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Original Research

Working with refugees - a manual for caseworkers and volunteers

Submitted: 14 December 2009
Revised: 12 May 2010
Published: 22 November 2010

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Author(s) : Duncan G, Shepherd M, Symons J.

Citation: Duncan G, Shepherd M, Symons J.  Working with refugees - a manual for caseworkers and volunteers. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2010; 10: 1406. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Introduction: The Australian Government encourages the regional settlement of refugees and it is expected that 45% of refugees to Australia be regionally located. Wagga Wagga, an inland regional city in New South Wales (NSW), a destination for both primary and secondary migration, offers settlement for refugees under the Australian Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) and the Settlement Grants Program. Refugees currently represent 1% of Wagga Wagga’s 60 000 population. For people previously living in cities or crowded camps with a background of disruption, torture and trauma, relocation to rural areas of Australia is confronting, and they require dedication and effort from those supporting resettlement. Currently, caseworkers working for settlement agencies do not have formal training. Volunteers are offered induction days and information sessions but have training needs beyond this.
Methods: Two projects were undertaken during 2007 and 2008. Refugee services in regional and rural NSW and their efficacy were reviewed, exploring models of care in four NSW locations and clarifying needs via a literature search. Training and resources available to caseworkers and volunteers were also investigated. The objective was to design and construct a basic manual addressing the needs of this workforce informed by a literature search and consultation with key stakeholders in refugee resettlement. Literature searches of electronic databases, relevant websites and journals informed the questions for participants of focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Additional data were obtained via self-report questionnaires from caseworkers, volunteers and mainstream agencies. Information was also disseminated to refugees, inviting community to participate in focus groups.
Results: Our study supported others noting difficulties associated with the settlement of refugees in regional Australia, and recommendations of improvements were developed using the social determinants of health. The supporting workforce encounters a multitude of issues when working with newly arrived refugees, including language barriers, client expectations and challenges in developing living skills. Workers reported that accessing refugees’ information is time-consuming, and that available resources are fragmented. Refugees expressed frustration at being categorised but acknowledged the efforts of volunteers and caseworkers.
Conclusion: Findings and feedback from the literature review, focus groups, consultations with resettlement stakeholders and interviews supported the concept of developing a basic manual and conversation-starter flashcards. The limitations of the developed manual are acknowledged, as is a need for agency specific information on common topics for volunteers, caseworkers and clients, is suggested. Volunteer and caseworker training should be expanded.

Key words: caseworkers, mainstream service providers, refugees, regional Australia, settlement, volunteers.

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