Reaching the women who need us most
The Priority Pathways Project, funded by Victoria Legal Aid (VLA), honed WLSV’s access pathways to best meet the needs of women experiencing significant disadvantage in Victoria.
The project responds to the high level of demand for both the state-wide free telephone legal advice line and the intensive representation services. To address this need, WLSV introduced a new triage intake process which has doubled the number of women assisted through the telephone advice line. Email referral protocols for high volume referrers have been trialled with the aim of improving intake efficiency.
The Priority Pathways project also enabled us to implement a number of recommendations from our 2015 Legal Needs Analysis including the development of a Disability Action Plan and a Reconciliation Action Plan aimed at removing barriers that women with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face in accessing assistance.
Intensive legal representation
Our intensive legal representation continues to be directed towards women facing significant disadvantage with complex needs and complex legal matters. This includes cross jurisdictional work, where WLSV lawyers represent women whose cases do not fit neatly into a single jurisdiction but require representation across the Magistrates’ Court, the Children’s Court, the family law courts, the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal and even the County Court and Supreme Court. It also includes complex family law cases which have included the return of children being retained overseas, securing family funds at risk of dissipation by former partners and overcoming systems abuse by perpetrators, even when incarcerated.
This year WLSV introduced an in-house social worker to assist women with non-legal issues. The social worker, in conjunction with WLSV’s specialist financial counsellor have assisted clients with vital life changing issues such as debt, housing, social engagement, health and community access. These expert resources have had tangible outcomes for clients including substantial reduction in debt incurred as a result of economic abuse and enabling the reunion of women with their children by connecting them with secure housing.
In 2015, WLSV expanded its services to provide representation to women involved in Children’s Court proceedings at the Moorabbin Justice Centre as part of a pilot project with VLA. The success of our child protection service has been well documented in an independent evaluation, which found, amongst other things, that the pilot successfully increased access to quality legal services for disadvantaged clients while introducing a new, cost effective and holistic model of service into the child protection jurisdiction. As a result, WLSV is now funded to provide the child protection service for a further four years.
The representation of women in child protection cases has become an essential part of WLSV’s response to entrenched disadvantage, relationship breakdown and the impacts of family violence on women and their children. The continuation of this funding allows WLSV to provide clients with continuity of service and quality legal representation, not only in their child protection matters, but also across the intersecting family violence and family law jurisdictions.
Family Advocacy and Support Service
WLSV has joined with VLA in providing the Commonwealth-funded Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS). FASS is an integrated service based at the family courts that assists people who have experienced family violence with legal assistance through a duty lawyer and further assistance from a social support worker. FASS has succeeded in increasing the referrals of women experiencing family violence and needing family law assistance to our court-based duty lawyer services. This in turn has led to referrals in to WLSV for a number of women needing urgent representation in their complex family law matters to overcome the impact of family violence on them and their children.