Bilingual workers: easing the transition to HACC

20 October 2012 | Posted In: #117 Spring 2012, Ageing, CALD Communities, Community Sector, Disability Issues, Planning for People and Social Issues, | Author: Enis Jusufspahic

By Enis Jusufspahic

Through funding received from the NSW Department of Human Services – Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Inner Sydney Regional Council for Social Development and the Ethnic Child Care, Family and Community Services Co-op developed a project focussed on identifying and addressing the unique needs of bilingual community care workers; these are workers who speak languages other than English and make use of these languages to communicate with clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD).

As part of the project, surveys were given to bilingual workers asking for information on entry into the sector, the kinds of work undertaken and what bilingual workers needed in terms of professional development. Fifteen responses were received, with the bilingual workers having worked in the sector from less than a year right through to twenty years plus. Nearly half the respondents spoke Cantonese or Mandarin; other languages spoken ranged from Afrikaans to Spanish. Alongside the survey, we held a forum in partnership with our colleagues in Western and Northern Sydney where issues affecting bilingual workers were workshopped.

Using the information gathered, a report was prepared. The report looked at what distinguishes bilingual workers from other community care workers. While the obvious difference is that a bilingual worker can communicate and connect more effectively with clients who share the same CALD background, the information revealed how bilingual workers play a role in helping to acculturate and acclimatise clients at an important time of transition, when they are seeking assistance from the wider community. Bilingual workers are also skilled at managing client expectations based on one culture within the framework of another, and teach CALD clients advocacy and self-care skills, which, in turn, empowers clients to apply these principles to other aspects of their lives.

Along with what distinguishes bilingual workers, the report looked at the challenges inherent in service provision. For example, bilingual workers reported finding it challenging to establish and maintain professional boundaries with isolated clients, with many bilingual workers participating in community life together with their current and potential clients. The workers spoke about the importance of striking a balance between their formal role and their ability to participate freely in community life.

Bilingual workers found that clients require additional advocacy support when accessing services from other agencies and that clients often ask for legal help, interpreting at medical appointments and assisting in liaising with government agencies such as Centrelink and Housing NSW.

The request to interpret and translate is problematic and can potentially disadvantage the client, as most bilingual workers are not accredited to provide this service; this means their language skills might be insufficient to accurately translate and interpret for the client, particularly when legal or medical words are used. This reliance on bilingual workers is a significant issue as interpreting and translating services are a right of prospective and current clients.

In order to help bilingual workers navigate the complexities of their roles, a follow-up forum was held. Facilitated by independent consultant, Judi Apty, who has a Doctorate in Education and a background in workforce development, mentoring and professional supervision, the forum focussed on building professional development skills in leadership, learning as a team and communication.


To download a copy of the Report back from the Eastern Sydney Home and Community Care Bilingual Workers’ Forum held on 23 November 2011, visit our website.

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice, Issue 116, Spring 2012