Research with culturally and linguistically diverse communities

Encouraging people to participate in research can be a tough gig. We are usually asking people to volunteer their time just for a small piece of information, which is sometimes only relevant and generalisable if large numbers provide this same, small piece of information. As researchers we know the enormous value that gathering this information can have to inform change at the policy, practice and the community level. But the general population sometimes does not place the same value on research or understand how important the research and outcomes can be. So, how do we encourage people to participate in research? And in particular, how do we encourage those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, where research may not be a common concept or practice.

I am currently working on a large scale child oral health research project entitled ‘Teeth Tales’, being conducted in partnership with government and community agencies  and Australian families from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Oral health is included in the Victorian Health and Wellbeing Plan 2011 – 2015 as a priority area for preventative health, as it is one of the most preventable diseases, particularly for children. Tooth decay is Victoria’s most prevalent health problem, with more than half of all children and almost all adults affected (1). Initial qualitative research was conducted with mothers from Lebanese, Iraqi and Pakistani backgrounds exploring oral health practices, beliefs and service needs. We learnt about many cultural differences and the real interest these communities have to learn more about keeping their children’s teeth healthy. From this earlier research, a community-based trial was developed to include an oral health education program for parents delivered by a trained educator from the same cultural background. This peer educator is able to talk about traditional beliefs and practices and introduce parents to the key Dental Health Services Victoria oral health messages of ‘Eat Well, Drink Well, Clean Well and Stay Well’. The program also included a site visit to local dental and family services. In addition to this education program, local services underwent a review of their practices to improve their competence in dealing with culturally diverse communities.

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Photo from:  http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/dental/promo_oh.shtm

For this trial we recruited Lebanese, Iraqi and Pakistani families in metropolitan Melbourne with children aged 1 – 4 years. We wanted to make sure that the research was as useful and relevant to families as possible so we sought the advice and expertise of relevant cultural organisations. They provided guidance on the cultural practices and beliefs of the target cultural groups, and the cultural appropriateness of our research methodology. They also helped us to recruit families, conduct the trial, interpret the findings and they provided language assistance. If it wasn’t for these partnerships we may have been lucky to recruit 10 families rather than the over 500 families who ended up participating! The advice and support of these cultural partners is invaluable when trying to recruit families with a refugee or migrant background, some of whom may be unfamiliar with research conduct, health promotion and the Australian health system.

In order to evaluate the success of the program we needed to check children’s teeth before and after the trial, as well as ask parents to complete a questionnaire. The free dental screenings for the children proved to be a key incentive for parents to register for the study. Oral health is one of the most contentious current health issues in Australia as access to fast, affordable dental care is often not available. The private dental system is run as a business and many walk out of the service with an expensive bill. The public dental system has huge waiting lists and strict eligibility for access. We found that many parents were not aware that children and refugee and asylum seekers in Victoria are considered a priority group for public dental services access. So when our study offered a free dental screening for children many families jumped at the opportunity!

The strategies outlined above helped us to successfully recruit over 500 families into our study. Engaging culturally and linguistically diverse groups in research can be difficult, but is very important, particularly for health services that need to respond to the evolving health needs of refugee and migrant and groups.

To read more about the ‘Teeth Tales’ study please visit:  http://mccaugheycentre.unimelb.edu.au/research/current/intergenerational_health/teeth_tales

Blog by Dana Young

Research Fellow, Child Public Health

The University of Melbourne

e: dana.young@unimelb.edu.au

References

  1. NACOH. 2004, Healthy mouths healthy lives: Australia’s National Oral Health Plan 2004-2013. Adelaide, National Advisory Committee on Oral Health, Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council.
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