As Australia marks National Child Protection Week, Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre is pleased to announce that VLA (Victoria Legal Aid) has extended funding for our Child Protection Legal Service for a further four years. This funding announcement follows a review of child protection legal services and consultations with agencies working in this space.
Since October 2015, our innovative child protection pilot has helped more than 200 people with child protection matters at courts in Bendigo, Echuca, Kerang, Swan Hill, Kyneton, Castlemaine and Maryborough.
The service addresses priority clients’ complex and interrelated family and children’s law issues by providing targeted, timely and continuous services through a mixed model of service delivery. As a holistic service, our Lawyers encourage and support clients with referrals to other local services (legal and non-legal) that can help them address underlying issues. Addressing these underlying issues is critical to achieving lasting outcomes.
Key service statistics illustrate the character of need within the child protection space. During the 2015-16 financial year, 15% of the 157 parents and children assisted by our service identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, 37% had a disability and 76% were female. Over the past 12 months, family violence was present in 59% of the matters handled by the service and 81% of those assisted had little or no income.
ARC Justice Executive Officer, Hayley Mansfield, welcomed the announcement and its implications for families in our region:
‘Community legal centre Lawyers are connected to the communities in which we work and have a thorough knowledge of the service providers and support networks that can help clients. Connecting clients to services and making sure that they remain connected throughout their legal issues is critical to good outcomes. Child protection work complements our existing service mix, which focusses on vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community, especially women and children. We have an experienced team of child protection lawyers at Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre and are uniquely positioned to successfully deliver child protection and related legal services. Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre is delighted to receive ongoing funding from VLA, which will allow us to continue our established work in this important area.’
The announcement comes only weeks after our Child Protection team (pictured), Nickie King and Christie George, spoke about the program’s outcomes and client engagement at the 2017 National Community Legal Centres Conference in Canberra. Nickie and Christie’s presentation drew attention to the increase in the number of families involved with child protection services and the challenges faced by our service, including the need to create cultural change in a highly adversarial system that is typically reactive and crisis driven. (Nickie and Christie’s presentation is available on our YouTube channel.)
Child Protection is a specialised area of law and there are limited practitioners in our region, with many clients not engaging at all with legal services. Prior to the pilot taking on its first clients in early 2016, Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre had undertaken some child protection work through our Health-Justice Partnership with Bendigo Community Health Services.
While our work in child protection matters was limited, it nonetheless interested VLA, which was keen to fund a program that represented a move away from a crisis-driven approach towards more ‘holistic, intensive and continuous legal services in child protection and related-legal matters.’ As Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law at VLA, Nicole Rich, noted, ‘There aren’t enough Lawyers to respond to the growing number of child protection cases, particularly in regional Victoria.’
In late 2015, VLA funded Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre and Women’s Legal Service to deliver pilot services that achieved better outcomes for local families. As Christie George noted, the pilot funding enabled us ‘to increase capacity to do child protection work and to be more switched on to child protection issues.’
VLA’s recent funding announcement is supported by extensive evaluation of the two pilots, which demonstrated the services’ impact. In Loddon Campaspe CLC’s case, 93% of our child protection clients felt respected and listened to by the lawyers, 87% found the legal advice provided by our lawyers easy to understand, and four out of five clients were happy with the service they received, with two thirds saying they were ‘very happy’.
One client commented, ‘They [the Lawyers] 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.’
Another client said, ‘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.’
To mark National Child Protection Week, Loddon Campaspe CLC’s Child Protection Legal Service is presenting an expert panel discussion in Bendigo this Thursday morning for community services, child protection workers and Children’s Court Lawyers. Expert panellists will explore initiatives and research into how strong communities promote child safety.
Nathaniel Taylor (Manager, Koori Advisory and Engagement Unit, Commissioner for Children and Young People) will be the forum’s Guest Speaker. Panellists will include representatives from Bendigo Community Health Services, the Department of Health and Human Services (Loddon Office), Victoria Legal Aid and MacKillop Family Services.