How do Australian maternity and early childhood health services identify and respond to the settlement experience and social context of refugee background families?

Jane Yelland, Elisha Riggs, Sayed Wahidi, Fatema Fouladi, Sue Casey, Josef Szwarc, Philippa Duell-Piening, Donna Chesters, Stephanie Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Refugees have poor mental, social and physical health related to experiences of trauma and stresses associated with settlement, however little is known about how refugee families experience maternity and early childhood services. The aim of this study was to explore the responsiveness of health services to the social and mental health of Afghan women and men at the time of having a baby.Method: Participatory methods including community engagement and consultation with the Afghan community and service providers in Melbourne, Australia. Bicultural researchers conducted interviews with Afghan women and men who had recently had a baby. Interviews and focus groups were also conducted with health professionals working in the region.Results: Thirty interviews were conducted with Afghan women and men who had recently had a baby. Thirty-four health professionals participated in an interview or focus group.Afghan women and men reported significant social hardship during the period before and after having a baby in Australia, but were rarely asked about their social health by maternity and early childhood services.Most health professionals recognised that knowledge and understanding of their client's migration history and social circumstances was relevant to the provision of high quality care. However, inquiring about refugee background, and responding to non-clinical needs of refugee families was challenging for many health professionals. Factors that made it more difficult for health professionals to engage with Afghan families in pregnancy included limited understanding of the context of migration, dependency of many Afghan women on their husband for interpreting, short appointments, and the high likelihood of seeing different health professionals at each antenatal visit. Community-based maternal and child health nurses had more scope to work with interpreters, and build relationships with families, providing a stronger foundation for identifying and responding to complex social circumstances.Conclusion: There are significant challenges in providing comprehensive, high quality primary health care for Afghan families accessing Australian maternity and early childhood services. The limited capacity of public maternity services to identify families of refugee background and provide tailored service responses are contributing to inequitable maternal and child health outcomes for families of refugee background.

Original languageEnglish
Article number348
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 6 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Afghan women and men
  • Early childhood health care
  • Maternity care
  • Psychosocial
  • Refugee families
  • Social and mental health inquiry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology

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