NSW Health Interpreter and BCE Forum - 30th November 2022

Culture and Perception: How conscious and unconscious biases shape our worldview and influence our professional responses.


This year’s NSW Health Forum for Interpreters and Bilingual Community Educators (BCEs) was held at the Sydney Grace Hotel, Sydney CBD. It was organised by NSW Health Education Centre Against Violence (ECAV) in consultation with Health Care Interpreter Service (HCIS) in various health districts and Bilingual Community Education (BCE) Programs in South Western Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health Districts, as well as the BCE Program at the NSW Refugee Health Service (RHS) and Families in Cultural Transition (FICT) Program at Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS).

It was a successful day attended by 77 people in person and recorded for those unable to attend.

The theme for the 2022 Forum – Culture and Perception: How conscious and unconscious biases shape our worldview and influence our professional responses – created the opportunity to raise awareness and explore issues related to conscious and unconscious biases. These biases could impact workers’ practice when engaging with members of their own culture or language group who may experience different types of violence, abuse, neglect and isolation. Our responses can restrict opportunities for victims-survivors with limited knowledge of English and support services, to seek help.

The day was opened by Peta Andersson, ECAV’s Director with the Acknowledgement of Country and paying respect to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation that are traditional custodians of the land we now call Sydney.

Presentations delivered by Lorna McNamara – NSW Ministry of Health, Dr Mareese Terare – Bundjalung & Goenpul Women and lecturer in the University of Sydney, Siri Gunawardana - Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health (CEH) in Melbourne, Susan Robinson – NSW National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) NAATI, Alicia Olles – Transcultural Mental Health Centre (TMHC) and Dr Astrid Perry OAM – Settlement Services International (SSI), stressed the complexity of issues related to our perceptions and biases that can impact on the outcomes for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, who experience violence, abuse or neglect.

Lorna McNamara provided an overview of work being undertaken by the Prevention and Response to Violence Abuse and Neglect (PARVAN) Unit at the NSW Ministry of Health, including the Integrated Trauma Informed Care Framework and the NSW Health Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Domestic and Family Violence 2021-2026, plus inclusions related to working with migrant and refugee communities. Lorna acknowledged the important role that Interpreters and Bilingual Community Educators play in the violence, abuse and neglect (VAN) sector.

Dr Mareese Terare’s presentation – Human Rights and Rites of Passage to Cultural Safe Services included an interactive self-reflection session about the implications of unchecked cultural biases and the importance of cultural humility in identifying and working through them. She highlighted the importance of addressing racism and its impacts openly. This powerful presentation prompted participants to analyse their own biases and blind spots.

Siri Gunawardana’s presentation – How to identify and reduce unconscious bias when working with your own community – was educational, providing clear messages and practical tips and inviting participants to reflect on their behaviour and responses in their day-to-day work. It was a great reminder that we all have biases, and we need to be aware of them and find ways to recognise them when they surface.

In her presentation – NAATI Resources – Susan Robinson introduced the Community Language Aide (CLA) – the new NAATI initiative in assessing the linguistic skills of bilingual workers engaged by various organisations, including Health, in the different primary roles. The presentation provided bilingual workers (and potential applicants) with information about the new assessment which may assist them to utilise their language skills across other sectors.

Alicia Olles’ presentation – Transcultural Mental Health Line provided an overview of the service they provide, whom they support and how it can be accessed. This service aims to improve access to mental health services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and offers: advice on how to improve well-being and mental health; helps people access mental health services in the local community; and support for carers of someone with a mental health concern.

Dr Astrid Perry’s talk – Supporting U Project – Challenges and Outcomes shared the concept of a social responder and a new way of empowering women who are victims-survivors of domestic and family violence. She presented useful information about the Project, its achievements and insight into the domestic and family violence work done on the roots level in the community setting by the members of the same community, showcasing First Responders’ courage to challenge cultural beliefs and attitudes.

Unfortunately, guest presenter Amani Haydar was unable to attend on the day. Amani was going to present a session on – Myths, Stereotypes and ‘the Double Blind’: DV in CALD Communities. ECAV sincerely thanks Amani for granting her permission for us to share a video of her interview by Rosie Batty instead. Despite not being physically present, Forum participants were able to hear about some of her lived experiences, learning and reflections.

Throughout the day, speakers recognised the crucial role Interpreters and Bilingual Community Educators play within NSW Health and the PARVAN sector more broadly. In many cases, Interpreters and BCEs may be the first people to identify violence, abuse and neglect as they support clients/families, as community members may feel safer engaging with these staff. The Forum reminded us, we all need to work hard to be more aware of our conscious and unconscious biases to increase and ensure the safety of children, families and communities.

The day concluded with an interactive drumming session conducted by two performers from the Soul Drummer. The grounding, interactive activity brought everyone together with 30 minutes of fun with drums and other instruments at the end of the day.

ECAV extends thanks to all presenters, participants and staff who made it happen.

BCE Forum 2022

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