WelCom May 2020:
Support to overcome language barriers is one of the ways Wellington Catholic Social Services (CSS) are helping vulnerable and isolated former refugees during lockdown.
Families and single people who have been settled in New Zealand as former refugees make up around half the CSS social work caseload, and social workers have remained in contact through the Covid-19 lockdown.
Senior social worker Jess Harward says the lockdown has highlighted increased vulnerability and isolation. ‘Language can create a huge barrier to some families, and without the use of an interpreter, they are further isolated.’
CSS funds interpretation services for former refugees. Accessing government and community services during the lockdown is more difficult for people with language barriers, so social workers have been setting up three-way conference calls with interpreters to help former refugees apply for assistance.
This has included help with health appointments, applying for Work and Income benefits, liaising with schools around home learning, organising repeat prescriptions, understanding what services are considered essential, and understanding what lockdown means.
Social worker Eru Fox says one client had been isolated from her family for a month after a common cold, despite a doctor’s appointment clearing her of Covid-19 concerns, due to fears about whether she might infect vulnerable family members.
Eru says New Zealanders are often unable to see the trauma experienced by many former refugee families seeking safety in Aotearoa New Zealand. ‘We want our services to be a sanctuary for people to come and feel a sense of security they are being looked after.’
As a Red Cross Refugee Support Volunteer, Elizabeth Julian rsm says reaching out in lockdown means calling families – retraumatised by the lockdown – to ensure they know and have: access to Ministry of Health guidelines in their own language; access to 24/7 counselling service and Healthline numbers; food and baby items; ability to get prescriptions filled; daily exercise and walks; contact with their case manager and volunteer coordinator.