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How to improve AOD services for CALD communities

Associate Nurse Unit Manager from Turning Point’s Wellington House, Jolie, and Program Manager from the Salvation Army, Masiyane, work closely with people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities.

Although there is very limited data on the prevalence of AOD use within CALD communities, a report from the Victorian Alcohol And Drug Association found that CALD communities are significantly under-represented in the AOD treatment system which is likely due to an under-utilisation of services rather than low demand.

We spoke with both Jolie and Masiyane about the issues CALD communities face when accessing services and what solutions can be put in place.

Barriers for CALD Communities

Language Although services often provide translators for patients who use English as a second language, the messages clinicians are trying to get across to patients are often lost in translation.

“I can’t speak on behalf of all the other languages because I only speak Mandarin and Cantonese, but I have noticed interpreters who come in during admission often use outdated and stigmatising language when translating key information,” Jolie said.

Image of nurse Jolie Tse

“Also we can’t be certain everything the doctor is saying is being translated to the patient. Sometimes doctors will talk for one to two minutes but the translator will only say one sentence.”

Even after treatment Jolie says patients still struggle with language barriers when seeking support within their communities.

“When I was making a post care plan for one patient we were unable to find services in the community, like AA, that could speak his language. There were some mental health support groups but nothing related to AOD.”

Cultural Sensitivity

During his time as project manager Masiyane has noticed a lot of people from CALD communities don’t finish their treatment in AOD rehabs.

“A lot of clinicians don’t consider the cultural backgrounds of their clients. For example, if you are working with someone from a Muslim background you need to be aware they may need time to pray. However, a lot of services don’t consider these factors, which cause clients to disengage.”

“A lot of CALD communities are family orientated and mainstream services only focus on the client and only spend one hour with the client a week. They need to also spend time with the families to educate and help them develop strategies to help their loved one dealing with addiction. If you are neglecting the families then you aren’t really helping.”

Stigma and Trauma

As well as not accounting for the cultural background of CALD patients, services also fail to consider the type of trauma these patients have gone through.

“Some come from wartorn zones and use drugs and alcohol to deal with this trauma. But clinicians may have no idea what is going on in these countries, so they don’t understand the context of their trauma,” said Masiyane.

Furthermore, the discussion of addiction is quite stigmatised amongst some communities.

“There are a lot of CALD communities that do not openly discuss addiction. Either because they are not educated enough on the issue or because there is a strong sense of shame attached to having an addiction or knowing someone who does,” said Jolie.

Solutions to these barriers

Better Access to resources With Australia being such a multicultural country one effective solution to CALD communities accessing AOD support is having resources available in other languages.

Resources such as Eastern Health’s translation services and the Department of Health’s translation service are some examples of language resources that can benefit CALD communities.

“We should also create resources for translators so they know what words to use in their language when communicating with patients,” Jolie said.

Education As well as having support services for patients, CALD communities also need educational resources in their languages so they can help loved ones who are struggling with their drug and alcohol use.


“Educating communities will help them intervene earlier…also the more these CALD communities know about drugs and alcohol the more they will be able to help in a way that reflects the client's cultural and religious background,” Masiyane said.

Multicultural Rehab centre Last year, Masiyane wrote a proposal with the Australian Multicultural Foundation to the Victorian government to open a multicultural rehabilitation centre. As part of a $50 million multicultural infrastructure program the Victorian Government announced they would invest $250,000 to establish Victoria’s first culturally appropriate Alcohol and Drug rehabilitation centre.

“Having this type of service will allow us to tailor services that cater to the specific cultural and linguistic needs of CALD patients,” Masiyane said.

“Doing small things like having prayer rooms, accommodating dietary requirements, having people from CALD communities working for us, and engaging with family members and friends from the communities will help patients engage with their treatment and feel more supported.”


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