Engaging and supporting newly arrived refugee parents in the promotion of healthy eating and active play from the start of life

Project supervisor(s)

Dr Penelope Love

This project provides an opportunity to explore how evidence-based infant feeding information and best practice parenting programs, including the potential for implementation of the INFANT intervention, can best support and reach Victorian refugee families.

Since 2010, a significant number of refugee families have settled in Victoria through the Humanitarian Program.  Victoria typically receives 30% of the national refugee intake – approximately 6000-7000 people per annum. Most refugees come from circumstances such as refugee camps or marginalisation in urban settings, with poorly developed or disrupted health care infrastructure, and would have experienced traumatic events such as prolonged periods of deprivation, loss of identify and culture, human rights abuses and the loss of family members. As a result of these negative experiences, refugees are more likely to have multiple and complex health problems on their arrival in Australia. Refugees are also less likely than other migrants to have family and community support in Australia on arrival.

Much of the research in high-income English-speaking countries regarding the personal and socio‐cultural influences of infant feeding and active play practices is centred on the behaviour and experiences of dominant population groups, with less consideration given to women of ethnic minorities and socioeconomic disadvantage, and even less to those dealing with the complexities of refugee status. Yet the evidence suggests that migrant and refugee mothers in high-income countries experience disruptions to their usual support structures which can negatively impact infant feeding practices, particularly breastfeeding. Significant barriers exist for migrant and refugee mothers accessing Maternal and Child Health services. Additionally, there is a potential for re-traumatisation when accessing maternity care that indicates importance of trauma informed-care.

Research Questions

  • What information and resources do refugee parents in Victoria need to support infant feeding and active play for their children during the first 18 months of life?
  • What modes of delivery of early childhood infant feeding and active play information/ resources are most likely to ensure initial and ongoing engagement for refugee parents in Victoria?
  • To what extent is INFANT (group-based program and/or a mobile application) a viable approach and what adaptations might be needed to engage and support refugee families in Victoria around early childhood infant feeding and active play?

Aim of the project

This PhD project provides opportunities to explore the health information needs of refugee families in Victoria to develop and pilot test evidence-based and engaging health promotion materials regarding early childhood infant feeding and active play.


Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree with first class honours (or equivalent) in a relevant field including nutrition, dietetics or health sciences. Interested students must meet Deakin University’s PhD entry requirements and be eligible to apply for an Australian Post Graduate Award or equivalent. The supervision team will work with suitably qualified applicants to apply for scholarship funding.

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