Study gives voice to the silenced

19 Dec 2016

Two Queensland research students have been recognised for documenting the “amazing work” occupational therapists do to help child asylum seekers in Australian detention facilities.

Kelly Mitchelson and Hannah Begg of The University of Queensland School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences earnt acclaim at the Occupational Therapy Australia (Northern Territory/Queensland) annual conference.

“The wellbeing and rights of child asylum seekers are things I am very passionate about,” Ms Mitchelson said.

“We sought the perspectives of occupational therapists on what they saw as the needs and challenges faced by children in detention.

“The research also sought to understand how occupational therapists practice in this unique context.” 

Ms Mitchelson noted that previous literature about occupational therapy and asylum seekers in Australia was limited and did not include research about services for children seeking asylum.  

UQ research was gathered from interviews with 10 occupational therapists who had worked in Australian detention facilities.

Their feedback included experiences of fear, deprivation and perceived insensitivity.

“One of the therapists said their main observation was detainees being stuck in the mindset of ‘Am I allowed to do this or will I be yelled at?’” Ms Mitchelson said.

Ms Mitchelson and Ms Begg received the Kryss McKenna Award from Occupational Therapy Australia for the best student presentation.

Featured in their presentation were drawings made by children before and after they engaged with occupational therapists, highlighting “a dramatic difference in content”.

Supervisor Dr Emma Crawford was full of praise for the UQ duo.

“They demonstrated extraordinary professionalism and sensitivity in their research project,” Dr Crawford said.

“Researching asylum seekers can be a sensitive area when discussing trauma, working within government legislation and policies, and balancing relationships with different stakeholders.

“The students have been outstanding representatives of UQ and have bright futures.”

Fellow UQ researchers Tim Barlott and Dr Merrill Turpin also featured in the study which the conference presentation was based upon.