Refugee support
starts at home

As the global community confronts one of the greatest refugee crises in modern history, many nations – including Australia – are facing the challenge of successfully resettling large numbers of migrant and former refugee families.

Three years ago, I started work as a psychologist in Brisbane’s southside working with migrant and former refugee communities. It was through my work with these families that I began to see more help was needed and I was first struck with the idea of the role I could play.

I recognised that parents who undertake the immense challenge of relocating to a new country do so with the hope of providing their children with the opportunity to grow into healthy, happy and successful adults. Unfortunately, I soon realised that many migrant parents struggle with family relationships and changes in their children’s behaviour, while also dealing with the stress that comes with settling in a new country.

The problem these families face is support usually doesn’t arrive until something goes drastically wrong and family relationships have broken down, or a child has developed significant behaviour problems. Not only is it more difficult to address problems once they have escalated, but this can also increase dependency on public health services in the long term. My work tries to reach these families early in their resettlement to prevent relationship breakdowns and help families adjust to parenting in a new culture and country.

As a therapist, it is hard to stand by while witnessing the stress families are facing.

So, when it came to deciding on a PhD topic, I wanted to ensure that my research could produce real, tangible change in the community and foster better settlement outcomes for these families.

My work takes a preventative approach and is offered as an adjunct to existing settlement support services in an attempt to offer a cost-effective and realistic option for parents and the agencies supporting them.

Being given the opportunity to conduct this research at UQ’s Parenting and Family Support Centre has opened many doors for me, allowing me to partner with Access Community Services Limited – a leading settlement agency that shares my passion for innovative solutions to settlement issues.

We are investigating whether the well-established Triple P – Positive Parenting Program can bridge the service gap for newly arrived migrant families and provide support early, before problems develop. We’re trying to equip parents with the knowledge and tools to parent confidently in a new culture, and raise happy, well-adjusted children.

My ultimate goal is that the program is offered as part of standard service delivery for all migrant parents.

With the arrival of my first child in May, I feel more motivated than ever to help create positive change for the inspiring families I have encountered, whose love for their children has helped them navigate some of life’s hardest journeys.

Improving family relationships and promoting the wellbeing of both parents and their children enriches not only the lives of our migrant populations, but also the nations welcoming them.

UQ is helping me share my passion of working with migrant and former refugee families, and is also allowing me to leave my small mark on the world.

For more information about the Parenting and Family Family Support Centre, visit

About the author

Kathryn Esparza is a registered psychologist with a Master of Clinical Psychology.

In 2014 she received the Australian Postgraduate Award and is currently completing her PhD at UQ’s Parenting and Family Support Centre.

Esparza works in private practice in Logan Central and also undertakes sessional academic work where she enjoys lecturing on the topic of cross-cultural psychology.

Beyond her current research, she aspires to become an academic in clinical psychology and increase training in the areas of migrant mental health and cross-cultural assessment and intervention for trainee psychologists.