By Petrina Wright | Posted: Friday July 21, 2023
As Southland’s migrant population continues to grow and diversify, Family Works has initiated a community project to explore ways for migrant families and service providers to more easily access the social services they need.
Family Works director Judith McInerney said staff identified the need for such a project about three years ago when some Colombian families were referred to Family Works. Staff felt they needed help to overcome the language barrier and better understand what was needed with regard to cultural differences and to work safely with the families.
Judith said if her staff were lacking confidence and knowledge about how to work with families from some other cultures, then staff from other agencies would likely be feeling the same way.
With funding from the Tindall Foundation, Family Works brought together organisations and agencies which worked with migrants in Southland to discuss the barriers faced by staff and the migrant community when accessing social services, and how they could be overcome.
Several meetings were held last year, attended by representatives from about 30 Southland organisations and agencies, including NZ Red Cross, Ministry for Ethnic Communities, Southern Institute of Technology (SIT), Southland Multicultural Trust, MAR Colombia, Barnados, NKMP, NZ Police, Great South and WellSouth.
Following these meetings, the group had renamed itself the Southland Migrant Settlement Network.
The group determined migrants settled in Southland for a variety of reasons and therefore had differing levels of need. There were those who come to Southland for permanent or seasonal work, and the extended family who joined them, while others were resettled former refugees, or SIT international students.
Judith said the group determined migrants sometimes had difficulty accessing interpreters, housing, education, GPs, and mental health services as well as getting Work & Income benefits and pre-employment and workplace support.
The main barriers identified were a lack of knowledge and understanding among migrants and those working with them about what assistance was already available in Southland, a lack of understanding about the way New Zealand services such as GPs, hospitals and mental health services operated, and caution about dealing with Government agencies in case visas were compromised.
Judith said one of the biggest benefits to have come out of the meetings so far was the increased cohesion and collaboration between the groups working with the migrant community, and the sharing of information and ideas.
“The various agencies and organisations now have a better understanding of what services the other agencies provide.”
On a more tangible level, the network group had suggested organisations needed to be clear in promotional material that their services were available to everyone irrespective of their visa status. They also suggested advising Southland foodbanks which food was not suitable and which items were more culturally appropriate to include in food parcels for migrant recipients.
Judith said there was a desire amongst the network to continue to meet regularly because they had found it a useful forum to discuss and resolve issues as well as to share information and ideas.
“We are delighted with the positive response from the agencies and front-line organisations involved.”
At present, the network is seeking funding to establish a migrant coordinator position to act as an administrator for the network and a connector in the sector.
“Everyone involved has been very committed and the project and subsequent forming of the network is a testament to what can happen when good collaboration occurs, making a real difference for those carrying out work in our community but most importantly for the people we work alongside,” Judith said.