The Teeth Tales Showcase: The Finale to an 8 year community-based oral health research study

Written by Research Fellow Dana Young

My role for the most part of the last 4 years has been implementing a child oral health promotion intervention for children from a migrant and refugee background, also known as Teeth Tales. Although the inception of the project began many years before my involvement, I was involved with rolling out the exploratory trial phase of study.

The idea for the Teeth Tales research study arose in 2006 due to community concerns for the oral health of children from a refugee or migrant background residing in the Moreland and Hume local government areas (LGAs) of Melbourne. From this a PhD study(1) exploring the sociocultural influences on oral health was developed and conducted in partnership with Arabic Welfare, Victoria Arabic Social Services and Pakistani Australia Association of Melbourne to discuss these issues with mothers from a Lebanese, Iraqi and Pakistani background. Based on the findings from this initial work the next phase of Teeth Tales was designed and piloted to explore the implementation of a community based child oral health promotion intervention for children from a migrant and refugee background (2). For more background information about the Teeth Tales study visit out website here.

The Teeth Tales study has been an 8 year project led in partnership between Merri Community Health (MCHS) and The University of Melbourne and was culminated through a showcase on the 23rd of October 2014. This half day event involved members of the key partner agencies involved in the project, which alongside MCHS and the University of Melbourne include Dental Health Services Victoria, Moreland City Council, Arabic Welfare, Victorian Arabic Social Services, Pakistani Australia Association of Melbourne, The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health and North Richmond Community Health Service. Key findings from the research were presented and representatives from the partner organisations presented their experiences and learnings associated with being involved in the Teeth Tales study.

Mandy Truong presenting at the Teeth Tales Showcase October 2014

Mandy Truong presenting at the Teeth Tales Showcase October 2014

This research project provided 667 children with a community based dental screening. For many children this was the first time they had seen a dental professional. Twelve percent of these children were referred on for further treatment at a dental clinic. Parents allocated to the intervention group received education from trained peer educators around the Dental Health Services Victoria key oral health messages of ‘Eat Well, Drink Well, Clean Well and Stay Well’. Based on earlier findings the discussion of traditional oral health practices was incorporated into the peer education oral health course. Results indicate the Teeth Tales intervention increased the oral hygiene practices of the participants, which is very important for the prevention of oral health problems.

Outcomes from the Teeth Tales study were applicable for not only the families involved as study participants but also for the multiple partner organisations involved. Working in partnership with established cultural organisations is critical to health promotion initiatives for families with migrant and refugee backgrounds. The Teeth Tales showcase was an exhibit of the wonderfully strong organisational partnerships that have been created and maintained over the life of the project and how involvement in the project has forged links between the local organisations and potential clients in the community. There was unanimous feedback from the partner organisations that this project had provided them with an opportunity to promote additional health and social service support to participants. Data collection sessions, where children received a free dental screening, were seen as an ideal opportunity to provide this information. One organisation arranged for families to attend appointments at the time data collection sessions were being run to alleviate travel demands on the families to their organisation. Findings from the study will also contribute to the updated Dental Health Services Victoria clinical guidelines for dental clinicians and maternal child health nurses.

It has been extremely rewarding working as a researcher involved with this study. I have developed my skills working with culturally diverse communities in a culturally appropriate manner, undertaken community and stakeholder engagement and liaised between participants and local services; whilst also witnessing the capacity of the cultural partner organisations grow to promote preventative health messages and to be able to aid migrant families to navigate the community health sector. Links have been created between culturally specific social services organisations, community health and the child and family services at local council – which will be of ongoing benefit for newly arrived families trying to access a multitude of services for their family.

For access to resources developed for the Teeth Tales study please visit the relevant organisations websites.

  • The Teeth Tales Peer Education Manual includes class materials for child oral health peer education trainers. You can access it from the Merri Community Health Services Website http://mchs.org.au/research-partnerships/latest-research. For more information, email Maryanne Tadic at maryannet@mchs.org.au
  • The Cultural Competency Organisational Review (CORe) Tool documents will be available via the The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health website soon at ceh.org.au

References:

  1. Riggs E. Addressing child oral health inequalities in refugee and migrant communities. 2010.
  2. Gibbs L, Waters E, de Silva A, Riggs E, Moore L, Armit C, et al. An exploratory trial implementing a community-based child oral health promotion intervention for Australian families from refugee and migrant backgrounds: a protocol paper for Teeth Tales. BMJ open. 2014; 4 (3): e004260.

“RESTORING HOPE” – REFUGEE WEEK 2014

You may know that Sunday 15 June to Saturday 21 June 2014 is Refugee Week. Held annually in Australia to coincide with World Refugee Day on the 20th June, Refugee Week is Australia’s peak annual activity to raise awareness about issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society.

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCA) has chosen ‘Restoring Hope’ as the theme for this year’s Refugee Week to remind us that ‘while a refugee’s journey begins with danger, it also begins with hope. Refugees flee their homelands not only because they fear persecution, but also because they have hope: they hope to find freedom from persecution, and safety and security for themselves and their families; they hope to be given a chance to start a new life and recover from past trauma’.

The RCA also makes the point that the theme calls attention to the role of countries that offer protection to refugees and provide them with an opportunity to rebuild their lives and restore hope for a future free from fear, persecution, violence and insecurity. Despite fluctuating (and recently, increasingly harsh) policies of deterrence towards asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, our government also offers permanent settlement to between 13,000 and 14,000 refugees annually through the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) resettlement program. While permanent settlement offers opportunities for a new life, it is also accompanied by significant challenges. Refugees settling in Australia come from diverse backgrounds but face a common need to deal with experiences of loss, family disruption, long periods in refugee camps or seeking asylum and the trauma that forced them to flee their homes. Following resettlement, they must negotiate a new language and culture, unfamiliar health, education and welfare systems and are also likely to experience social isolation, poverty and discrimination. Over 40% of people settling in Australia from refugee backgrounds are under the age of 18 and some of these face additional obstacles associated with disrupted – or even non-existent – formal education, prior to arrival.

We know that despite these challenges, most refugee settlers go on to become successful and productive members of Australian society. We also know that providing appropriate support, particularly in the early stages of settlement, can be crucial to enable this to happen. I, along with others in the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program are engaged in a number of projects where we work in partnership with others across the University and with community organisations to investigate and promote conditions that support refugee-background children and families to overcome barriers to social inclusion, participation and wellbeing.

Completed projects include evaluations we have conducted of programs such as Ucan2 – which assists young people transitioning from language schools and centres into mainstream education settings – and the Foundation House School Support Program – which supports schools to provide an inclusive environment for refugee-background children and families. We have also explored barriers for refugee-background parents in accessing Maternal and Child Health Services and investigated ways to support driver education for refugees settling in regional Victoria.

Current projects include an exploration of the experiences of refugee-background parents and young children who attend supported playgroups run by Save the Children Australia, and a new project focused on sports participation as a means to promoting social inclusion and wellbeing for refugee-background children. We are also about to begin a project looking at ways the University of Melbourne can provide enhanced opportunities and support to tertiary students from refugee-backgrounds.

Underpinning all of these projects is the understanding that improving support for those new to Australia can make all the difference when it comes to them being able to create the new life that they hope for. Some of the remarkable stories of Australians from diverse backgrounds who first came here as refugees with hope for a better future have been collected by Melbourne University’s Researchers for Asylum seekers. You can read some of those stories celebrating their lives and contributions here.

Written by Dr Karen Block
Research Fellow, Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program
The University of Melbourne

keblock@unimelb.edu.au
                 

World Refugee Day http://stories.unhcr.org/?_ga=1.91771994.1973195338.1402975368

Restoring Hope http://www.refugeeweek.org.au/

Resettlement program http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a16b1676.html

Ucan2 http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a16b1676.html

School Support Program http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13603116.2014.899636#.U6DBJChhsTB

Maternal and Child Health http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6963/12/117

Driver education https://www104.griffith.edu.au/index.php/inclusion/article/view/440

Refugee-background parents and young children http://www.socialequity.unimelb.edu.au/the-lived-experience-of-refugee-background-children-in-australia/

Here http://www.ras.unimelb.edu.au/stories.html