Diversity: Are Non-English Seniors Being Served?

 A Report on Linguistically-Appropriate Services for Seniors in Toronto

 By Care Watch and Partners,  February 26, 2008

Executive Summary

Care Watch and many partners are proud to present a study which grew out of a public meeting on diversity as related to services for seniors.  A primary issue emerging from this meeting was a concern about the capacity of community agencies to provide linguistically appropriate services.  Subsequently, Care Watch brought together a group. This group picked up the concern.  It was noted that linguistically appropriate services were of particular importance given the increasing number of seniors and the number of those for whom English is not a first language.  They felt better evidence of need was required. It was decided to seek further evidence through a short, but focused interview with community agencies that serve seniors.  The group wanted to look at two aspects of service: initial contact at reception/intake and ongoing service provision.

Three members of the group volunteered to pursue this study.  Fortunately, they were joined by a researcher from University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging. They further refined the potential study respondents to include only:

  • Agencies located within the Toronto Central LHIN
  • Community Support Services (CSS) which offer more than two provincially-funded programs
  • Community Health Centres (CHC) which designated seniors as a priority service target group

Ethno-specific services were not included.

A survey form was developed which looked at the two aspects, intake and ongoing service, separately.  Nineteen of the twenty one community support services (CSS) participated in the study as did six out of eight community health centers (CHCs).

The primary limitation of the study was that the information obtained was based on the services providers’ perception rather than recorded data. As well, the sampling in both sets of services is quite small.  Nevertheless, the research team feels that the report provides a good general assessment of service provision to seniors who speak languages other than English.

Most of the respondents said that they did not use volunteers for interpretation.  They use their own staff and occasionally other means.  Apparently, about 21 languages, other than English are spoken by staff in the surveyed CSS Agencies (Personal Support Workers account for part of this) and approximately 11 languages are spoken by workers in the surveyed CHCs. The report observes that it is quite possible that languages available through staff are a result of the hiring market, not necessarily the needs of the clientele. The diversity of languages at a particular agency or health centre may reflect not only the diversity of the clientele, but also the linguistic diversity of the staff, which may or may not map onto that of the clients. The report further notes that the top three linguistic groups of people in Toronto over the age of 65 are Chinese languages, Italian, and Portuguese.

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