Identification of strategies to assist refugee young people in transition to independence

The policy context for supporting young refugees

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The policy context for supporting young refugees

Neither the Coalition nor the ALP identifies the special needs of young refugees in their policy documents. Current policy focuses on refugees as a general category or, in practice, on refugee families. Australia has not developed policy expressly responding to young refugees as a specific or ‘special needs’ group. Instead, there is an official policy of multiculturalism and two significant additional policy areas that establish a de facto framework in which the needs of young refugees might be met. The first of these additional policy areas includes access and equity commitments, and the second comprises the National Integrated Settlement Strategy and the closely related Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy.
Access and Equity Strategy

The 1985 Access and Equity Strategy is an inter-departmental framework that holds each federal department responsible for duly considering the needs of disadvantaged people in all their activities and programs. The 1992 Access and Equity Evaluation found that young people were inadequately targeted by access and equity plans and had been ‘failed very considerably by the Commonwealth bureaucracy’ (Cahill 1993). Since then, government departments have been required to account to Parliament annually against access and equity objectives. The Access and Equity Strategy is probably the most important tool for ensuring that the needs of young refugees are addressed in policy and planning initiatives undertaken by government departments. One informant stated unequivocally that ‘no government funding should ever go to any agency that does not have an access and equity policy or cannot demonstrate that such a policy can be implemented’.

Since 1996, considerable effort has gone into improving and reforming the Access and Equity Strategy. The strategy has been documented in the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society (1998). The Charter sets out seven principles ‘designed to ensure that all government service providers have the capacity to deliver client services which are culturally appropriate, accessible, consumer-oriented and effective’ and outlines practical strategies whereby these principles can be implemented.3 The principles and implementation guidelines apply not only to mainstream services provided by government, but also to government-funded services provided by community and private sector agencies. The Charter has been endorsed by federal, state and territory governments and by the Australian Local Government Association.

Six federal departments are central to the achievement of access and equity goals in that ‘they are involved on a large scale in delivering essential services to access and equity target groups’ (DIMA 1996a, p.2). Following the post-election portfolio restructure in November 2001, the key access and equity departments are as follows: Attorney General’s Department (AG); Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST); Department of Family and Community Services (DFaCS); Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC); Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR). As the body contracted to deliver services, programs and payments to clients on behalf of several government departments, the operation of Centrelink is also critical to the achievement of access and equity goals.

Within the scope of the Charter, refugee settlers in Australia are seen to be, by implication, at ‘possible double disadvantage’ in their access to government services, where barriers resulting from cultural and linguistic background are compounded by other attributes, in this case, refugee experience. DIMIA has primary responsibility for ensuring that the needs of refugees are met. However, since 1998, the Department has not been responsible for providing ‘whole of life’ support to migrants. DIMIA provides specific services for newly arrived migrants but increasingly emphasises its advocacy and coordination role in order to ‘undertake more productive and effective work with other departments because they are also bound by cabinet’s decision that all Commonwealth agencies must respond appropriately to settlement needs’ (DIMA 1998).

National Integrated Settlement Strategy (NISS)

DIMIA coordinates the National Integrated Settlement Strategy4 (NISS), which is the second major tool for ensuring that the needs of newly arrived migrants (including young refugees) are addressed. The NISS is a needs-based planning framework that seeks to improve the provision of services to migrants through communication, cooperation and coordination between agencies at all levels of government. The NISS framework aims to achieve or encourage the following:

  • clarification of who is responsible for providing services;

  • better coordination of service delivery;

  • better targeting of resources to avoid gaps and duplication; and

  • better outcomes for migrants and refugees in the form of targeted and accessible services.

The NISS draws together a national framework of several inter-governmental and inter-departmental planning committees as follows:

  • the Ministerial Council of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (MCIMA) comprising federal, state and territory ministers. MCIMA provides general guidance on settlement planning issues;

  • the Standing Committee on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (SCIMA) comprising officials of DIMIA, state and territory government agencies responsible for multicultural affairs and the Australian Local Government Association;

  • interdepartmental working groups comprised of senior Commonwealth officials, which aim to resolve issues that span more than one department, either at the state/territory level or the national level; and

  • the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (RRAC) which advises the Commonwealth Minister on the settlement of refugees, humanitarian entrants and migrants, focusing on the appropriateness and adequacy of services, especially for refugees.

At the state level, the key components of the NISS are state and territory Settlement Planning Committees that consist of representatives of government agencies at all levels and of non-government agencies providing settlement services. Planning committees develop integrated settlement plans for their state or territory, which establish the priority settlement needs of migrants and refugees and develop strategies for meeting those needs. At the local level, the key components of the NISS are community organisations that work closely with migrants and refugees and provide valuable input by participating in settlement planning structures and delivering services.

In recent years, people concerned with the implementation of NISS have worked to put concerns about young refugees onto the policy agenda. The Victorian Settlement Planning Committee identified the need for sustained specialist programs to address the linguistic, educational, and training needs of young people. This was followed up by a Settlement Advisory Council Working Party (comprising representatives of the former Department of Immigration and Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs) and resulted in the announcement of the Job Placement and Employment Training (JPET) program, designed to give priority assistance to homeless youth and young refugees.

Since the initial research undertaken for this study, there have been further positive moves under NISS to highlight and respond to the needs of refugee young people. The Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council (RRAC) identifies ‘addressing the specific settlement needs of refugee youth’ as one of its priority areas for advice to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA Fact Sheet 101, 2001). In 2001 RRAC recommended that broader cross-portfolio strategies be developed to address the specific needs of refugee young people and, in collaboration with DIMIA, developed a Refugee Youth Strategy.5 In addition, Settlement Planning Committees have agreed that their National Settlement Project for 2002 will be to promote the settlement needs of newly arrived young people, especially refugee youth.

Web portal for refugee young people

DIMIA is currently creating a web portal for refugee young people, targeted towards the 12-25 year age group. The portal will link to a broad range of government and community programs, with links to 'youth friendly' contacts for health, housing, education, employment and other mainstream services and specialist migrant and refugee services. It will include information and tools relevant to support workers and service providers for this group, and an e-publications information/ research centre. The portal will be sponsored by the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council and will promote the Council's discussion paper Refugee Young People, outlining the complex issues faced by young people from refugee backgrounds and highlighting 'good practice' principles for improving service delivery to this group. The web portal will be part of the 2002 National Settlement Project, 'Promoting Awareness of Needs of Newly Arrived Young People, Particularly Refugees'.

Client Access Unit, DIMIA
Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS)

An Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy6 (IHSS) has been developed by DIMIA, as a complement to NISS. It is designed to improve the delivery of settlement services to refugee and humanitarian entrants across Australia on the recognition that ‘rebuilding the lives of these people involves far more than securing permanent residence in Australia. They must be provided with extra support to enable them to become acquainted with the Australian environment and the services available so that they can fully participate in the Australian community’ (DIMIA Fact Sheet 66, Oct. 2001). The strategy aims to build partnerships with community organisations, and recognises the mutual interests of government, community organisations and the Australian public in facilitating early and effective settlement for refugees and humanitarian entrants. Under the strategy:

  • Humanitarian entrants are provided with preembarkation information on issues that are important for their travel to Australia and what to expect on arrival;

  • Initial Information and Orientation provides settlement information and case manages entrants so that they are aware of their new environment and are linked to essential services such as income support, Medicare, education and training, employment and other IHSS services;

  • Accommodation Support provides entrants with accommodation on arrival in Australia and assistance is provided to enable entrants to establish themselves in stable, affordable, appropriate, longer-term accommodation as soon as possible;

  • Household Formation assists in establishing a household with a basic package of household items; and

  • Early Health Assessment and Intervention provides entrants with information on health services and a physical and psychological screening with referral to appropriate health services, as well as torture and trauma counselling that will assist entrants to manage their recovery from serious traumatic and psychological difficulties. It also encourages health care providers to be sensitive to the needs of humanitarian entrants.

The strategy also supports those who assist entrants, including proposers and IHSS service providers:

  • Proposers’ Support helps people fulfil their role as proposers of humanitarian entrants by providing access to entrant pre-arrival information resources and a post-arrival ‘help’ service through which further information and guidance are available; and

  • Service Support assists IHSS contractors with training required to meet their obligations as service providers.

A related program, Community Support for Refugees7 (CSR), registers volunteers who provide social support and friendship to new humanitarian entrants. CSR volunteers are seen to ‘play a key role in reducing the sense of isolation and disconnection that many refugees experience on arrival in Australia’. They do this by making new arrivals feel welcome, putting them in touch with other people in the community and making contacts with churches, sporting organisations and relevant ethnic associations. Volunteers under the program receive training and support from DIMIA, and are required to adhere to the IHSS Service Principles and Code of Conduct. They receive some reimbursement for expenses.

Over the four years from 1 July 1997, government directed an additional $20.8 million to the new Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy. These funds were administered by DIMIA and expended on improving service infrastructure. The pilot Early Intervention Program for On-Arrival Accommodation clients in Victoria during 1996–97 has been incorporated in the mainstream program nationally. The Federal Government has committed $14.3m annually to deliver the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (Liberal Party and National Party Coalition 2001).

The next section considers the capacity of key federal departments to adequately address the settlement needs of young refugees. Although state and territory governments assist the federal government in the resettlement and longer-term assistance of refugees, it is beyond the scope of this project to consider these roles in detail. Different states and territories take different initiatives according to their assessment of need and priorities.

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