Good Practice Stories

Assertive Outreach as an effective way to share COVID-19 and aged care information with minority groups



National Seniors Australia is a not-for-profit membership organisation, research & advocacy group that gives older Australians a national voice. We spoke with CEO, Professor John McCallum about National Seniors Australia’s COVID-19 Assertive Outreach project.

 john mccallum circle



John: With Australian Unity CALD Alliance Advisory Group we coordinated a diversity focus group in The City of Brimbank in Melbourne in 2018. This was documented in our research report Dealing with Diversity. The purpose of this research was to identify the impacts of diversity on the ability of culturally and linguistically diverse people to access aged care services.

Participants were asked about their needs, interests and barriers when accessing the aged care sector, their level of digital literacy, use of translation and interpreting services, and their attitude towards family caregiving.

We knew from this research that these communities would be very unlikely to get on a phone call to access Government information about COVID-19 or aged care services even if there was help in their language. We said, ‘Look, we’ve really got to go out and speak directly to newly arrived, non-English speaking groups.’


In Melbourne we’re working with Chin Hakka (Myanmar), Afghani, Filipino, Central and South American and Caribbean communities. In South Western Sydney we’re working with the many Arabic speaking and Cambodian communities. For example, our Khmer outreach worker is working through the Buddhist temples and other community leaders because most older people in that community go to temple regularly.

Most of the groups had misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines from their home country social media coming in on their phones. Many of the language groups we’re working with are minority languages so translated information from the Government is not available.

In addition to this most seniors from our target communities are illiterate in their own language. Therefore translated materials won’t be helpful. Our modus operandi is getting someone on the ground who’s trusted, speaks the language, has the correct Government information and is able to translate and explain it ‘in the field’.

This approach is working well. We have lots of positive stories from people who’ve benefited from our outreach.


Hakha Chin speaking outreach worker: My client Sang who is 70 years old initially refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of its rapid development and bad reputation.

I gave him COVID-19 vaccine information in Hakha Chin. After 2 weeks, he rang me and asked where he could get the vaccine. I checked his eligibility online, advised him the nearest clinic. There are a few clients who have changed their mind after getting adequate information about COVID-19 vaccine.


70 year old Arabic speaking community member: It’s very important to have the information delivered to the Arabic community either verbally or documented. When it comes to technology, so many older people are not even able to change the channel on their TV. Reading the information about the vaccine in the Arabic language is good – that’s if we can read.

Listening to questions and answers during a group gathering is even better.


John: COVID related information from the Government was the primary focus, but then people would ask about aged care and we have a protocol for that. We refer people to other providers, particularly local providers who have capacity to deal with these language groups. Australia Unity has been the key player with us on the ground and their diverse CALD Alliance Advisory Group provides us with expert advice and governance.

When you get people together in the same community hall and someone says, ‘Well, I can tell you how to do that. I’ll show you’. We’re getting interaction. The sharing of correct information starts to spread across different groups living close to one another.

Thank you John for taking time in your busy day to talk to us about this important project.

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