A client’s feelings of difference or the lawyer’s inability to identify diversity as a factor may lead to a client not seeking help or communicating their needs. Being aware of cultural and linguistic diversity can help you meet your duties to your clients.
Diversity spans not just ethnic, language and religious background, but other factors such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, financial disadvantage, coming from a rural community. Membership of a minority or particular cultural or religious group may create particular perceptions of privacy and confidentiality. For example, a client from the same cultural background as you may not wish to speak to you; rural dwellers may not wish to see a local lawyer.
Some factors to consider:
The role or standing of women of a particular culture may differ from your expectations. A woman may have a different attitude to and experience of money, access to resources and decision-making due to her cultural background.
A client may not wish to speak with you because you are of the opposite gender.
Different communities have different approaches to caring for older relatives and different understandings of the significance of trust, privacy, shame, and of relationships and responsibilities between generations. This can also be affected by gender and gender identity.
For Indigenous Australians an older person is considered to be someone in their 40s. Family dynamics, attitudes to ownership and ways of resolving problems may be unfamiliar to you.
Economic or material status
A client with few assets still suffers indignity if abused financially.
A client’s sexual orientation and the perceptions of others can reduce their willingness to speak out about abuse.
People living in rural and remote areas face particular challenges. Often home and business are intermingled, inheritance and family succession issues may be complicated accordingly and distance and access to services can be issues
For information and resources on cultural and linguistic diversity…
Culturally inclusive practice guides and some community profiles can be downloaded from the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing.
A range of cultural profiles relating to older people can be downloaded from Diversicare.
Many local Migrant Resource Centres offer community profiles and information, and cross-cultural awareness resources and training.
The ‘boomerang child’ – using up parent’s assets
Mrs Ng lives alone in her own home, which has a separate unit. Her husband died a few years ago. She has four children. She does not speak English very well and her husband used to manage the finances. Since he died, she has relied on her children to pay the bills and manage money matters.
One of Mrs Ng’s sons, Anh, moved into the unit some months ago after he separated from his wife, promising to be a support to his mother. A few weeks ago Anh’s friend, Ray moved into the unit. Anh and Ray are both unemployed and have been spending their time drinking and going to the local TAB and having noisy parties. Mrs Ng has been paying all the utility bills, which have increased markedly since Anh’s arrival. Anh begrudgingly helps with the shopping and other small chores when asked. He teases his mother about her forgetfulness and threatens to put her in a home. Mrs Ng’s friends have stopped visiting her.
Anh has run up gambling debts on the credit card Mrs Ng gave him to make some purchases for the unit and to pay some bills. When Mrs Ng confronted her son about the debt, he was apologetic and agreed to make repayments. Mrs Ng agreed to keep the matter a secret between them and not involve other family members. A small amount was repaid. Some months later the gambling debt had grown. When Mrs Ng approached her son, he became abusive. Mrs Ng is frightened. Her daughter brings her to you for advice.
- Do you have an independent interpreter present?
- Is your client comfortable with you? There may be cultural issues around things such as greetings, shaking hands.
- What does Mrs Ng want as an outcome? Does she want her son to leave the house?
- Should the police be involved? (See Criminal law.) (Involving police may go against to her cultural and family values.)
- Can an Intervention Order be obtained? (See Family violence.)
- Does Mrs Ng need to organise an Enduring Power of Attorney? (See Powers of attorney.)
You should also think about appropriate referrals (for example, through the Ethnic Communities Council) to give Mrs Ng support and to link her into ethno-specific services, a family violence support centre, and/or a financial counsellor to help her manage her own money.