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From our CEO: Do we have to talk about religion?

Regular readers will know the very many ways we equip you to engage with each person’s spirituality beyond simplistic ‘tick a box for religion’. You will also have heard us say that for some people, religion is an expression of their spirituality, and indeed just ticking the box for religion is not enough in those contexts, either.

We have been blown away by your interest in our latest resource, Multifaith Practices: Guidelines for Community and Residential Aged Care.* This is testament to your commitment to truly person-centred care that is not ‘put off’ by a person’s religion but rather, seeks to understand and engage with each person’s deeper sources of hope and resilience.

Australia is an amazingly multi-cultural society, and an ageing society. Over a third of people over 65 were born overseas, in particular Europe. Many of these people have gone on to have children, which is part of our multicultural story as new traditions are woven with the threads brought by parents, combined with experiences of growing up in Australia.

People over 65 identify with a range of religions, the most common six being: Buddhism (1.4%), Christianity (70.3%), Hinduism (0.4%), Islam (0.6%), Judaism (0.6%), and Sikhism (0.1%). 16.1% chose no religion in the 2016 census.** If you are working with older people then yes, you have to be able to talk about religion.

I don’t have to tell you that the aged care workforce is also very diverse, with over 32% of the direct care workforce in residential care, and 23% in community care, being born outside of Australia.***

Alongside of this we have the reality that nearly a third of Australians overall identified as having ‘no religion’ in the ABS survey. Whilst 54% of the population still identify as having an association with Christianity, growth has continued in particular in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.****

What does all this mean for care services?
If we are truly committed to helping people live and die well this means understanding each person in a way that honours who they have been, who they are now and who they are becoming. Lists of statistics on their own will not help us with this, but it can be useful to see the amazing mix of backgrounds brought by both the workforce and the older people they are supporting.

We need to be prepared to have the conversations and take the actions that matter most to each person. This means that if someone does identify with a particular religion, or indeed would like to explore a particular religion, that we give this all the space it deserves.

Religious practices can speak to the deepest parts of our identity and offer a unique kind of support that cannot be otherwise accessed. They can be a place of profound solace, encouragement and hope even when we can no longer speak for ourselves. It is our responsibility to make our best efforts to facilitate this for each person and their loved ones. You don’t have to be religious yourself – you just need to be genuine and willing to learn.

Our guide provides a solid foundation for beginning the conversation. Worried about getting it wrong? Let the person know. Together, you can create a partnership that honours what you both bring.

*Revised and updated for Australia based on the original text by the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging in Canada.
** ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/2071.0~2016~Main%20Features~Ageing%20Population~14 accessed 21 Oct 2020
***The Aged Care Workforce, 2016. https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/system/files/2020-06/CTH.1000.1038.0872.pdf accessed 21 Oct 2020
**** ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/2071.0~2016~Main%20Features~Religion%20Data%20Summary~70 accessed 21 Oct 2020


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