Child health nurses often feel ill-equipped to challenge structural racism, a new study has found.

The study by South Australia’s Flinders University suggests there is an urgent need for anti-discriminatory education and training in the nursing workforce.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Julian Grant from Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences said child health nurses were often the ones identifying racism or potential racism in service delivery but were often not given the education and training needed to help them counter racism in practice.

Dr Grant says the study of 31 child health nurses across five groups in South Australia focussed on how child health nurses understood and made sense of racism and how they worked with racism in their everyday practice with Aboriginal peoples, migrants and refugees.

“For example, some felt that their actual practice was racist because they were not assisted by the organisation to support families with culturally appropriate practices such as co-sleeping,” he said. “They felt that this made their practice racist by not being able to support parent-family choices.”

“We also found that there was a lot of misunderstanding about what racism actually was.”

“Many child health nurses did not recognise that their personal beliefs andhovalues directly impacted on the care they provided for families.”

“The child health nurses are all hard-working and are doing the best with the knowledge they have. The main issues is that they (and most other health professionals) need education and tangible strategies to counter racism in practice,” Dr Grant said.

In SA, community child health nurses mostly work for the Child and Family Health Service.

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Wendy Caccetta