Disability within Ethnic Communities (ADEC) to improve training.

Migrating minds

In the last week of March 2015 I was honoured to be one of six panelists ranging from consumers, carers, filmmakers, and mental health practitioners to be part of a panel at an event called Migrating Minds: A forum on mental health within Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) migrant communities.The panel was organised by Colourfest in partnership with Victorian Transcultural Mental Health and held at the State Library of Victoria (SLV). Colourfest celebrates films about diaspora and migrant experiences and shares them with the broader community through free events, professional development/training, distributing films and producing resources.

What was especially wonderful about Colourfest was that consumers and carers were central to the event and got to tell their own stories in the films at the start and in the panel discussion at the end. The event began with seven short films which were stories told by people with a personal experience of mental health issues and perspectives of relatives/carers. Five of the short films were produced by Multicultural Mental Health Australia (MHiMA) and Victorian Transcultural Mental Health. There was also an international short film produced by a second-generation Vietnamese-American who shares their experiences with Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

These fabulous examples of cross-sectoral collaboration were evident in the partnership between Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHiMA) in conjunction with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) to produce Finding our way. This unique project focused on migrant and refugee stories where the personal stories of people living with emotional and mental health issues who were negotiating migrancy. Managed by Victorian Transcultural Mental Health (VTMH), St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne and the Global and Cultural Mental Health Unit at the University of Melbourne. Erminia Colucci & Susan McDonough coordinated the project for MHiMA. We watched The Visual Conductor by Maria. A story about family expectations, taking charge and staying well involving art, personal goals and play. We also viewed Dear Self by Akeemi, which was about childhood memories, moving to a new country, feelings of isolation and efforts to connect including original drawings and paintings. Both Maria Dimopoulos  and Akeemi from the Finding Our Way film project were also on the panel.

The Our Voices project told the stories of carers from refugee and migrant backgrounds through five short films, showing a poignant insight into the lives of carers from migrant and refugee backgrounds. At the Colourfest panel we were fortunate to view Kevser‘s story. Kevser arrived from Turkey in the late 60’s with her husband and is the primary carer for her daughter. What was extraordinary about this film and the other four (from Afghani, Egyptian, Somali and Vietnamese communities) were the common challenges they faced in finding culturally sensitive and culturally-responsive mental health care and support. The aim of the forum was to help healthcare practitioners, community workers and the general population to understand some of the needs of the CALD community and the films were a powerful mechanism for leading the audience to empathise with the experiences of families. Leyla Altinkaya spoke on behalf of her mother, Kevser on the panel. Our other panelists were Munira Yusuf , a young person speaking from a youth perspective on their lived experiences with mental health issues and David Belasic: A psychologist based at Drummond Street Services. He has a strong interest in community psychology and queer mental health.

Me answering a question from Pham Phu Thanh Hang Colourfest Melbourne Coordinator. Also in the shot from left to right, fellow panellists Akeemi, Maria Dimopoulos, Munira Yusuf and David Belasic.
Me answering a question from Pham Phu Thanh Hang Colourfest Melbourne Coordinator. Also in the shot from left to right, fellow panellists Akeemi, Maria Dimopoulos, Munira Yusuf and David Belasic.

One of the priorities of The Framework for Mental Health in Multicultural Australia: Towards culturally inclusive service delivery is that services evaluate their cultural responsiveness and develop action plans to enhance their delivery of services to CALD communities as part of core business. Central to this responsiveness is having processes where consumers, carers and family members can have a say in the planning, development, delivery and evaluation of services. Particularly important given that CALD consumer and carer participation lags behind mainstream participation. Hence, the importance of this event which placed the experiences of consumers and carers at the forefront.

Cultural competence in mental health emphasises the attributes of the service provider and outcomes of the cross-cultural encounter rather than the unfamiliar culture of the consumer/carer. I love the key elements of cultural competence identified in the Cultural diversity plan for Victoria’s specialist mental health services 2006-2010:

  • Respectful and non-judgemental curiosity about other cultures, and the ability to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way;
  • Tolerance of ambiguity and ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations;
  • Readiness to adapt behaviours and communicative conventions for intercultural communication.

What’s lovely about this list is that it does not constitute a recipe or tick box that can be memorised and then deployed in every intercultural encounter. These qualities are about how we developing a capacity for being in relationship with other people when we cannot assume common ground (which is really kinda always).  I believe that watching the films provided a way to facilitate the beginnings of such a journey..

I am grateful to all those who made the films happen and for making visible the experiences of CALD consumers and carers. A grateful thanks to Gary Paramanathan and Pham Phu Thanh Hang Colourfest Melbourne Coordinator for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful panel.

Note that the Victorian Mental Health Reform Strategy 2009-2019 defines Cultural and linguistic diversity as:

the diversity of society in terms of cultural identity, nationality, ethnicity, language, and increasingly faith. Individuals from a CALD background are those who identify as having a specific cultural or linguistic affiliation by virtue of their place of birth, ancestry, ethnic origin, religion, preferred language, language(s) spoken at home, or because of their parents’ identification on a similar basis. CALD does not refer to an homogenous group of people, but rather to a range of cultural and language group communities.

Babies on board: Families in detention

The rather time-worn yellow sign “Baby on Board” seen in the back window of vehicles is meant to encourage safe driving, but also is a public announcement of one’s new status as a parent (It’s also a pun referring to pregnant women commuters in London, as an incitement for commuters to offer their seats to pregnant women). In Australia, when I think of “Babies on Board” there is a poignancy and a deep and overwhelming sadness, because it evokes images of people seeking asylum via boat. The official term is “unauthorised maritime arrivals”, a dehumanising and bureaucratic term rather like the hardline policies of deterrence and detention. Abbott’s cruel “stop-the-boats” strategy ensures that maternity and infancy cannot be the celebrations they are in every culture. Mothers, babies, children and families will encounter the opposite of tender loving care at the hands of the Australian Government who will send them to detention centres in remote locations run by global companies including G4S, Serco and Transfield (See Cathy Alexanders Crikey post for more details). This outsourcing of misery costs the Australian taxpayer a load of money ($2.97 billion has been budgeted by the Federal Government (2013-2014) for detention-related services and offshore asylum seeker management while $19.3 million is  allocated ($65.8 million over four years) for regional solutions).

baby-on-board-2

Consistent with other responses to asylum seekers in western countries, Australia has developed policies of deterrence and detention for boat arrivals without a valid visa. Australia’s Migration Act 1958 requires all “unlawful non-citizens” (people who are not Australian citizens and do not have permission to be in the country) to be detained, until they are granted a visa or leave the country. This detention policy was introduced in 1992 and continues until today. What makes Australia’s response to a legitimate right to seek asylum is the uniquely cruel policy of mandatory, indefinite detention and offshore processing. Without an age exemption it means that detainees can include families and unaccompanied children with processing taking months or years. A range of international literature shows that detention is highly distressing for both adults and children with long-term consequences. The majority of asylum seekers are found to be refugees under the 1951 Convention.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Article 14, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (signed by member countries in 1948, including Australia).

The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services. Principle 4. United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 1386(XIV) of 20 November 1959.

I am horrified that many new babies and new parents will be starting their lives in detention, the latter having already navigated treacherous borders, war strife and dangerous seas but now officialdom to meet the needs of their babies. Most of my professional career has involved supporting new parents. Aside from working on a postnatal ward, I helped to set up a service for women with postnatal depression in Auckland in the mid-nineties, my colleagues and I offered assessment, consultation and therapy to women. Aside from the hundreds of women I met I also heard many stories in the weekly support group I facilitated for depressed women for three years. My Master’s research considered the experiences of new migrant mothers and the challenges of establishing a new life without support and access to cultural rituals. In my PhD research I looked at the “the politics of the womb” and the role of maternity in projects of capitalism, nation building, imperialism and globalisation. See my other blog posts on supporting migrant fathering, ‘good’ motheringpronatalist and antinatalist policies (including Australia’s forcible removal of Aboriginal – and some Torres Strait Islander – children). I’ve also researched and written about the experiences of Refugee women in New Zealand, Korean migrant mothers and the discursive repertoires of Plunket NursesI have spent decades educating organisations and professionals about the needs of new mothers and I developed a brochure about Postnatal depression for the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation with the help of consumer organisations and many new parents and professionals. So you could say I know a little about what new mothers and babies might need to help them thrive.

Parenting and mothering are not easy. The transition is challenging emotionally, physically and socially. That’s why so many cultures have rituals for protecting and nurturing new mothers, whether it’s special foods, attention or ceremonies. The mother has experienced a massive transition requiring time to recoup, hence postpartum rest and loving attentive care are provided to women. Maternity professionals have a unique role in supporting the health and wellbeing of new migrant and refugee families, as they have privileged access to women at a time that is culturally and spiritually important to a woman and her family. However, women’s experiences of maternity services that are designed to meet their needs, can lead them to feel isolated, disrespected and invisible (and that’s when they aren’t in detention). 

Detention centres have been called factories for mental illness. The conditions in immigration detention are not conducive to establishing or maintaining family life, let alone helping families thrive. For asylum seekers who may have experienced torture or trauma, there is a vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems even before they reach countries of resettlement. The conditions of detention are demanding and difficult without the resources and support of family and friends, community and culture, no direct access to services and support. This situation is exacerbated by the unknown length for which people will be detained and to where they might be sent. It is further compounded by the punitive and coercive ways in which people are treated in detention. Existing trauma is only exacerbated while in prolonged detention which has an impact not only on the individuals in a family, but families themselves with the role of parent being undermined. Imagine powerless parents in unpredictable, hostile and degrading surroundings who cannot ensure their children’s safety or comfort. Yes, Australian policies of detention and deterrence are contributing to long term mental ill health for children and their families. Detention facilities have been criticised for the “culture of punishment, humiliating treatment of detainees, including children, and a failure to provide appropriate psychological support for high-risk populations”.

Children in detention

 In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)  – Article 3.

.. a child who is seeking refugee status … whether unaccompanied or accompanied … [shall] receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989) – Article 22 .

 

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989) – Article 37 (b).

 

Children subjected to abuse, torture or armed conflicts should recover in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Article 39.

Children, accompanied or on their own, account for as up to half of all asylum seekers in the industrialized world. Australia is not the only country to detain children, The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy also directly contradict The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which stresses that detention of children should only be a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In Australia up till 1994 there was a 273-day time limit on detention, however, after this time indefinite detention became the norm with no exemptions made for children or unaccompanied minors. A Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention in 2001 noted that (CRC)  requires the detention of children to be ‘a measure of last resort’, but Australia’s detention laws make detention of unauthorised arrival children ‘the first, and only, resort’. Mandatory detention overrides the rights and protections of child asylum seekers as enshrined in other international and regional conventions and declarations the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 13 September 2013. Adapted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 13 September 2013. Adapted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) statistics (2014) show that:

  • 1106 children are held in Australia’s secure immigration detention facilities,
  • 356 on Christmas Island and 177 of the children in Nauru
  • 1579 are detained in the community under residence determinations.
  • 1816 children live in the community on Bridging Visas (their parents have no work rights and limited access to Government support).

Research shows that even “brief” detention is detrimental to children. Prior to 2008, all children seeking asylum In Australia were faced with mandatory detention for an average of two years. In a summary of the impacts on children’s physical and mental health, Kronick, Rousseau, & Cleveland (2011) noted all manner of behvioural problems including disruptive conduct, nighttime bedwetting, separation anxiety, sleep disturbance, nightmares and impaired cognitive development. More severe symptoms includied mutism, stereotypic behaviours, and refusal to eat and drink. Mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, self harm and suicidal ideation were common. Younger children experienced developmental delays, attachment and behavioural problems Parents self-reported a decrease in the capacity to parent while in detention, and detention can trigger memories of previous trauma, humiliation and hopelessness. United Kingdom research has also found behavioural difficulties, developmental delay, weight loss, difficulty breast-feeding in infants, food refusal and loss of previously obtained developmental milestones. The neurodevelopmental vulnerability of infants means that they are highly sensitive to their socio-cultural environments. The Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting an inquiry into children in immigration detention. You can read powerful testimonials from children themselves, educators and health professionals including this account from Paediatrician Karen Zwi who visited Christmas Island:

Babies are unable to crawl because the ground is so rough and the only playground is unusable during the day due to the extreme heat.New mothers are forced to queue up for strictly rationed nappies, baby wipes and powdered milk, with staff telling them constantly they will never be resettled in Australia.

Parenting in detention

Changes to the Migration Act since July 19, 2013 mean that pregnant asylum seekers in offshore detention (classed as “unauthorised maritime arrivals”) can be removed offshore. Recently babies have been sent from Darwin to Nauru and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young plans to introduce a bill banning the removal of Australian-born babies to offshore detention centres to Parliament in May. She says:

‘‘We are, by incarcerating these newborn babies, creating the next damaged generation . . . we know the damage the detention of children has (on them),’’ she said. ‘‘If we allow this to continue, we are knowingly destroying them,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t think that’s a political issue, it’s a moral issue.’’

(Note that Section 21(8) of the Australian Citizenship Act makes clear that a baby, born in Australia, who is stateless, is eligible to apply for Australian citizenship).

Louise Newman (see reference below) has worked extensively with women asylum seekers and notes that they have unique health and mental health needs related to pregnancy and delivery which can be exacerbated by limited antenatal care or screening. Their histories can include sexual trauma and abuse and perinatal loss. Receiving perinatal “care” in a detention facility means that professionals are balancing competing priorities and subject to varying forms of regulation and administration which put complex demands on their time. There may be ambiguity about how to respond to the needs of pregnant or postpartum women who they might be ill-equipped or resourced to support as reports have indicated.

In a detention context, women are isolated from their cultural traditions and supports and sometimes physical isolation begins weeks prior to delivery. This cultural isolation compounded with a lack of access to interpreters during delivery can increased fear and distress and is implicated in the high rates of postnatal depression and anxiety and attachment difficulties with infants seen in women in detention. Newman notes that research in the United Kingdom would resonate with women’s experiences and clinician observations in Australia. Where women expressed high levels of of distress and reported poor care. The context also impacted on their capacity to parent with women feeling isolated, incompetent, ashamed and guilty for delivering a baby in detention. Consequently, a highly anticipated, magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life becomes one that is painful. In a powerful article describing his visit to Christmas Island, acting for some 26 babies born in detention Jacob Varghese notes how cruel asylum seeker policy is for new parents:

…what it is like being a new parent in a remote prison, with no control over your circumstances, every daily routine determined for you by guards and bureaucrats.

 

How the Australian government reports on conditions in detention differs from the reality. In an article for Crikey, Caroline de Costa, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Director of the Clinical School at James Cook University School of Medicine, Cairns Campus in North Queensland notes:

We were told that there is 24/7 access to a nursing triage service, with a doctor on call, for asylum seekers (male and female, adults and children) in all three camps.  We were also told that there are regular playgroups and ‘Mums and Bubs’ sessions held in all three camps for pregnant women and new mothers. Meeting individual asylum seekers, in the visitors’ rooms of all three facilities, in the two days following our formal visit, we heard stories quite different from the official accounts. We observed in many parts of the camps that asylum seekers including children and women are routinely listed, dealt with and addressed by the numbers given to them on arrival by boat in Australia, rather than by their names.

Caroline de Costa also “unequivocally” states that neither Manus nor Nauru are suitable places for the detention of very young babies and their families. She suggests that:

the greatest and most pervasive risk is to the mental health of children and their families. The fact of ongoing uncertain detention is bad enough; adding to it with an extremely isolated hot and crowded environment with few diversions within the detention facility and none outside is demonstrably contributing to very high levels of psychiatric presentations among asylum seekers, well documented by many of my colleagues in recent weeks. My own observations of recent mothers I met in Darwin is of a high level of postnatal depression that is continuing on well past the postnatal period…

The Australian Immigration Minister’s (Scott Morrison) office says:

the Government’s policy is to transfer illegal boat arrivals to offshore processing centres and families are transferred to Nauru. The statement says creating exemptions for offshore processing will only create dangerous incentives for people smugglers to fill boats with women and children.

Cartoon by Oslo Davis Source: Museum Victoria
Cartoon by Oslo Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

So what can we do?

The good news is that there is plenty of resistance both professionally, in the community and among refugee advocacy organisations. DASSAN (Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network) believe that families should not be detained and babies should not be born into detention. They advocate for policy change but have also been providing practical help and support including: making welcome packs for new babies; sewing gifts: and collecting clothes for babies and women in detention on Christmas Island. They observe:

At a time when families should be focused on preparing for the joy of welcoming new life, they are instead dealing with the trauma of having fled from their home, the great anxiety of being told they will be sent to Nauru or Manus Island, and the daily despair of being kept locked up.

(Note, if you’d like to support their work there are details on the DASSAN site). Chilout (Children out of immigration detention) have worked tirelessly to lobby for children aged from zero to eighteen. I recommend reading their Factsheet and accessing the extensive range of resources and reports on their website.

The use of prolonged detention for pregnant women and mothers with young children inflicts physical and psychological harm disproportionate to the policy aim of immigration control and should be stopped immediately .

 

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) made a passionate plea on World  Refugee Day for the Australian Government to end the mandatory detention of children and adolescents seeking asylum in Australia and in offshore centres. Their Position Statement Towards better health for refugee children and young people in Australia and New Zealand advocates for the abolition of  Australian legislation that allows children to be housed in detention centres and they propose that the Australian Government  immediately place detained children in the community with their families where they can be provided with appropriate health and social support. There is a Paediatrics & Child Health advocacy campaign for health and well-being of children in detention/refugees which was launched on 7 June 2013. Information and template letters addressed to Government Ministers can be used to advocate for health of children in detention. These are just a few of the national and local responses to mothers, children and families in detention.
There is also a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014: Discussion Paper. The the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) is investigating the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children and inviting people previously detained as children in closed immigration detention and assessing the current circumstances and responses of children to immigration detention. A follow up to their report ten years ago A last resort? the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (National Inquiry). After the National Inquiry positive developments including the removal of children from high security Immigration Detention Centres, the creation of the Community Detention system and the use of bridging visas for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. However, there are still around 1,000 children in closed immigration detention, a higher number than the last inquiry, and the Commission’s monitoring work reveals that key concerns remain. Their aim is to discover if there have been any changes in the ten years since the last investigation, and whether Australia is meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). You can read the inquiry discussion paper and make a submission that addresses the inquiry terms of reference. This inquiry is focused on closed detention facilities (not community) and the impact of detention on children under 18 years. You can also read about their work on alternatives to closed detention The last words really belong to Murray Watt who in an article Why is an Australian baby locked up in detention? says:

 

It’s not fair that children – or anyone for that matter – should be locked up for years on end, without any consideration of their claims to protection.   It’s not fair that the conditions in offshore detention camps, overseen by our own government, are dangerous, inhumane and deliberately designed to break people’s spirit.   And it’s not fair that Australia – ranked by the IMF as the 10th richest country in the world – should pass our refugee “problem” on to countries that are far poorer and less safe than many of the countries from which refugees come in the first place.   Australia can do better than this. Over our history, we have led the world in protecting others in distress, and in improving the rights and living conditions of our citizens and those across the world. We should live up to our history.

References

  • Kronick, Rachel, Rousseau, Cécile, & Cleveland, Janet. (2011). Mandatory detention of refugee children: A public health issue? Paediatrics & child health, 16(8), e65.
  • Mares, Newman, Dudley, & Gale, (2002). Seeking Refuge, Losing Hope: Parents and Children in Immigration Detention. Australasian Psychiatry, 10(2), 91-96. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1665.2002.00414.x)
  • Newman, Louise K, & Steel, Zachary. (2008). The child asylum seeker: psychological and developmental impact of immigration detention. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 17(3), 665-683.

Enhancing the role of fathers

First published in Viewpoint, March 2014 Issue of the Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand.

March 2014 Midwives at work
March 2014 Midwives at work

Reference as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). Enhancing the role of fathers. Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand, 20(2), 26-27 (download 3.2 MB pdf DeSouza Migrant Dads).

Mkono mmoja haulei mwana. A single hand cannot nurse a child. Kiswahili proverb

I spent the first ten years of my life in Tanzania and Kenya where this Kiswahili proverb comes from. My father played a prominent part in childcare and the raising of three daughters. We migrated twice, first to Kenya and then to New Zealand. As migrants we only had our nuclear family to fall back on and my father took a central role in raising us while my mother studied. His philosophy was that that everything that needed to be done to keep the household going was a labour of love that we should all expect to contribute freely and lovingly to. This idea of pulling together and being self-sufficient reminds me of another Kiswahili phrase Harambee which means to pull together. Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya and this catch phrase that he popularized can also be seen on the Kenyan flag. Which brings me to the purpose of this article, which is to talk about pulling together around a family, especially one that has migrated and in particular pulling “in” fathers during the transition to parenthood.

Including fathers in care

It is not possible to address the needs of women, infants and children in heterosexual families without addressing the needs of a child’s father (Buckelew, Pierrie, & Chabra, 2006). Pregnancy and childbirth are pivotal periods where individuals can grow as they adjust to the transition (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004).The perinatal period is a critical developmental touch point where health professionals can have a profound influence in assisting fathers and mothers in their transition. Often interventions focus on the mother and serve to increase her developing expertise, which subsequently tends to increase parental conflict (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004). Health professionals can have a significant role in fostering interactions between both partners (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004).

Most immigration studies focus on the negative consequences of immigration for families and for parenting. For example, immigration is perceived predominantly in the literature as a source of stress and a risk factor for families and children. Engaging women in groups or developing couples’ groups that would also serve the needs of new fathers could educate participants and provide support and information. Supporting the whole migrant family is critical, particularly when often a key motivation for migration is to provide a better life for children (DeSouza 2005; Roer-Strier et al 2005). Families can provide a buffer and the strength and safety to cope with what might seem an unfamiliar, and at times hostile, receiving community (Roer-Strier et al 2005).

Parenthood, combined with recent migration, can lead to a process of extended change and adaptation in all domains of a parent’s life. These changes can include adjusting to a new home, social environment, language, culture, place of work and profession. Often, economic, social and familial support systems are lost or changed. Under such circumstances, parents’ physical and psychological health, self-image, ability to withstand stress and anxiety levels may all be challenged (Roer-Strier, Strier, Este, Shimoni, & Clark, 2005). For new migrant families, support needs are critically important and in the absence of usual support networks, partners and husbands play an important role in providing care and support that would normally be received from mothers, family and peers. Systems need to be ‘father-friendly’ as husbands are the key support for migrant women who have often left behind friends and family.

So, what can be done to reorient services so that they are more father-friendly? Fatherhood is changing, influenced by diverse family practices and formations, which challenge the male breadwinner-female home carer division of labour. The shift from being a breadwinner and authority figure to being involved in all aspects of the perinatal period has become an expectation in the Western world (Deave & Johnson, 2008). Fathers play a crucial role in the couple’s relationship and the father-infant relationship and they contribute to individual and family well-being (Goodman, 2005). where men are required to provide practical and emotional support to mothers and children However, Barclay and Lupton (1999) suggest that active societal support and preparation are not readily available to men despite the expectation that men will fill the gaps that were previously filled by neighbours and women relatives.

Health and social services and nurses who work in them often fail to engage fathers successfully and can even pose a barrier to their engagement (Williams, Hewison, Wildman, & Roskell, 2013). The ‘new involved father’ benchmark (Lupton & Barclay, 1997a) requires that fathers participate in antenatal classes, labour and delivery. In the absence of social networks, family and peers groups, partners and health professionals often need to fill in the gaps. Fathers are key persons who strongly influence the perinatal decisions women make. Migration often requires changed roles for fathers, especially if they have not grown up with expectations about their roles as active participants.

Fatherhood can be difficult and fathers need support and guidance to prepare them for the transition and to develop competence Men can sometimes lack appropriate models and emotional support for fathering, requiring that they be encouraged to develop support for their parenting beyond their partner (Goodman, 2005). Each stage of the paternal lifecycle including pregnancy, labour and delivery, postpartum period and parenthood poses challenges for new parents to be. Labour and delivery are particularly difficult times for fathers who can feel coerced, ill-prepared, ineffective, and/or psychologically excluded from the event (Bartlett, 2004).

The postpartum period, particularly the first year after childbirth, is a time of emotional upheaval for first-time fathers, who have to adapt to the presence of an infant who is a priority. Research on first-time fathers’ prenatal expectations of the experience compared with perceptions after the birth found that they expected to be treated as part of a labouring couple, but were often relegated to a supporting role. Fathers were confident of their ability to support their wives, but labour was more work and scary than they had anticipated. The focus also changed postpartum from their wives to their babies. The study found that fathers need to be better included and supported in their role as coach and friend (Chandler & Field, 1997).

The first year of parenting is often experienced as overwhelming (Nyström & Öhrling, 2004). Anticipatory guidance is critically important for expectant fathers, as many men (like women) hold unrealistic expectations about parenthood that can hinder their adjustment to the realities of fatherhood (Goodman, 2005). Supporting fathers prenatally can improve their transition to fatherhood (Buist, Morse, & Durkin, 2003). Interventions that can help prepare men for the changes and stresses of becoming a parent include not only ensuring that men are included in childbirth preparation classes but that the content relates to the concerns of fathers and which promotes paternal involvement in all aspects of infant care. Fathers should be given opportunities to develop skills and confidence in infant care, both before and after their infant’s birth. Fathers- only classes could help men develop competence and confidence away from their partner whom they could perceive as being more capable.

Obstacles to greater involvement in fathering include work, parental modelling after one’s own father, maternal gate-keeping from wives or female partners, co-constructed processes of “doing gender” by both mothers and fathers, gender identities and ideologies and discourses of fatherhood (Doucet, (2005).

Fathers’ breastfeeding role

An infant’s father has a pivotal role in maternal initiation and continuation of breastfeeding (Littman, Medendorp, & Goldfarb, 1994), hence breastfeeding education and promotion should be directed to expectant fathers as well as mothers. Littman, Medendorp, and Goldfarb suggest that breastfeeding education should include appropriate anticipatory guidance related to managing feeling excluded when mothers are breastfeeding. Ways for new fathers to experience closeness with their infants can be suggested, and nurses can encourage the development of men’s nurturing qualities while supporting the importance of their particular role as father. Skill acquisition in infant care is a crucial step in facilitating father-infant bonding. 8. Fathers are excluded in research.

Maternal and infant health has enjoyed extensive attention from researchers, medical practitioners, and policymakers. However, little is known about the physical and psychological health of fathers, but with gender roles changing and an increasing emphasis on paternal involvement in all aspects of parenting, adjustments are required for both men and women (Goodman, 2004). Research on fatherhood lags behind that on maternal health, a disparity that is a significant gap in family research and theory. This disparity is a serious omission in knowledge and scholarship because becoming a father is a major developmental milestone (Bartlett, 2004). In order to provide optimal support to new fathers it is important to understand fathers’ experiences from the perspectives of fathers themselves (Goodman, 2005).

Interactions with significant others (nurses and partners) have a significant impact on both parents’ perceptions of parental efficacy (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004) Health professionals are well placed to support fathers in a way that empowers them to feel good about themselves, their abilities, and their infant, which in turn enhances their motivation to interact with and care for their infant (Bandura, 1996; (Bryan (2000) cited inMontigny & Lacharite, 2004)

Conclusion

The transition to fatherhood is significant with many men feeling overwhelmed or excluded. However, services that provide prior guidance and are male- friendly can increase involvement and participation. Little is known about how this transition is managed especially the needs of migrant fathers and the mediating role of social and psychological factors. However the participation of men is linked with positive outcomes for the whole family. By supporting father- friendly services, families can benefit especially families separated from support systems like migrant families. Nurses can play a pivotal role in pulling fathers ‘in’ and helping families pull together in the transition to fatherhood so that all families can thrive.

References

  • Bandura, A, Barbaranelli, C, Caprara, G V, & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Multifaceted impact of self‐efficacy beliefs on academic functioning. Child Development, 67(3), 1206-1222.
  • Barclay, Lesley, & Lupton, Deborah. (1999). The experiences of new fatherhood: a socio-cultural analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 29(4 %R doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.00978.x), 1013-1020.
  • Bartlett, E.E. (2004). The effects of fatherhood on the health of men: A review of the literature. Journal of Men’s Health and Gender, 1(2-3), 159-169.
  • Buckelew, Sara M. , Pierrie, Herb , & Chabra, Anand (2006). What Fathers need: A countywide assessment of the needs of fathers of young children. Maternal and Child Health Journal,, 10(3).
  • Buist, A, Morse, C A, & Durkin, S. (2003). Men’s adjustment to fatherhood: Implications for obstetric health care. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 32(2), 172-180.
  • Chandler, S., & Field, P.A. (1997). Becoming a father: First-time fathers’ experience of labor and delivery. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 42(1), 17-24.
  • Deave, T., & Johnson, D. (2008). The transition to parenthood: what does it mean for fathers? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 63(6), 626-633. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04748.x
  • DeSouza, R. (2006). New spaces and possibilities: The adjustment to parenthood for new migrant mothers. Wellington: Families Commission.
  • Doucet, A. (2005). It’s almost like I have a job, but I don’t get paid’: Fathers at home reconfiguring work, care, and community. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 2(3), 277-303.
  • Goodman, J.H. (2004). Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45(1), 26-35.
  • Goodman, J.H. (2005). Becoming an involved father of an infant. JOGNN – Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 34(2), 190-200.
  • Littman, H., Medendorp, S.V. , & Goldfarb, J. . (1994). The decision to breastfeed: The importance of father’s approval. Clin Pediatr (Phila), 33(4), 214-219.
  • Lupton, D, & Barclay, L. (1997). Constructing fatherhood: Discourses and experiences. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE
  • Montigny, Francine de , & Lacharite, Carl (2004). Fathers’ perceptions of the immediate postpartal period. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 33(3), 328-339.
  • Nyström, K., & Öhrling, K. (2004). Parenthood experiences during the child’s first year: Literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 46(3), 319-330.
  • Roer-Strier, Dorit, Strier, Roni, Este, David, Shimoni, Rena, & Clark, Dawne. (2005). Fatherhood and immigration: challenging the deficit theory. Child & Family Social Work, 10(4 %R doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2005.00374.x), 315-329.
  • Williams, Robert, Hewison, Alistair, Wildman, Stuart, & Roskell, Carolyn. (2013). Changing Fatherhood: An Exploratory Qualitative Study with African and African Caribbean Men in England. Children & Society, 27(2), 92-103.

Multicultural relationships in supervision

Here’s an excerpt from a chapter I wrote on culture/ethnicity and supervision, the paragraph seems more than apt these days.

“We don’t colonise, these days, through the barrel of a gun, but through the comfortable words of those who change the hearts, minds and spirits of people” (Waldegrave, 2001).

Supervision provides a powerful learning environment that helps in the maintenance of integrity and is therefore a critical factor in practitioner development for learning to work with diversity. Freshwater (2005, p109) suggests that supervision provides a space for the “preservation or restoration of integrity in caring” and as such a supervisor needs to have integrity themselves. Supervision provides us with an opportunity to look at ourselves and resource ourselves so that we can then re-engage with our work in new ways, with new knowledge and skills and strategies. This revitalising quality of supervision allows us to then return to our work refreshed.  With the impact of neoliberal policy and increasing demands for quality and outcomes, the importance of having someplace to replenish ourselves takes on new urgency. Nowhere is this more apt than in working with people of diverse cultures, where policy has not kept up with practice so that few of us are resourced for working with difference in time stretched, resource poor systems. Supervision is one of the most powerful and intimate of learning environments and as such it needs to be a safe one, so that the work of learning can take place and enhance the delivery of care and support. The supervision experience can be a powerful facilitator of the development of knowledge and skills that meets the therapeutic needs of diverse groups. With our changing demographics, supervision needs to be more inclusive, not just in terms of working with diversity but also regarding worldviews from different locations and positions.

DeSouza, R. (2007). Multicultural relationships in supervision. In D. Wepa (Ed.), Clinical supervision in the health professions: The New Zealand experience. (pp. 96-109). Auckland: Pearson Education.

Refugee women in New Zealand: Findings and recommendations

Today on International Women’s Day, it seems apt to share this article that I wrote on behalf of our research team for the Women’s Health Action Update, volume 16, Number 43, December 2012. Women’s Health Action is a charitable trust, that works to “provide women with high quality information and education services to enable them to maintain their health and make informed choices about their health care”. Their focus is on health promotion and disease prevention and they are particularly supportive of breastfeeding and screening. Their vision is ‘Well women empowered in a healthy world’.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and their dependent children. Often women of refugee backgrounds [1]are constructed within deficit frames as having high needs. This representation is problematic as it deflects attention from considering broader historical, social, systemic and political factors and the adequacy of resettlement support.

Little is known about the experiences of women who enter New Zealand through the Women at Risk category identified by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This category constitutes up to 75 places (10%) of New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750. Refugee Services worked with AUT University and the three Strengthening Refugee Voices Groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to undertake a project to examine the resettlement experiences of women who enter New Zealand through this category or become sole heads of households as a consequence of their resettlement experiences. This project was funded by the Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.

The project was important not only for its findings but also for the research process, which focused on strengths, social justice, community development and transformative research. This transformative agenda aimed to enhance the wellbeing of refugee background women by focussing on the roots of inequality in the structures and processes of society rather than in personal or community pathology (Ledwith, 2011). Within this frame we were committed to constructing refugee women as an asset rather than deploying a deficit model of refugee women as a burden for the receiving society (Butler, 2005).

Focus groups were held in 2009 and 2010 with women who entered New Zealand as refugees under the formal category ‘Women at Risk’ or became women who were sole heads of households once they arrived in New Zealand. Women that took part had lived in New Zealand from between five months to sixteen years.  Lengthy consultations were held with the three Strengthening Refugee Voices groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch prior to undertaking data collection, in order to scope and refine the research focus and process. These groups were subsequently contracted to provide services and support.

Key findings

Although support needs are similar to all refugees arriving in New Zealand, there were unique and exacerbated gender issues. Refugee background women experienced a double burden of stress with half the support, especially as they parented on their own. This is despite the tremendous unpaid and voluntary support provided by faith and ethnic community members. Women frequently postponed their own aspirations in order to assure the future of their children. When they were ready to take up further education (including English language classes) or employment, limited assistance was then available (given the focus on early resettlement) leading to women feel disadvantaged.

We have made several recommendations based around several specific themes. More broadly we recommended that:

  • More intensive and longer term instititutional support be made available from agencies such as Refugee Services.
  • Subsidised practical help be made available.
  • Assistance to broaden sources of support and networks is goven.
  • Subsidised English language lessons and childcare are available.
  • That a one stop shop/holistic support from culturally and linguistically skilled refugee community insiders be provided.

Parenting

Raising children in New Zealand brought new stresses. These included concern about the loss of culture, values and language and losing their children to less palatable values including the consumption of alcohol and drugs, gender mixing and loss of respect for elders. Women addressed these issues in a range of ways that included trying different less hierarchical styles of parenting, attempting to spend more time with their children, engaging them in broader supports eg mosque. However, a few women had the experience of losing their children through the intervention of CYFS and felt disempowered in their interactions with CYFS and with schools.

  • Programme for parenting for Refugee women, particularly around issues such as discipline, inter-generational gender issues
  • Programmes for young people.
  • Cultural competence training for CYFS.

Family reunification

Living in New Zealand is difficult for women who are conscious of their own comfort while other family members struggle. However, the cost of bringing family members over is prohibitive and the costs involved in providing support in the form of phone calls and remittances add a burden to already stretched lives of the women. The importance of extended family is highlighted for women on their own and the kinds of help that could be provided by family members. Additional stresses are the requirement that refugee women are able to support their families once they arrive in New Zealand. The process is also made difficult by the lack of transparency in the immigration process.

  • Prioritise the reunification with family for women who are here on their own.
  • Provide financial support to women.
  • Increase transparency of the processes and decisions that are made.

Health system

Women encountered a different health system that at times was difficult to navigate. Many women felt that their health concerns were not taken seriously and that the health system created new problems. In terms of some health beliefs and stigma there was value in having more culturally appropriate services available. The surfeit of refugee background health professionals was a potential resource that was not being used.

  • Train and employ a more ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse health workforce at all levels
  • Develop culturally responsive services.
  • Examine the affordability of services.
  • Develop cultural competence of staff working in health services.

Education

The cost and availability of day care for Refugee women on their own is prohibitive in some cases consuming the lion’s share of their income/benefit. Taking up loans in order to finance their own educations is also a problem. This prevents women from achieving their own goals such as learning English, driving or further education, which would assist them in the long term with employment and independence. Women generally considered their own advancement as secondary to their children. If women were resourced financially to gain an education this would assist them to also be a resource for their children. Having long-term support to enter the workforce would also be of benefit.

  • Subsidised day care for women on their own.
  • Mentoring.
  • Scholarships for further education.

Employment

Women were concerned that their children were not getting employed despite tertiary qualifications. Barriers to employment included: ‘lack’ of New Zealand experience, language barriers, their perceived difference (clothing, culture, skin colour) and paucity of appropriate childcare, poor public transport. The impacts of unemployment included losing their dignity, health impacts of taking inappropriate jobs, boredom

  • Subsidised driving lessons, support with transport
  • More work with employers to destigmatise refugee workers
  • Work mentoring/brokering services
  • Support for family members who come into New Zealand through the reunification category to obtain further education

Racism

Refugee women and their families experienced a range of racism related harms that were instititutional and interpersonal taking physical and verbal forms. Their clothes and accent marked them out, and verbal altercations saw stereotypes being invoked particularly around Islamophobia and discourses of war on terror. Women deployed a range of strategies to cope with racism including minimising the racism and helping their children to cope with it.

  • Social marketing campaigns
  • Community education
  • Addressing structural racism
  • National conversation on racism
  • National campaign against racism

The research team hope that this research provides a snapshot of the role and value of various sectors in enabling or constraining the resettlement of refugee background women. This could contribute to better informing theory, practice and policy in order that the self-determination and resilience of refugee background women and their communities is supported.

 


[1] Note that terms like ‘refugee background women’ and ‘communities’ refer to highly diverse groups of people (Butler, 2005). In capturing the experiences of refugee women as sole heads of households, we were mindful of the potential that using a category could imply a “single, essential, transhistorical refugee condition” (Malkki, 1995, p.511).

 

How can we better support new mothers to sing?

I am a member of the Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand Trust (PMHNZ) whose vision is to : “improve outcomes for families and whanau affected by mental illness related to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood”. They produce a quarterly newsletter that includes information about research, training, workshops and courses, innovative projects and services, topics for discussion and stories. It was a privilege to share my research with other members in the February newsletter (pdf) and on this Women’s day it seems apt to share it with a broader audience.

One of my favourite stories that I would tell when we ran workshops in the nineties about postnatal depression was by Jack Kornfield. I would share this story and half the room would be in tears.

“There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.” A Path with Heart (1993, p. 334).

For me the message in this story reflects the importance of love, being loved by a community and the importance of acknowledgement. Painfully, however, it highlights the ways in which women’s experiences of maternity can be just the opposite. That is, they can feel isolated, disrespected and invisible. As a clinician, I’ve learned that there are ways in which we, and the system that we work in can make this most magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life also one that is painful, one that leaves long lasting scars. Health professionals can cause harm even especially when we think we are doing good. As an academic for 13 years prior to which I worked as a clinician for 10 years, I am deeply interested in the issue of power and how professional frameworks of care can undermine women’s personal experiences.

This song has been the background soundtrack to my recently completed PhD. I used data from a study funded by the Families Commission and assisted by Plunket, where I talked to 40 migrant women about their experiences of becoming mothers in New Zealand. I also talked to Plunket nurses about their experiences of caring for women from ethnic migrant backgrounds.

My motivation for doing research was prompted by my clinical experiences. Several years ago I decided to make a move from working in mental health to working in maternity. As someone who had worked as a community mental health nurse I took a lot of concepts about my work in mental health into this new setting, for example, I believed that care should be client centred and driven, that services should fit around consumers of services and that taking time to be with people was important. What I found in the institutionalised setting of hospital maternity care and later community care was that some of the routine procedures that are administered in hospitals and in the community with good intentions had negative impacts and were oppressive especially for women who did not tidily fit into the mould for the factory style model that was in place then. The conveyor belt metaphor is apt given that women who were the wrong fit were viewed as a problem, as only a single way of becoming a mother was acceptable. I saw that staff were frustrated at the extra demands or complexity of working with ‘diverse’ women, they lacked resources like time and knowledge. In turn, I could see that women who valued particular kinds of social support, acknowledgement and rituals were not getting their needs met. It seemed like a situation where no one was a winner.

What I found out in my research was that there was a big gap in satisfaction among women who were familiar with the structure of maternity services in the west and women whose lives had been shaped by growing up in other cultural contexts. Fundamentally there was a schism in the ways in which birth was understood. To be simplistic, western modes of being a mother valued independence, autonomy, taking up expert knowledge and using it and being an active consumer. By that I mean the individualising of responsibility for maternity on the mother, to take up scientific knowledge through reading self help books and for the role of the partner to be a birth coach and the goal of birth to be “natural”.

This dominant Pakeha middle class model of being a mother clashed with other understandings of motherhood, where responsibility was more collectivised, so that embodied knowledge from cultural authority figures (mother and mothers in law) protected mothers and where a range of rituals and supports were available for the mother (including some which were also not necessarily helpful). Women who became mothers in New Zealand had to negotiate these two different models of maternity and come to terms with what they negotiated. However, in the context of an assimilatory maternal health system it was very difficult for women to maintain traditions that were important to them. For example many women were not supported if they wanted to bring in traditional foods with them or have support from grandmothers. Many of these encounters left migrant mothers feeling disempowered. Another important clash was the different philosophies and roles of professionals and mother in the context of midwifery models and medical models. Some women viewed birth as a risky process and wanted the reassurance of visualising technologies. The view of birth as a risky process clashed with midwifery models of birth as a natural process that women are physically prepared for but need encouragement and support with.

Conclusion How can we support all kinds of women with different values, beliefs and rituals around birth, to feel loved, nurtured, safe and supported? How can we give women who might be separated from their loved ones, support to access those values, beliefs and that will allow them to manage the transition into motherhood? Returning to the metaphor of singing, and the power of connection it engenders, how can we connect and support people who are singing different kinds of songs? Can we adjust our tone so that we can harmonise? Can new songs and rhythms infuse the songs we already know with new energy and possibility?

Having a baby in New Zealand without your support base http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/kaixinxingdong/page/486- resources+dragon-babies+parents-stories 

Postnatal depression in the Year of the Dragon

Women are more likely to develop emotional problems after childbirth than at any other time in their lives and the life time prevalence of major depression in women is almost twice that of men (Kohen, 2001). According to Lumley et al. (2004), one out of every six women experiences a depressive illness in the first year after giving birth. Thirty per cent of those women will still be depressed when their child is two years old. Of those women, 94% report experiencing a related health problem. Women who experience problems in the early stages of motherhood also report problems with their relationships, their own physical health and well-being. Women report that a lack of support, isolation, and exhaustion are common experiences.

Several years ago I was approached to develop a new brochure about Women’s perinatal mental health (given my expertise as as a clinician and educator in maternal mental health) for the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation who were partnering with EGG maternity a New Zealand company specialising in maternity wear. In developing the brochure, my partner and I consulted widely with consumer groups, mothers, fathers, health professionals in order to ascertain what would be the most important and clear information we could put inside the brochure. This was the end result:

The PND brochure has become widely available, it is included in information packs given to new mothers by Plunket, available from the resource centre at the Mental Health Foundation, the Foundation website and EGG maternity boutiques in New Zealand.  It has been one of the most requested brochures ever with 33,800 sent out in 2011 alone.

Women who have a baby in a new country and are separated from their support networks and special perinatal customs (including special foods, nurturing, rest and household help) through migration can experience isolation and postnatal depression.

For the Year of the Dragon this brochure has been translated into Chinese by Kai Xin Xing Dong -a public education programme aimed at reducing the stigma and discrimination faced by Chinese people who experience mental illness. Funded by the Ministry of Health, the project aims to raise mental health awareness in the Chinese community and to counter stigma and discrimination.

See here for other PND resources

Submission to the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy 2008

Congratulations on a wonderful job in developing the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy. I am pleased to see an inter-sectoral approach that is both evidence and strengths based. It is also encouraging to see mention of diverse communities and an approach that integrates protection, promotion, early identification, crisis support, attention to families and support in the aftermath of suicide. Thanks for the opportunity to add my rather swiftly developed submission to the New Zealand suicide prevention strategy. I am focussing this submission on Asians and South Asians in particular, but am aware (as per our teleconference on Friday) that these issues pertain to other migrant and refugee groups as well.

My key points are:

  1. Asians are a high risk group for suicide and attempted suicide according to overseas research (especially South Asian young women).
  2. We need better ethnicity data collection practices as data is limited.
  3. There are issues with the umbrella term Asian which disguise differenceswithin groups.
  4. There are significant barriers in accessing services, particularly mental health services.
  5. Further research is needed that is clinical and epidemiological in order to identify prevention and intervention strategies that may vary from other groups.

Asians and statistics

Asians are a growing population in New Zealand. By 2016 they are expected to make up 9% of New Zealand’s and 20% of the Auckland Region’s total population. As such the health and social service needs of Asians must be considered by service providers. As you are aware there is limited research data available in New Zealand, 12 Asian people died by suicide (10 males and two females) in 2002, compared to 20 deaths

in 2001 and 21 deaths in 2000 (Ministry of Health, 2005). In our teleconference we also expressed concern the underreporting of suicide and coronial issues. I am concerned about the category as there is diversity within the people subsumed into the category Asian, with some groups especially at risk and others well protected) and the concept has limited use (Aspinall, 2003; Henare & Ehrhardt, 2004).

High rates of suicide and attempted suicide

Disproportionally high rates of suicide and attempted suicide have been found among South Asians in the diaspora (Batsleer, Chantler, & Burman, 2003; Bhugra & Desai, 2002; Bhugra & Hicks, 2004; Burr, 2002; Hicks & Bhugra, 2003). The highest were in young women of South Asian origin who have rates that are double that of the White population in the United Kingdom of completed suicide and 1.6 times more likely to attempt suicide(Hicks & Bhugra, 2003). Hicks and Bhugra examined perceived causes of suicide attempts in 180 ethnic South Asian women living in the London area. The three factors endorsed most frequently and strongly as causes of suicide attempts in South Asian women were violence by the husband, being trapped in an unhappy family situation, and depression. South Asian women are also two and a half times more likely to attempt suicide that South Asian men.

Barriers to accessing services

Recent New Zealand research has found that barriers for Chinese people accessing services include a lack of English language proficiency leading to communication difficulties and knowledge gaps, for example, being unaware of what services are available; the important role of primary healthy care and General Practitioners in particular as a first point of contact and a lack of awareness of the health and civil rights of citizens in New Zealand (Ruth DeSouza & Garrett, 2005). The research identified regional differences in terms of the place of birth of respondents and, in particularly, it was noted that Chinese-born respondents experienced more communication difficulties than those born in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Some of the strategies recommended in the report which are pertinent here include: encouraging cultural competence in health services (clinical, systemic and organisational), staff training and workforce development, developing partnerships with ethnic communities and community organisations, involving ethnic communities in strategic planning and linguistic competence. The latter involves not only ensuring that resources are available in several languages but also that interpreting and translation services are available.

Accessing mental health services

There are issues in attempting to access mental health services as well which are compounded by stigma within ethnic communities and anxiety from the mental health workforce. Increasingly mental health services are being called on to provide culturally appropriate care, but little is known about what that constitutes. Such a call cannot be answered if mental health professionals are not prepared for working in ways that are culturally competent. Despite the emphasis on cultural safety as part of the curricula of undergraduate health professional preparation, it has largely been concerned with Treaty obligations to Tangata whenua rather than evolving to meet the needs of ethnic communities (R. DeSouza, 2004). Burman, 2003, p.106) found in a research project investigating suicide and self-harm in the United Kingdom among South Asians that staff working with the women were caught in ‘race anxiety’ whereby white staff were hesitant and silent around issues to do with race, gender and mental health and were concerned that their actions were not misinterpreted. Their responses were to pass on issues to their South Asian counterparts or to avoid them. For the South Asian workers there was concern that discussing issues like this would reinforce or add to the existing stereotypes. This culture of silence within mainstream services was viewed as frustrating and annoying.

Ruth DeSouza Centre Co-ordinator/Senior Research Fellow Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research Faculty of Health & Environmental Science Auckland University of Technology Address: Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1020

Ethnicity data collection

There is a need for improvements in quality ethnicity data collection so as to more clearly ascertain health needs and dispraities (Aspinall, 2003; British Medical Journal, 1996; Klajakovic, 1993; Latimer, 2003; McLeod et al., 2000; Ministry of Health, 2001, 2003, nd-a, nd-b; New Zealand Health Information System, 1996; Pringle & Rothera, 1996; Senior & Bhopal, 1994; Statistics New Zealand, 1996; Thiru, Hassey, & Sullivan, 2003; D. R. Thomas, 2000; S. B. Thomas, 2001). Several reports and research findings confirm that ethnicity data collection is poorly conducted by staff. A Waitemata District Health Board review found that staff were unaware of national guidelines for collecting data, had not received training on why and how ethnicity data was collected and consequently collected it inconsistently (Latimer, 2003). An internal paper for the Ministry of Health based on interviews with key stakeholders and a literature review found that there was inconsistency in the way in which data was collected and that what was collected was inaccurate and incomplete and that the concept of ethnicity was misunderstood (Ministry of Health, nd-a). These factors point to the need for support and training to facilitate accurate data collection. In order that ethnicity data is collected consistently and accurately ethnicity questions need to be aligned with Statistics New Zealand Census question for 2001 so that they are standardised. Variation exists across health providers around the method of ethnicity data collection, ranging from not asking and using previous admission information, to asking verbally to postal or using a show card. Furthermore, in secondary care, staff rely on information from GP’s which has been found to be problematic. A national survey of 1,062 members of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP) found that only 20% of practices collected ethnicity data. A recent study of 12 South Island practices found ethnicity was recorded for only 5% of patients (McLeod et al., 2000). Other problematic areas include the assumption of ethnicity by a provider.

Recommendations

• Further research and exploration of factors is needed in clinical and epidemiological studies of suicidality in South Asian women which might then contribute to prevention and intervention strategies.

• Better collection of ethnicity data (McKenzie, Serfaty, & Crawford, 2003). • Access to information in commonly used languages. • Encouraging cultural competence in health services (clinical, systemic and

organisational). • Staff training and workforce development. • Developing partnerships with ethnic communities and community

organisations. • Involving ethnic communities in the design of services.

Ruth DeSouza Centre Co-ordinator/Senior Research Fellow Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research Faculty of Health & Environmental Science Auckland University of Technology Address: Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1020

References

Aspinall, P. J. (2003). Who is Asian? A Category that Remains Contrived in Population and Health Research. Journal of Public Health Medicine, 25(2), 91-97.

Batsleer, J., Chantler, K., & Burman, E. (2003). Responses of health and social care staff top South Asian women who attempt suicide and/or self-harm. Journal of Social Work Practice, 17(1), 103-114.

Bhugra, D., & Desai, M. (2002). Attempted suicide in South Asian women. Adv Psychiatr Treat, 8(6), 418-423.

Bhugra, D., & Hicks, M. H.-R. (2004). Effect of an Educational Pamphlet on Help- Seeking Attitudes for Depression Among British South Asian Women. Psychiatric Services, 55(7), 827-829.

British Medical Journal. (1996). Style Matters: Ethnicity, race, and culture: guidelines for research, audit, and publication. British Medical Journal, 312, 1094. Burr, J. (2002). Cultural stereotypes of women from South Asian communities: mental health care professionals’ explanations for patterns of suicide anddepression. Social Science & Medicine, 55(5), 835-845.

DeSouza, R. (2004). Working with refugees and migrants. In D. Wepa (Ed.), Culturalsafety (pp. 122-133). Auckland: Pearson Education New Zealand.

DeSouza, R., & Garrett, N. (2005). Access Issues for Chinese People in New Zealand(draft). Auckland: Accident Compensation Corporation.

Henare, K., & Ehrhardt, P. (2004). Support for Maori, Pacific and Asian Family,Whanau, and Significant Others who have been bereaved by suicide: Findings of a literature search. Wellington: Ministry of Youth Development.

Hicks, M. H. R., & Bhugra, D. ( 2003). Perceived Causes of Suicide Attempts by U.K. South Asian Women. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 73(4), 455-462.

Klajakovic, M. (1993). Is it easy collecting ethnicity data in general practice? NewZealand Medical Journal, 106, 103-104.

Latimer, S. (2003). Waitemata District Health Board: Ethnicity Data Collection Baseline Review. Auckland: Waitemata District Health Board.

McKenzie, K., Serfaty, M., & Crawford, M. (2003). Suicide in ethnic minoritygroups. British Journal of Psychiatry, 183(2), 100-101.

McLeod, D., Harris, R., Bailey, T., Dowell, A., Robson, B., & Reid, P. (2000). The collection of patient ethnicity data: a challenge for general practice. New Zealand Family Physician, 27(3), 51-57.

Ministry of Health. (2001). Monitoring Ethnic Inequalities in Health. Wellington:

Ministry of Health. Ministry of Health. (2003). Health and disability sector ethnicity data protocols. Wellington:

Ministry of Health. Ministry of Health. (2005). Suicide Facts: Provisional 2002 All-Ages Statistics. Wellington: Ministry of Health. Ministry of Health. (nd-a). Environmental scan: Ethnicity data collection issues.Wellington: Ministry of Health.

Ministry of Health. (nd-b). Submission on the review of the measurement of ethnicity. New Zealand Health Information System. (1996). Recording patient information:Ethnicity. Wellington: New Zealand Health Information System.

Pringle, M., & Rothera, I. (1996). Practicality of recording patient ethnicity in general practice: descriptive intervention study and attitude survey. Retrieved 8th February, 2004, from http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/312/7038/1080

Senior, P., & Bhopal, R. (1994). Ethnicity as a variable in epidemiological research. British Medical Journal, 309, 327-330.

Statistics New Zealand. (1996). Ethnicity – Standard Classification 1996. Retrieved 8th February, 2003, from http://www.stats.govt.nz/domino/external/web/carsweb.nsf/Classifications/Ethnicity+-+Standard+Classification+1996

Thiru, K., Hassey, A., & Sullivan, F. (2003). Systematic review of scope and quality of electronic patient record data in primary care. BMJ, 326(7398), 1070-1070.

Thomas, D. R. (2000). Assessing Ethnicity in New Zealand Health Research. New Zealand Medical Journal, 114, 12-14.

Thomas, S. B. (2001). The color line: Race matters in the elimination of health disparities. American Journal of Public Health, 91(7), 1046-1049.