There are many things our clients love about Candy Hu: her kind nature, her expertise as a registered nurse, the way she finds joy in helping people.
At the top of the list, though, is the case manager’s ability to easily connect with people in Mandarin and Cantonese.
Australia is fast becoming one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. In 2016, 1 in 3 older Australians were born overseas, while across the general population, 20% speak a language other than English at home, with Mandarin the top non-English language, followed by Arabic, Cantonese and Vietnamese.
This has a huge impact on how we care for seniors and people living with a disability in our community. We must be more diverse and flexible in our caring approach, so that people of all ethnicities are given the best chance possible to live independently at home.
The risks older migrants face
Older people who come from culturally diverse backgrounds are not all the same. There are some common issues they face, though – especially if they are not confident English speakers.These may include:
- A desire to stay at home – in 2015, 26% of home care recipients were from migrant backgrounds, which shows a preference amongst older migrants for at-home care
- Being unable to access and engage with essential supports and services. Minh Pham, who heads up Home Caring in the multicultural suburb of Inala in Queensland, says many older Australians who can’t speak English well are unaware of government benefits. “A lot of people who can’t speak the language that well don’t know the help that is available to them,” he says. “They don’t know about home care packages, NDIS or aged care.”
- Social isolation with a limited support network outside family
- Different cultural practices, which can be a barrier to service use
- Difficulty in finding culturally appropriate at-home care
- According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, some may have poorer socioeconomic status compared with older Anglo-Australian populations
Why culturally aware home caring matters
Michaela Brown, Operations Manager, says being culturally aware comes from the company’s commitment to meet the client where they’re at and put their individual needs first. The company has a wide range of multilingual support workers, case managers and office staff, and meet the needs of people within the Arabic, Greek, Middle Eastern, Chinese and Vietnamese community, to name a few.
“Most of our carers come from the local community where they work. They understand and are sensitive to the client’s ethnic background, which puts them in the best position to deliver culturally appropriate care,” says Michaela.
“We do our best to match clients with carers who they can get along with – if they are more familiar with a certain language, this means finding a carer who can speak that language.”
Meeting clients where they’re at – in their language
Home Caring case manager, Candy, is a great example of how finding the right carer makes a huge impact when it comes to caring for someone’s cultural needs.
The mother-of-two worked as a nurse in China before migrating to Australia with her family. In Sydney, she retrained as a registered nurse and started working in aged care. Candy also speaks three languages: English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
Now a case manager for Home Caring, Candy looks after many of our Chinese-speaking clients, organising valuable services such as therapies, medical care and home modifications. “If they need a care worker to help with domestic assistance, cooking or transport, based on their language, I’ll send the right person to help them,” says Candy, “I’ll find someone who can speak their language, who matches what they need.”
Candy, who has a background in mental health, also loves to spend time with her clients. Not content with simply ticking off tasks, she takes the time to chat with them and find out how they’re going. And because she speaks their native language, Candy’s clients are only too happy to share their lives with her. “Because I can speak their language, my clients are really happy to let me help them,” says Candy.
“They also like chatting to me. Sometimes their family are busy with work, so they’re quite happy to have a Chinese case manager looking after them. They may feel quite depressed when I first visit, but if they can spend time talking to someone in their language, that can cheer them up.”
“I can then encourage my clients to go out and not isolate themselves at home. If mobility allows, I will encourage them to go out and join a social support group,” she says.
Candy’s ability to connect with her clients in their own language, combined with her passion for caring, goes a long way towards providing at-home care that is not only culturally aware, but ultimately puts the individual first.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy when I see my clients are healthy, happy and interacting with the community,” says Candy. “That’s the best outcome for us.”