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New approach to keep kids and families safe from violence

17 May 2017

Attorney-General George Brandis QC has joined Legal Aid NSW in western Sydney to launch the Family Advocacy and Support Service in NSW.

A new service is combining specialist legal assistance and social support to help families who have been affected by violence as they navigate the family law courts.

Legal Aid NSW has received Commonwealth funding to establish the Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) in NSW under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

The service, launched in western Sydney on Wednesday by Attorney-General George Brandis QC, puts lawyers who understand trauma on hand in some of the state's busiest family law courts.

Legal Aid NSW Family Law Director Kylie Beckhouse said: “Coming to court can be a tremendously stressful experience – and when parenting disputes involve allegations of family violence, there is so much at stake.”

“This innovative approach will keep children and parents safer by offering the right support at a crucial time, with an emphasis on practical measures to keep them safe.”

In cases involving allegations of family violence, FASS duty lawyers will assist people with family law needs – for instance in cases involving child abduction or a dispute over where a child should live – and can also help people address other types of legal needs that often go hand in hand with family violence, including domestic violence orders made in state courts and victims’ support.

“Family Advocacy and Support Service lawyers will ensure the voices of family violence victims are heard - whether that is by helping gather evidence so that courts have access to a more complete picture of a family’s situation, or by representing a parent in an urgent application,” Ms Beckhouse said.

“But it also goes beyond providing much-needed legal support to treat the client as a whole person, with a unique story and a unique set of social and practical needs that extend well past the courtroom door.”

“This approach recognises that families affected by violence may also have complex non-legal needs in areas like housing and mental health."

“It allows government agencies and community-based services to work together so that victims and children don’t slip through the cracks when they most need us, and it supports perpetrators to leave violent patterns of behaviour behind.”

Family Advocacy and Support Service in action – Sarah’s story

Sarah* had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with Rod* for almost a decade. The only constant over their years together was violence, both physical and psychological. Rod repeatedly stalked Sarah, and physically hurt her while she was pregnant with their son, Zach*.

Sarah reached a turning point when Rod punched her in the face and threw her to the ground in front of Zach, who is now a toddler. Following this incident, Sarah stopped sending Zach to stay with his father, and the two parents headed to court. When Sarah arrived at the courthouse she did not have a lawyer and was terrified of going before a judge and telling her story on her own. Tearful and shaking, she approached the FASS duty lawyer and revealed her family’s history of violence.

The FASS lawyer appeared on her behalf that day and was able to seek an adjournment so that the court could properly consider all the evidence about Rod and Sarah’s history together, and how best to keep Zach safe.

Sarah has also been connected with a FASS support worker, who has been working with Sarah, the court and other services to help keep Sarah and Zach safe at home, at court and in the community. This specialist support has helped Sarah feel more confident about coming back to court, and hopeful about her future.

*Names have been changed

Further information

To learn more about the Family Advocacy and Support Service in NSW, you can call the Legal Aid NSW Domestic Violence Unit on (02) 9219 6300.