Nurses ‘need support to tackle racism’

Child health nurses often feel they’re ill equipped to challenge structural racism, a new Flinders University study has found.

The findings, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, suggests there is an urgent need for the introduction of anti-discriminatory education and training in the nursing workforce.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Julian Grant, from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, says child health nurses are often the ones identifying racism or potential racism in service delivery but are often not given the education and training needed to help them counter racism in practice.

Associate Professor Grant says the study of 31 child health nurses across five groups in South Australia focused on how child health nurses understood and made sense of racism and how they worked with racism in their every day practice with Aboriginal peoples, migrants and refugees.

“For example, some felt that their actual practice was racist because they were not supported by the organisation to support families with culturally appropriate practices such as co-sleeping. They felt that this made their practice racist by not being able to support parent/family choices.

“We also found that there was a lot of misunderstanding about what racism actually was,”  she says.

“Many child health nurses did not recognise that their personal beliefs and values directly impacted on the care they provided for families.

“They are all hard working child health nurses who are doing the best with the knowledge they have.

“The main issues is that they (and most other health professionals) need education and tangible strategies to counter racism in practice,” Associate Professor Grant says.

Child health nurses are community child health nurses who in SA mostly work for the Child and Family Health Service (CaFHS).

Many child health nurses did not recognise that their personal beliefs and values directly impacted on the care they provided for families. Stock photo posed by models. Photo: iStock.
Many child health nurses did not recognise that their personal beliefs and values directly impacted on the care they provided for families. Stock photo posed by models. Photo: iStock.

There has been little research to explore health professionals’ understanding of racism in healthcare, and how they manage it in practice. This study explored how nurses make sense of racism in practice and contribute to ensuring that children from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds do not accumulate further disadvantage in their lives through culturally unsafe healthcare practice.

The five focus group discussions with 31 maternal, child, and family health nurses working across metropolitan South Australia involved clinicians representing the core professional group working with infants and families in the first years of life.

“Child health nurses work extremely hard to partner with the families with whom they work, but their practice is sometimes compromised because the frameworks used in their primary education is outdated. These results show that we urgently need interactive and sustained anti-racist education in pre-service, graduate, and workplace education,” Associate Professor Grant says.

“Most importantly we need further research to find out what anti-racist approaches work best for Australian children and families.”

The research, ‘Mixed and Mis-understandings: An exploration of the meaning of racism with maternal, child and family health nurses in South Australia,’ by Julian Grant and Pauline Guerin was published on 22 August 2018.

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