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Hand-in-Hand: Companion in-language support for Melbourne’s migrant carers

Carers, especially carers from migrant or refugee background, can be isolated and lonely and this intensifies if the family member receiving care has a life-limiting illness. Support is now available through Hand-in-Hand, a one-on-one, in-language support program at Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH).

The Hand-in-Hand Companion Support Project team

Carers are often considered a subsidiary to the person they care for, which means if the patient is not entitled to any service or support, neither are the carers. For migrant and refugee carers, the challenges are greater, due to language and cultural barriers, lack of familiarity with the system and social isolation.

“Time deficiency is a key challenge. Carers have limited time to seek information about the availability of support services, let alone time to access them, to socialise and even to attend the peer support program”, says Yue Gao, Project Officer.

Hand-in-Hand project: one-on-one companion support

The companion support service is available to carers who are:

  • From a migrant or refugee background
  • Looking after a family-member or friend with a life-limiting illness
  • Feeling overwhelmed with caring responsibilities and having difficulty navigating the health and support system
  • Feeling isolated and wanting to talk to someone in their own language.

Hand-in-Hand pairs a trained bilingual support companion with a carer from a migrant/refugee background. The companion provides one-on-one support during the intensive caring journey. Support companions reach out and meet carers regularly at locations that are convenient for them.

Support is provided in several languages, including Greek, Vietnamese, Punjabi, Hindi, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Syrian, Italian, Croatian, Assyrian, Dari, Farsi, Urdu, Karen, Burmese and Hakka-Chin.

Peer-to-peer support: A tried and tested model

The MCWH adopted a peer-to-peer model in its community work 40 years ago and has gained rich experience in carer support and education. The support team was trained to deliver education sessions to migrant and refugee carers on a range of topics, such as, raising awareness of challenges associated with the caring role, support that carers need from communities and family members for their caring responsibilities and accessing health and support services.

To prepare for the role of offering one-on-one support to the migrant carers, the team participated in a one-day refresher training in June 2019. Topics covered included: how to deal with death, loss and grief, what to expect after the life-limiting illness is diagnosed, how to prepare for end of life and what support services and resources are available.

This training content was informed by outcomes of a consultation with community and stakeholders in the migrant/refugee and palliative services sectors and the Palliative Care Victoria Volunteer Training module.

What we want to achieve

Hand-in-Hand aims to support carers in the early stages of their relative’s illness trajectory. At this time, for most clients, caring responsibilities are not heavy and urgent. Carers may have time and energy to process the information and prepare to take action. Also, reaching out to carers at an early stage can help us develop a comprehensive plan to better support them.

“Reaching carers early is critical,” says Joyce Jiang, Health Promotion Manager at MCWH. “It’s a good time to provide carers with information about support services and entitlements they might be eligible to receive and to understand that in-language one-on-one emotional support is available anytime they prefer.”

The Hand-in-Hand support program covers the whole caring journey, from diagnosis to the end of life and bereavement when emotional support is important for carers.

The project is funded by the Victorian state government ancillary grant to support migrant carers in Victoria (2019-2021).

How you can help

If you work with or know someone who needs support, you can refer your client or register your interest to be matched with a bilingual support worker. Yue would appreciate a warm handover from other organisations and is more than happy to work together on the same case with organisations to better support the carers in need. For more information, please contact: Project Officer, Yue Gao at, or 03 9418 0922.

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