Link Virtual Outreach
“It was the first time going down a legal track for me, I’ve never gone through anything like this before, it was nice to have someone who was understanding and caring for me.”
Women Legal Service Victoria’s (WLSV) Link virtual outreach program partners with 23 community agencies to provide legal services to women who have experienced family violence. The award nominated Link operates three days each week and uses internet videoconferencing to connect WLSV lawyers with women in community health centres and family violence organisations, including women’s refuges, across Victoria. This holistic model enables women to receive legal assistance in a remote and safe location in the presence of their support worker.
During 2015-16 Link provided 411 consultations to 382 women. Of those clients 64% had low or no income, 12% had a disability and 27% lived in rural Victoria. All had experienced family violence. All were provided with free, safe, convenient access to specialised legal advice in the security of a support agency in a location convenient to them.
Link also provides training and mentoring to partner organisations to help build their capacity to assist women experiencing family violence. Community health centres and family violence organisations receive training based on our Critical Legal Issues Map, a unique road map designed to assist workers identify their clients’ legal needs and make timely and appropriate referrals. We provide specialist family law support and mentoring to four regional community legal centre partners.
This year we expanded Link to provide specialised assistance in the Grampians and Wimmera regions. With the assistance of a Community Legal Centre Family Violence Fund grant from the Department of Justice & Regulation, WLSV developed and delivered new training for youth and family violence workers in Ballarat, Stawell and Horsham and developed resources focussing on issues of particular importance to young women fleeing family violence, such as child protection. We also began providing Link appointments to women at Tarrengower Prison, who have significant unmet family violence and family law needs.
WLSV is now embarking on a new project to extend LINK service delivery to women from emerging migrant and refugee communities in rural Victoria. In consultation with community agencies in regional Victoria, the Link model will be adapted to particularly hard-to-reach population groups with the assistance of a grant from the Helen McPherson Smith Trust.
Future in doubt
The future of the Link virtual outreach program now hangs in the balance. Despite the proven success of the project over the previous four years we have been unable to secure ongoing funding from either state or federal governments and, as of 1 August 2016, the program is unfunded. Unless funding is secured, WLSV will not only be unable to extend and enhance Link, as planned, but will also have to reduce existing services to women that Link provides.