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Northern Integrated Family
Violence Services Partnership
For professionals supporting the
safety of victim survivors in Melbourne's
northern metropolitan region

Overcoming Barriers (CALD resource)

A toolkit to improve responses to CALD women and children who have experienced family violence

Overcoming Barriers provides practitioners with advice and resources to support their response to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women and children who have experienced family violence.

This toolkit is based on the premise that practitioners will have undertaken training in Identifying and Responding to Family Violence and have an understanding of the MARAM Framework. This is critical to ensuring practitioners understand family violence and risk assessment before focusing on CALD women and children’s experience of family violence.

The information provided is based on the expertise of service providers in the northern metropolitan region. As such, this toolkit does not provide a full account of the evidence relating to best practice with CALD communities. It should also be noted that this toolkit is not a cultural competency/sensitivity tool.


The toolkit includes seven chapters about different practice issues.

Each chapter includes background information and links to further resources—some contain videos with specialists discussing topics in more depth. Each chapter also includes self-reflection questions and a self-reflection tool that pose questions in order to enhance good practice. The self-reflection tool can be used for self-reflection, to support supervision or for team planning activities. It may be useful to have a particular client in mind when working through the questions.

The toolkit is suitable for use by practitioners, in any service, who respond to this cohort. This may include specialist family violence, settlement, community health or other services. It may be used as a tool for learning and self-reflection, or to support supervision or team development.


1 – Human rights-based practice
2 – Structural and systemic barriers
3 – Community barriers and enablers 
4 – The impact of trauma
5 – Tactics of abuse and assessing risk
6 – Working with interpreters
7 – Working with CALD children

1 – Engaging in anti-racist, human rights-based practice

Practitioners should be aware of their own race-based assumptions and the impacts these might have on CALD women who have experienced family violence. Practitioners should adopt a human rights-based approach to addressing family violence in CALD communities.

Violence is not endemic to culture or religion—there is no culture or religion that is “more violent” than another. As the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) notes, ‘violence against women is not caused by culture, but by men, in all communities, who make the unacceptable choice to be violent’[1].

In the context of family violence, ‘negative stereotyping creates personal barriers for women leaving violence and wider barriers to the willingness of communities to openly discuss and engage with the issue’[2]. Some women may be unwilling to seek support for family violence due to fear of racist assumptions about their culture, religion or ethnic background[3]. This places CALD women in a dangerous double bind.

In order to guard against racism, practitioners should avoid ‘attitudes that favour the Western way of life and implicitly judge others’ culture as “inferior” or “cruel”’[4]. Practitioners who do not share a cultural background with their client should demonstrate thoughtful curiosity about cultures and experiences different from their own.

At the same time, “this is how it is in my culture” should not be accepted as a reasonable excuse for the use of violence. Practitioners should reinforce human rights-based messages that violence is not a part of culture and its use can never be justified. All women, regardless of specific cultural contexts, have the right to live free from violence.


Previous: Introduction
Next: 2 – Structural and systemic barriers

Self-reflection questions

What are my belief systems and values in relation to:
-Other cultures
-Cultural beliefs
-Cultural practices

What are my assumptions about the use of violence in the culture from which my client comes?

How do my values and beliefs influence my practice?
Self-reflection tool

2 – Understanding structural and systemic barriers to help-seeking

CALD women who have experienced family violence may face a number of structural or systemic barriers to help-seeking.

Women seeking asylum in Australia who are awaiting the outcome of protection claims may not wish to disclose their experiences of family violence for fear that their partners could be penalised or deported. Asylum seeker women living in the community on temporary visas—as well as migrant women on visa types including student and working visas—are not entitled to social security payments through Centrelink. These women may be financially dependent upon their partners and have limited options to leave if their partners become violent[1].

CALD women are also more likely to experience other kinds of financial insecurity, leading to dependence upon their partners, including ‘difficulty in finding jobs due to discrimination, racism, lack of experience in the labour market in Australia and limited English-language fluency’[2].

CALD women may also experience significant social isolation, including a lack of social supports and language barriers[3]. CALD women are more likely to live in outer suburbs or regionally, where access to transport is difficult. CALD women can be isolated to the extent that they are unable to communicate their abuse to anyone—as such, they are likely to live with violence for much longer than other women before accessing support.

Difficulty in navigating the complex service system also presents a barrier—this difficulty is increased by a lack of information in languages other than English. Women may also be less likely to access services due to poor experiences with the service system in Australia, including experiences of racism, or poor experiences in their country of origin, such as a lack of services or inadequate responses from police or the justice system.

The fact that CALD women may have larger families also impacts upon their ability to access some services, including accommodation.


Previous: 1 – Human rights-based practice
Next: 3 – Community barriers and enablers

Self-reflection questions

What may be some of the systemic or structural barriers that my client has had to face in getting help for family violence? (E.g. immigration issues, isolation and financial or language barriers).

How can I support CALD women to navigate the family violence service system?

In what ways can I support CALD women who are geographically or socially isolated?

How can I ensure information is made available in appropriate languages/dialects and is culturally relevant?

Self-reflection tool

3 – Understanding community barriers and enablers impacting upon help-seeking

CALD women may experience additional barriers to leaving violence as a result of community pressures or lack of understanding about family violence. At the same time, for many women, community, cultural or religious groups are a source of support during and following family violence.

Within different cultural communities, there may be different expectations that women are expected to adhere to and these may impact upon women’s decisions or ability to access support. For example, CALD women may come from communities where ‘gendered roles in family life, expectations in marriage, religious customs forbidding separation or divorce’[1] are prominent. Family violence may be seen as something to be dealt with within the community[2]. If women disclose experiences of violence, they may be seen to have brought shame to their family and face isolation from their family or community[3]. Women may also experience social shame and social restrictions that create barriers to accessing support. They may also be concerned about the social consequences for their family, including in their country of origin. Isolation from ones’ community can be especially devastating for women who have already had to leave their families or country of origin.

Women who come from small or tight-knit language or cultural communities may also experience privacy or confidentiality issues, which may prevent them from accessing support.

In addition, CALD women may not report family violence because they are unaware that it is a crime in Australia, or have a lack of knowledge about their rights[4].

Many community, cultural and religious groups and leaders are challenging the traditional scripts that might present barriers to women’s help seeking following family violence in their communities.


Previous: 2 – Structural and systemic barriers
Next: 4 – The impact of trauma

Self-reflection questions

What are the community barriers and enablers affecting my client’s help-seeking following family violence?

How can I ensure that CALD women have access to information about what family violence is and their right to safety?

How can I find out about and encourage CALD women to connect with community supports?

Self-reflection tool

4 – Understanding the impact of trauma

Many CALD women that services come into contact with are asylum seekers or refugees[1]. When working with this cohort, it is important to consider the impact of the trauma they may have experienced throughout their pre-migration and migration experience. Trauma may impact on women’s help-seeking and recovery from family violence.

CALD women may have histories of living in uncertainty for many years—they may have lived in refugee camps or through war and conflict[2]. Women fleeing conflict are especially vulnerable to violence, including sexual violence[3]. Practitioners should take into account ‘the probable physical, mental and sexual health conditions that often result from the experience of being refugees, immigrants and survivors of sexual violence, as well as the ongoing threat of violence against [CALD women]’[4]. The impact of trauma may mean that CALD women are less likely to access support services[5].

Beyond help-seeking, CALD women who have survived traumatic experiences ‘may have restricted abilities to deal with everyday challenges of life, such as settlement, adjustment, education and family’[6] and may need additional supports.


Previous: 3 – Community barriers and enablers 
Next: 5 – Tactics of abuse and assessing risk

Self-reflection questions

What trauma has my client experienced during pre-migration and migration, if any?

How can I ensure that my practice with CALD women is trauma informed?

Self-reflection tool

5 – Understanding tactics of abuse and assessing risk

Assessing risk is a critical element of family violence practice. Attending Common Risk Assessment Framework (CRAF) training is a foundation for any further risk assessment described in this chapter.

Beyond the tactics of abuse typically used by men against women—including coercion and threats, intimidation and isolation—some tactics of abuse perpetrated against CALD women may target their particular vulnerabilities.

These additional tactics should be considered as a part of risk assessment and safety planning with CALD women. For example, some CALD women who are in the country on partner visas report that their partners threaten to have them or their children deported, should they disclose their experiences of abuse[1]. Withholding information about a woman’s visa status is also a common tactic of abuse perpetrated against CALD women.

CALD women may also experience financial abuse that relies on their lack of income[2] or isolation that relies upon or exploits their lack of social connections or language skills[3]. Some CALD women may also experience dowry abuse—that is, harassment or violence which relates to the giving of gifts before, during or after marriage.

CALD women are also more likely to experience abuse at the hands of multiple perpetrators, including abuse perpetrated by in-laws, extended family and community members[4].

Practitioners should also seek to understand ‘the underlying reasons for any reluctance the victim has to use a service or engage with the service system’[5]. Practitioners should consider assessing the risk posed by each perpetrator, where multiple perpetrators exist.

As part of risk assessment, workers should gain an understanding of the client’s visa status and legal position. If the client has a lawyer regarding their visa or immigration matter, contact the lawyer to gain further information.

Workers should encourage clients to consult with the following organisations if they do not have a lawyer/migration agent and are unsure about their visa status/legal position:

As visa application and appeal deadlines are very strict, it is highly advisable for clients to contact a legal service or engage a migration agent/migration lawyer. The Migration Agent Registration Authority has list of registered migration agents and lawyers.

Do not contact the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and do not advise the client to contact the Department without seeking legal assistance first.


Previous: 4 – The impact of trauma
Next: 6 – Working with interpreters

Self-reflection questions

How can I ensure that I have the necessary skills and tools to assess my client’s risk?

What tactics of abuse has the perpetrator used to target the particular barriers faced by my client?

How can I better consider the additional tactics of abuse used by perpetrators against CALD women as a part of risk assessment and safety planning?

Self-reflection tool

6 – Working with interpreters in a family violence context

Photo of a smiling woman

Ensuring that women have as much choice as possible over interpreter use is critical to both safety and empowerment. Before engaging an interpreter, workers should determine what languages/dialects the client speaks, whether she would prefer a woman interpreter, ‘her preferences regarding the form of interpreting (telephone or on-site) and, if telephone, whether she would prefer an interpreter from outside Victoria’[1].

Women have the right to understand and be understood—this is particularly important for women who may have had information withheld from them as a tactic of abuse. Using an appropriately accredited, female interpreter where possible is paramount. Children and other family members should never be used as interpreters as this can cause further trauma for the child[2], infringe upon the woman’s privacy or even subject her to greater risk.

Sensitivity is required when enquiring about choices of interpreters. Women may not wish to actively voice their preferences for fear of causing offense.

Practitioners should be aware that confidentiality can be an issue in interpreting in the context of family violence, especially when women come from smaller language groups[3]. “Over-intervention” can also be an issue, including where interpreters give women advice—such as telling her to stay with her husband—or do not accurately convey information[4]. Practitioners should look out for cues from their clients to determine whether interpreters are performing their role ethically and effectively.


Previous: 5 – Tactics of abuse and assessing risk
Next: 7 – Working with CALD children

Self-reflection questions

What barriers might my client have faced in accessing interpreters or during the interpreted exchange?

How can I offer the use of interpreters to CALD women in a way that enables them to express their wishes about who their interpreter is and how interpreting is performed?

How can I ensure interpreters are performing their role ethically and effectively?

Self-reflection tool

7 – Working with CALD children

Cultural or community attitudes about children, as well as the impact of migration and trauma, may affect CALD children’s help seeking and recovery from family violence. In this chapter, the term ‘children’ refers to infants, children and young people.

In working with children from CALD backgrounds, it is important to acknowledge that children may have different experiences or cultural identities to their parents—CALD children should be seen as clients in their own right.

For CALD children from migrant or refugee backgrounds, the experience of family violence often occurs alongside ‘being in a new country, learning a new language and set of cultural norms and being removed from extended families, friends and community support networks’[1]. CALD children may experience grief at the loss of their language, culture, family and home, or face racism or discrimination at school[2]. All of this may impact their experiences of family violence.

Children from refugee backgrounds, in particular, may have experienced pre-migration trauma or trauma throughout the migration experience. They may have witnessed violence in their homeland, been forced to flee their home, have spent time in a refugee camp, or been separated from a parent[3]. Like loss and grief, past trauma may impact children’s recovery from family violence.

Cultural or community attitudes may influence who it is appropriate for a child to seek help from. There are often culturally-specific understandings of the role of the parent, child, grandparent and extended family and of relationships between family members. Parenting styles and what is seen as appropriate behaviour for children can also differ across cultures. For example, it may not be seen as appropriate for a child to challenge an adult.

It is important to explain professional terms in plain language to children and their parents/carers, as there may not be the equivalent terminology in other languages. For example, the concept of a professional case manager or counsellor may not translate across cultures. Practitioners may need to provide explanations of roles and describe concepts in a culturally-sensitive, child-friendly way.

In addition to unpacking terminology, it may also be useful to provide parents and carers with information about the rights of children in an Australian context as well as the role of Child Protection.


Previous: 6 – Working with interpreters

Self-reflection questions

Note that the client referred to in these questions is the child.

What is the role of the child/parent in the culture or family from which my client comes?

How has this impacted my client’s help seeking and recovery from family violence?

What trauma has my client experienced during pre-migration and migration, if any?

How can I ensure that my practice with CALD children is trauma informed?

How can I ensure that I work with CALD children as clients, in their own right?

Have I been inclusive of parents, grandparents and extended family in case planning, where appropriate?

Self-reflection tool