Life-changing legal representation
Over the past year, WLSV’s legal team had great success in helping women reunite with their children. Our highly skilled lawyers obtained outstanding results for women and children separated by the actions of their controlling former partners, including situations where children had been taken overseas. We also effected the safe return of children inappropriately placed in out-of-home care, despite opposition from child protection authorities. Additionally, we acted to reverse the consequences of police misidentification of women as perpetrators of family violence so women could return to their homes and their children could return to their care.
Our lawyers also continued the legal work that formed the basis of our Small Claims Large Battles report, ensuring that women experiencing disadvantage receive the benefit of family law property distributions.
Improving access to specialist legal help
In October 2017 we were successful in obtaining funding from the Attorney-General’s Department to establish a Domestic Violence Unit at WLSV. The unit, now named LINK Community, is a unique online model that provides an integrated legal response to women across regional Victoria.
Through Link Community, WLSV partnered with five family violence agencies in identified regions of high need. The workers in those agencies assess and refer clients to WLSV for specialist legal assistance through our Link Virtual Outreach Program.
For the duration of their journey through the legal system, women are supported by WLSV lawyers who work closely with their support workers from the partner agency. We provide clients with ongoing legal representation as required in the family law courts, Children’s Court, family violence lists in the Magistrates’ Court and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. Our in-house social worker and financial counsellor are also available to provide additional support as part of this holistic wrap-around service.
Keeping the focus on the Royal Commission into Family Violence
WLSV continues to play an active role advising the Victorian government on the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, including through the Family Violence Steering Committee, the Family Violence Industry Taskforce and other expert advisory groups. We also developed and delivered training state-wide on the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme, which was launched in response to findings made by the Commission. This training was delivered in partnership with the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria.
Educating financial counsellors
This year, in partnership with WIRE Women’s Information, we delivered family violence training to financial counsellors, providing them with a thorough understanding of the issues around family violence, including intervention orders, family law, working with perpetrators and workers’ self-care. The training also examined economic abuse and the role financial counsellors can play in supporting their clients’ recovery from family violence, such as negotiating with creditors.
The training was delivered to 194 financial counsellors across nine locations in Melbourne and regional Victoria. An independent evaluation of the impact of the sessions found that 86% of participants changed the way they worked with clients affected by family violence after the training. This included: better identifying family violence; engaging in trauma-informed practice; working differently with creditors; more easily identifying support services; making appropriate referrals; and changed response to perpetrators.
Consumer Affairs Victoria has now engaged us – in partnership with WIRE – to deliver the workshops for a further three years.
A multidisciplinary approach to family violence in the Children’s Court
Following on from the success of our 2016 Safe & Protected professional development event, the Children’s Court Multi-Disciplinary Training Board engaged us to roll out the Safe & Protected program to a larger number of children’s court practitioners and to develop a module on working with victims and perpetrators of family violence.
We delivered the program in five regional locations as well as a one-day intensive and four twilight sessions at Melbourne Children’s Court. The program explored the challenges of meeting the needs of vulnerable families and navigating the complex intersections between family violence, child protection and family law. It also provided practitioners with the opportunity to critically reflect on their professional practices and roles, and find better ways of working in a multidisciplinary environment to support family violence survivors and hold perpetrators to account.