We recently spoke to 30 of the 105 people assisted by our Child Protection Legal Service pilot between 1 October 2016 and 31 March 2017. We were keen to learn if the service had helped our clients and to ensure it was consistent with our principles.
The service is a Victoria Legal Aid initiative that funded two community legal centres (ourselves and Women’s Legal Service) to address priority clients’ complex, interrelated family and children’s law issues
We asked people if they felt respected and listened to by our lawyers. Was the legal advice easily understood? What impact did it have on their situation? Did it help at all and, if so, how? Did the lawyer refer them to anyone and did the client follow up? And were they happy with the help we provided?
The survey sought to give clients and the community a voice, to provide quality assurance, to demonstrate the impact of our work and to support future evidence-based strategic decision making.
Ninety-three per cent of those interviewed felt respected and listened to by our lawyers. Eighty-seven per cent found the advice easy to understand. And seventy-three per cent remembered the lawyer either providing a referral or checking to see if a referral was necessary.
As for impact, the clients provided invaluable feedback.
‘It made my life a lot better, pointed me in the right direction. I was going downhill quite a lot and it helped me turn that around. They helped me find a course which lead to paid work. I had (medical issues) so they connected me up to a specialist and they were able to help.’
‘…she was persistent in getting in contact, she was brilliant. I would have been lost without her, very understanding, caring and persistent, straight forward; but blunt and honest – in a kind and understanding way.’
Four out of five clients were happy with the service. Two thirds were ‘very happy’.
‘She was great. Very understanding, took me seriously, made sure it was all presented to the judge.’
‘They explained it in a way that I could actually understand, rather than the way they talk in court. They helped me a lot throughout the case, explaining the next step, what is happening.’
‘I felt like somebody cared, my needs were being addressed. The lawyer that I am dealing with is very helpful and I wish to continue working with her.’
‘…went from a really bad position to a really good one. Had a disagreement with the lawyer at the start but it all came good in the end.’
Not everybody was happy with our service. However, of those who reported a negative experience, there was a strong correlation with dissatisfaction with the outcome of their matter.
Almost thirty per cent of the interviewed clients were happy for us to follow up with them to capture and share their stories, to inspire others in the community facing similar challenges.
We have shared our findings with VLA who have contracted an independent evaluation of the pilot. It is hoped that a positive evaluation will prompt VLA to fund an extension of the model to other communities of need across Victoria.
In the meantime, the service has recieved a funding extension that will allow us to keep helping clients until December 2017.