There are many understandings of what constitutes a “family” for example the “nuclear family”
of one or two parents and their children and the “extended family”, which may consist of several
generations including grandparents, parents, siblings and children. Regardless of how individuals
define “family”, the influence of the “family” as both a responsibility and source of support was
raised by residents throughout our research. In addition, the specific needs of migrant children
and young people both from their own perspective and that of their parents and teachers, were
explored, to gain a better understanding of the support needs of young migrants within the family
and in the wider social context.

The major issues raised for migrant families, children and young people related to:

   Initial settlement needs when they first arrive in Australia, and

   Support to cope with the impact of migration on family relationships and roles within the
    community and the family itself.

This chapter will firstly explore the community profile of migrant families in the Eastern Region
through the composition of households during the 1996 ABS census and the country of birth of
children and young people. Secondly, major factors that impact on the family such as settlement
needs, family relationships and schools, will be discussed.

Migrant families and young people in the Eastern
The 1996 ABS Census data enables us to gain some understanding of migrant families residing in
the Eastern Region by examining household composition by language spoken at home. In
addition, the “snap shot” of overseas born children and young people at the time of the census
gives some indication of the migrant populations of children and young people in the region.

Household composition in the Eastern Region

As Figure 11 indicates, across the Eastern Region, 37% of all households are couples with at least
one child under 15 years of age. However, for some language groups, this percentage is
considerably higher. For example, within the Arabic speaking community, 66% of people live in
this household type, the Cantonese speaking (47%), other Chinese languages1 (47%), Mandarin
speaking (47%) and Vietnamese speaking community (50%).

  Chinese other refers to Chang Chow, Hokkein, Hunan, Kan, Teochew and non-defined Chinese
As expected, Migrant communities who settled in Australia after the Second World War, for
example, the Dutch (15%) and German (17%) speaking communities, have considerably less of
their population in the household type of couple with at least one child under 15 years. However,
the Dutch and German speaking populations have a higher percentage living in a household of a
couple only - 37% and 31% respectively - compared with 16% of couples only for the Eastern
Region as a whole.

Figure 11: Household composition in the Eastern Region by the 10 most spoken languages at home

                                          100%                                                                                                                    30000

         % of language group population



                                                                                                                                                                          No. of people


                                           0%                                                                                                                     0





                                                                      Chinese (oth)*

                                                      Couple , children <15                                               Couple children >15
                                                      Lone Parent children <15                                            Lone Parent children >15
                                                      Couples no children                                                 Other Family
                                                      Lone Person                                                         N/A

* Chinese other refers to Chang Chow, Hokkein, Hunan, Kan, Teochew and non-defined Chinese languages.

Source: ABS 1996 Census

Overseas born children and young people in the Eastern Region

Total populations of 178,379 aged from birth to 14 years and 138,638 aged between 15 to 24
years live in the Eastern Region. The highest percentage (18%) of people aged from birth to 14
years reside in the Shire of Yarra Ranges and the City of Knox, whilst the highest percentage
(19%) of people aged between 15 to 24 years reside in the City of Boroondara.

In respect to overseas born children and young people from non English Speaking Backgrounds,
Figure 12 indicates that the largest group aged from birth to 14 years were born in Hong Kong
(1241) and the largest group of people aged 15 to 24 years (2876) were born in Malaysia. Of
those under 24 years born in the countries represented in Figure 12, 30% live in the City of
Monash, 18% in the City of Boroondara, 17% in City of Manningham, 16% in the City of
Whitehorse, 12% in the City of Knox, 4% in the City of Maroondah and 3% in the Shire of Yarra
Figure 12: Percentage of overseas born children and young people under 24 years residing in the
           Eastern Region by country of birth


      % of birthplace total by age





                                                                                                                                                                                  Sri Lanka





                                                                                                                                                                   South Africa
                                                                      Hong Kong

                                                                                          0-14 years                           15-24 years

Source: ABS 1996 Census

Arriving in Australia
When families first arrive in Australia, there are several primary needs that must be met. As part
of MIC research, residents were asked to identify issues for newly arrived migrant communities
including migrants entering Australia as refugee and humanitarian entrants. The needs identified
related to securing housing in “good”, safe localities, learning English, obtaining work, enrolling
children in “good” schools and becoming familiar with health services, public transport, taxation
and legal systems.

Family and community support was also identified as a major factor in successful settlement.
Consequently, family reunion and the availability of community support networks in Australia
play an important role in the settlement of families particularly refugees who often have to deal
with the effects of war and trauma and anxiety about relatives and friends they left behind.

As learning English, employment and knowledge of services is discussed more thoroughly
elsewhere in this report, this section will focus on housing and family and community support in
the early settlement period. As schools play such an on-going, significant role for families and
young people, issues related to schools with be discussed in the next section dealing with the
impact of migration on families and young people.

As identified by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (1998:7) in a study of
the settlement experiences of migrants over a three year period from 1994 to 1997, most migrants
(89%) shared accommodation, mainly with relatives or friends when they first arrived in
Australia.    “Within between three to six months, just under half (46%) had moved
accommodation at least once, primarily either to gain some independence or to seek a better
location . . . [U]p to 70 per cent of all immigrants moved accommodation within their first
eighteen months in Australia.”

As one resident from our research stated (MIC:1999:34): “No one welcomes new families and
provides them with information about services and Australian culture.” Therefore, many newly
arrived migrants rely upon friends or relatives to help them settle in Australia including help to
find suitable housing for themselves and their family. Obtaining secure, affordable housing is a
primary concern for newly arrived migrants. People require information about the legal
requirements and processes of purchasing housing as well as renting from both the private and
public sectors.

For refugees who enter the country, often with no money or household goods,2 obtaining secure,
affordable housing is particularly important after experiences of war, trauma, loss and forced
dislocation, surviving, often inhumane conditions, for long periods of time in refugee camps. As
one resident from a refugee background stated (MIC:1999:3): “I cannot think about other issues
while I am worried about where my family and I are going to live. You are rejected for private
rental because you are unemployed and you cannot get public housing.”

DIMA funded On-Arrival Accommodation (OAA) for newly arrived refugees is not available in
the Eastern Region so refugee families who settle in the region when they first arrive in Australia
have nominated family or friends to assist them with settlement. As noted by one discussion
group of residents from refugee backgrounds (MIC:1999:37): “Whilst there are a limited number
of „Immigration Transit Flats‟ or „On-Arrival Accommodation‟ (OAA) in Melbourne, there are
none in the Eastern Region. Refugees approved to travel to Australia must make alternative
housing arrangements if there are no vacancies in OAA. Often people come to friends or
relatives who might not be in the best position to support them with accommodation or other

Health and family well-being and settlement in Australia

Many migrants prefer to live close to family and friends, schools for their children, public
transport and community support networks so they can build a sense of community and
belonging. However, unemployment, limited finances, language barriers, relatives being
overseas, high housing costs and lack of available public housing has a significant impact on
family cohesiveness and the ability of families and friends to support each other. As Batrouney
and Stone (1998:20) note in their comparative study of the self reliance and cohesiveness of
migrant families: “ . . . [F]amilies from non-English speaking backgrounds certainly hold values
which favour close interaction and mutual assistance and where possible, translate this into
practice with their extended families; however, a lack of resources and the likelihood of family
members living overseas too often prevent them from realising these values.”

 See DIMA, opcit., p. 69. “Less than 20% of Humanitarian entrants arrived with funds, with an average
value of less than $5000. Virtually none made subsequent fund transfers.”
Building a sense of community and belonging is essential for the health and well-being of
families settling in Australia particularly refugees and migrants from culturally and linguistically
diverse backgrounds. Research by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
(1998:29) indicates that “ . . . [F]amilies who have entered as humanitarian entrants to Australia
have experienced a much more difficult initial settlement period than those who came under other
migrant entry categories. This includes those migrants who have entered as part of the family
reunion and skilled categories but who in fact come from refugee-like situations.”3

Residents from refugee backgrounds identified the effects of war and trauma and the need for
family reunion as additional factors that impact on successful settlement and family health and
well-being in Australia. As one community support worker stated in relation to the health needs
of refugees (MIC:1999:37): “Most new arrivals who migrate as refugees are survivors of torture
and trauma. Often the individual‟s feelings are suppressed because of the need to survive the
war. However, once they are safe in Australia and their basic needs are met, the effects of
trauma needs to be addressed.” In addition, the health and well-being of refugee families can be
severely affected by worry and anxiety about relatives overseas. As one resident stated
(MIC:1999:3): “Families are constantly thinking about their relatives living in sub-human
conditions in refugee camps where they are still under threat of persecution and death.”

For young migrants, making friends, learning English, accessing recreational and social activities
and adjusting to the new school environment are the major issues that impact on successful
settlement. For children of refugees, however, like their parents, they require additional support
and understanding of their experiences of war to successfully settle in Australia.4

The impact of migration on young people and the family
Once basic settlement needs are met, major issues can emerge as a result of the impact of
migration on family relationships, roles and responsibilities within the family, and family cultural
values and practices. The major issues identified by young people, parents and grandparents

   Cultural conflict within the community,

   Intergenerational conflict, and

   Supporting children and young people in the Victorian school system.

Cultural conflict within the community

Cultural diversity can be a barrier for accessing services and cause significant conflict for families
and individuals in the wider community particularly for those families and individuals from
cultures that look and dress differently because of race or religious beliefs. Many residents
expressed concern and sadness about cultural conflict within the wider community. Examples of
cultural conflict in the wider community were (MIC:1999:34): “Children from Sikh communities
are often subjected to bullying and ridicule at school because they look different.” Similarly,
Asian young people and their families reported instances of harassment and insults, for example

  Iredale R. et al for the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Ambivalent Welcome: The
Settlement Experiences of Humanitarian Entrant Families in Australia, Executive Summary, p. 29.
  See, for example, “Refugee Children and their Settlement Needs” in INFOCUS, AUTUMN, 1996, p. 10.
(MIC:1999:69): “My friend and I were quietly studying in the Box Hill Food Court and some
Anglo Australian girls started throwing lollies at us.”

These types of experiences of cultural conflict and community intolerance can affect families‟
sense of belonging and act as a barrier for accessing services available to the wider community.
For example, at the discussion group with Muslim women (MIC:1999:9): “Many felt they did not
„fit in‟ or that others did not accept them particularly if they were practising Muslims who wear
Muslim clothes. The group believed the media in Australia stereotyped Muslims which made it
harder for them to „fit in‟.”

Service providers identified the need to understand diverse cultures in order to provide culturally
sensitive and appropriate services to migrants particularly in relation to health and aged services
and sensitive family problems such as domestic violence and gambling.5 This is particularly
important as the DIMA Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (1999:14) indicates that
reliance on families and friends remains high for interpreting needs but once migrants are referred
to the responsible agency, they turn to that agency for ongoing assistance.

Agencies need to be accessible and understanding of the migration experience of communities
including the impact of migration on individual families and family relationships. As one
community support worker commented of one family‟s experience of seeking assistance in
Australia (MIC:1999:38): “Many [refugee] families migrated to Australia . . . because they were
not accepted in their country of origin. They came to Australia to establish a sense of belonging
in a multicultural society. However, some families have experienced rejection from community
support agencies who will not help them due to their racial or religious background (regardless
of whether they speak the same language or come from the same country).”

Intergenerational conflict

Some residents identified that understanding Australian culture was important for migrant
communities. The Australian way of life can change traditional roles within the family
particularly for women and children. A major source of cultural conflict in some families results
when women have to work to maintain the family – a role in some cultures that is traditionally
seen as the responsibility of the man.6 The roles within families of parents and children can also
be affected (MIC:1999:39): “Frequently, children can communicate better in English than their
parents which is a reversal of their role in their country of origin.” Parents and grandparents
frequently rely on children and young people to interpret and read information for them. This
situation can make elders feel dependent on children and impact on relationships within the
family. In addition, children can adapt more easily to Australian cultural norms and practices.
As one resident commented (MIC:1999:11): “Children learn the dominant culture more than
their parents which gives them advantage and power in the family.”

Recent research undertaken by North East Health Promotion Centre (1999:11) on men‟s health
identified: “For some older men from non-English speaking backgrounds, their traditional role
in continuity of culture has been disrupted by migration. There was a sense of a growing cultural
isolation from younger generations. Younger migrants faced conflicting expectations from their
parents and their Australian peers.” Being able to teach children their parent‟s language and
cultural values was raised as an important issue for many families.

  MIC opcit p. 11 and p. 30 for discussions on the difficulties migrant communities face when accessing
support services for domestic violence and gambling.
  ibid see for example p.39.
In our research, young people identified conflict between their needs and the expectations of
parents and extended family members particularly in relation to education, employment and
appropriate social behaviour for young people. Examples of intergenerational conflict include
(MIC:1999:71): “There are many opportunities for young people so [you] want to get away as
soon as possible [from the family] and experience freedom – „every bird has to fly‟.” And, “ . . .
children learn about their rights and not their responsibilities [to the family].”

Parents frequently identified difficulties in parenting and supporting their children. Disciplining
children in Australia was of particular concern to some communities. As one resident stated
(MIC:1999:45): “If you touch children they can call the Police. Fathers slap their children
across the face because they love them. It hurts fathers to do it but if you take away the fear, you
take away respect.” School staff also acknowledged that some parents were uncertain about
appropriate forms of discipline in Australia.

Supporting children and young people in the Victorian school

Schools play a central role in supporting families, children and young people in the community.
However, for migrant families, proficiency in English, cultural diversity and differing
expectations between schools and migrant communities, can impact on the support schools feel
they can provide. For migrant children and young people, starting school may represent the first
opportunity for making new friends and learning new cultural values and practices. For migrant
parents, school systems in Australia may be confusing or contrary to their expectations of a
proficient education system.

Young people from migrant backgrounds identified the need for schools to support them
particularly in their transition from language schools to local schools or when they started school
in the Eastern Region. One young person commented of migrants in their transition to local
schools (MIC:1999:74): “These students need extra help with school work, more time to complete
assignments and they need to be given activities to do. Many young people cannot find things to
do in their spare time because they have no friends.”

In our research, the ability of children and young people to make friends impacted on their sense
of belonging and „fitting in‟ at school. However, making friends with Anglo Australians was
cited by all groups as being difficult because of language and cultural barriers. One resident
commented (MIC:1999:74): “[We] felt our English was not good enough and [we] were too
embarrassed to talk to young people from Anglo Australian backgrounds. Young people need to
understand English and Australian culture in order to mix with Anglos.”

Young migrants commented not only of their need to understand Australian culture, but also the
need for Anglo Australian students to understand the cultural heritage of others. In addition,
recreational activities that enable young people from diverse cultural backgrounds to meet and
socialise were seen as important ways for breaking down barriers in the wider community.
Young people were frequently unaware of recreational and social activities available for them to
meet people outside of school. As one young person commented (MIC:1999:73): “Overseas is
different, you can make friends on the streets and be safe. In Australia, young people on the
streets use drugs.” In our research, some young people commented that drugs and alcohol were
part of life whilst others indicated they felt tested by peers on whether they would, or had, used
alcohol or drugs.7

In relation to parents and schools, parents identified the need to better understand the Victorian
education system. In particular, parents spoke of the need to understand how they could best
support their children at school and participate in the school community and in the development
of school programs. School staff also identified the benefits for children when their parents
understood and participated in school management and activities. Proficiency in English of
parents was seen as critical by school staff for parent participation (MIC:1999:68): “Teachers
need to understand what the problems are for migrants in schools. Proficiency in English
enables teachers to communicate with parents and help them to understand the Australian school

      Build on existing settlement services within the Eastern Region.

      Seek partnerships to tender for funding under DIMA's Humanitarian Settlement Scheme.

      Seek to be registered under the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme.

      Provide migration advice to migrants residing in the Eastern Region including advice for
       family reunion.

      Work in partnership with housing support services to increase access to housing options for
       newly arrived migrants particularly refugees and humanitarian entrants.

      Work in partnership with family support and youth services to develop and implement
       strategies to meet the needs of migrant families and young people.

      Contribute to a comprehensive database of information on services available to support
       families and young people.

      Work in partnership with Neighbourhood Houses and other appropriate agencies to build on
       available courses and programs on Australian culture, parenting and in other family related
       areas for migrant communities.

      Develop resources that build on existing information for young people to increase access to
       services, recreational activities, etc.

    MIC opcit see for example p.77 and 71.
    See Action Plan in this report for activities against the actions listed in the chapter.

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