Refugees are often caught in a complex interaction between the traumatic experiences in their birth country, the challenges of resettling in a new country, and the normal life challenges we all face.
The Families in Cultural Transition (FICT) program presents an effective way to assist refugees address their broad range settlement needs, introduce them to key conceptual frameworks underpinning Australian society, and help them identify and manage the challenges that accompany migration. It builds on the strengths of refugees – resilience, adaptability and motivation – to help communities build social connectedness, promote wellbeing and create a better life in Australia.
FICT uses a strengths-based experiential learning approach that underscores the importance of establishing safety, building trust, creating opportunity for grief and mourning and establishing social connections. Participants meet together over ten weeks to discuss and share experiences, on topics related to settlement and support services, money, trauma and healing, families, children, gender, youth and the new environment. It aims to strengthen relationships by enhancing family members’ communication, addressing inter-generational conflict issues, and discussing parenting approaches. The interactive methods used in program sessions include brainstorming, values clarification, small group discussions, mapping, paired discussions, interviews, role plays, games, excursions and guest speakers. They are supported by two trained bicultural facilitators drawn from the same community as the refugees , speak their language and understand both their culture and the Australian environment. The bi-cultural facilitators are trained and supervised by STARTTS staff.
The programs’ strength lies in its delivery by bicultural workers and thus it is adaptable to various cultures. Since the program began, members of many communities have been trained including Afghanis, Assyrians, Bhutanese, Bosnians, Burundians, Congolese, Hazaras, Iranians, Iraqis, Karens, Kurds, Liberians, Mandaeans, Serbians, Sierra Leoneans, Sudanese and Tibetans, and close to 700 FICT groups have been conducted in NSW alone.
Evaluation outcomes using the Social Capital methodology suggests stronger connectedness among refugee families and communities as a result of their participation in the FICT program. They develop support networks that help them overcome grief, anxiety and social isolation. An Iraqi woman expressed it this way: “When you come here, being part of this group, you feel you are part of a family, - you are with people you know. You trust, you feel comfortable; you share stories, relax and enjoy. I feel that everyone here is my sister.” The program also helps them understand Australian society, and enables them to navigate Australian institutions, laws and processes.
Moreover, for most bicultural facilitators trained by the program, it provided an opportunity for them to gain access to the Australian job market and acquire job-related skills that opened further employment opportunities and contributed to further empowering their communities.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
STARTTS’ main funding source is the Department of Health, with additional funding from FASSTT and other Australian Government departments.We declare no conflicts of interest.