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Diversity standards and initiatives in aged care

Last Updated at August 23rd 2021
Aged care is a vital part of growing old in Australia, providing both home care and residential care services. And just like in the broader community, aged care supports people from a lot of different backgrounds each with their own specific cultural, spiritual or linguistic needs.

Key points:

  • Australia's diverse population is reflected in the current generation now accessing aged care services

  • Over the last decade, aged care has become more inclusive of older people with diverse backgrounds

  • Governments, peak bodies and consumers have been working together to make changes to aged care that provides more inclusive care

Group of diverse women
Australia has a very multicultural and diverse population, so aged care needs to reflect this to provide quality aged care. [Source: Shutterstock]

Australia's aged care system services a large cohort of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) individuals, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people, people with disability and members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

Statistics from 2016 show that 37 percent of Australians aged over 65 were born overseas and 20 percent of Australians aged over 65 were born in a country that didn't have English as its first language.

These numbers are expected to climb as the next generation begins to prepare for their aged care service journey.

There are a number of initiatives to safeguard the experiences of older Australians with diverse backgrounds in aged care.

Laws and legislation

Australians with diverse backgrounds are protected against discrimination by multiple Federal laws.

First and foremost, the Aged Care Act 1997 legislation specifically outlines that older people with diverse backgrounds have to have their rights protected while receiving aged care.

If you are older or have a disability, you will be protected by the Age Discrimination Act 2004 or the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

People from cultural backgrounds are protected by the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, making it illegal for a person to discriminate against you based on your race. Each State and Territory has its own added racial discrimination legislation.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is additional legislation that would protect any discrimination based on gender. And in 2013, new protections were added to this legislation to cover discrimination based off of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Lastly, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 is general legislation that covers the rights and freedoms of everyone who lives in Australia.

Aged Care Quality Standards

The latest Aged Care Quality Standards aim to provide a more Consumer Directed Care approach to the aged care sector.

By definition of Consumer Directed Care, it means services and care will be provided in an individual centric manner with consumers having more say over the care they receive, which will benefit people with diverse needs and backgrounds.

The Aged Care Quality Standards has eight standards that protect older people and how they are treated, including their right to being treated with dignity and respect.

Standard one of the Quality Standards is around consumer dignity and choice. This standard highlights that aged care providers need to be providing an environment and culture of inclusion.

This includes providing services that are culturally safe and respect people's identities around culture and diversity.

So while some facilities and services advertise themselves as providing services that are specific to certain cultures or promote themselves as being LGBTI friendly, all aged care facilities must be creating an inclusive space for all older people in their homes.

Aged Care Diversity Framework

The Department of Health implemented the Aged Care Diversity Framework in late 2017, setting out actions to ensure all aged care services are meeting the requirements of older people that have diverse backgrounds.

This framework aims to make diversity an important consideration in the design and delivery of all aged care services.

People included in this framework are:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (ATSI)

  • Individuals with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds

  • Living in a rural or remote area

  • Financially or socially disadvantages

  • Veterans or widows of veterans

  • Homeless older people or those at risk of becoming homeless

  • Care leavers (Also known as Forgotten Australians, Former Child Migrants or the Stolen Generation. Care leavers are people who lived in some form of institution as a child)

  • Older people who are parents that were separated from their children through forced adoption or removal

  • Older people who identify as Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)

  • Individuals with mental health problems and mental illness

  • Those living with a cognitive impairment, like dementia

  • People living with a disability

All of these groups are also identified as a "special needs group" for aged care by the Australian Government.

In the Framework, it covers human rights recognition, supports providers to improve the care they provide to older people with diverse backgrounds, incorporates consumers as a partner in the design of aged care services, and highlights that the Australian community is diverse with a variety of life experiences and the current generation of older people reflects that, which is why aged care services need to have different approaches to meet those individual needs. 

The Australian Government believes the Diversity Framework complements the current Aged Care Quality Standards.

This Framework is updated every three years to make sure it is still effective and meeting all its targets.

Inclusive Service Standards

The Inclusive Service Standards resource was created for aged care providers to help them incorporate inclusive processes into their service delivery. The resource was developed by the Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing.

Making education and resources available are an important component to reaching inclusive aged care.

The Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing explains that all beliefs, traditions and identities make older people unique, and organisations who are not flexible with providing care to people with different characteristics are only creating barriers for new consumers.

If there are barriers to aged care services, then an organisation could end up discriminating against certain groups.

The Inclusive Service Standards are:

  • Standard 1 - Commitment to inclusive services An organisation needs to clearly show they are committed to developing an inclusive environment that responds to a consumers' diversity. This includes inclusivity being ingrained in all service provision. 

  • Standard 2 - Systems that support inclusive services Organisations should design and implement their services based on evidence from organisation reviews and consultations with stakeholders.

  • Standard 3 - Capacity building for inclusive services The management and staff in an organisation have the knowledge, skills and resources to deliver inclusive services.

These Standards support providers to become more inclusive for their consumers. It also complements the Aged Care Diversity Framework.

Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC)

Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) is a program that supports aged care providers to give appropriate care to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people, while assisting CALD people and their families to access aged care that meets their needs.

The Australian Department of Health created the PICAC program to improve the link between aged care services and providers, CALD communities and the Department of Health.

PICAC also highlights the special needs of older people with CALD backgrounds who need to go into aged care.

There are Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) representative organisations in each State and Territory.

Every representative organisation in Australia is a part of the PICAC Alliance, a national body of PICAC organisations, that develop and give voice to the CALD communities, as well as provide information, resources and training to the sector, both aged and community services.

To make sure aged care providers are meeting their diversity obligations, they are able to talk with their relevant PICAC organisation for assistance in reaching their goals.

How does your provider cater for the diverse needs of their residents and clients? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

What does Culturally Specific Environments mean in aged care?
Introduction to Nursing Homes
What is Consumer Directed Care (CDC) in home care?

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