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Annual Report 2011 - 2012

Holistic services

Meeting clients’ complex needs

The social workers in our Client Assessment and Referral Service (CARS) work collaboratively with lawyers to ensure the best possible outcomes for clients.

They do this by preparing psychosocial assessments for use in court that address the complex range of social difficulties underlying people’s legal problems. They also link clients to other services that can assist them.

Major achievements

Priority: Access to justice

Social workers assisted 510 clients referred to the unit, mostly by the criminal law practice.

They assessed 472 clients, providing 263 psychosocial reports for use in court and making 380 referrals to other agencies. Clients needed assistance with a range of issues, key areas being mental health, intellectual disability, drugs and alcohol, homelessness and parenting.

Halting the ‘roundabout’

There is a risk that some people are referred from service to service on the ‘referral roundabout’, failing to find the help they need. A strategy was developed to improve the consistency and accuracy of information and referrals across Legal Aid NSW.

Central to the strategy was establishing a network, with representatives from regional offices and Central Sydney. Other actions finalised under the strategy in 2011–2012 included:

  • creating clear pathways on the new Legal Aid NSW website for people who need legal help and for lawyers and service providers;
  • providing referral training for Legal Aid NSW staff with LawAccess to improve skills; and
  • improving the process for legal aid applications which directs people refused aid to appropriate services.

Priority: Linking services

Case managing clients with intellectual disabilities

Section 32 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 permits people with a mental illness, intellectual disability or acquired brain injury (ABI) who are facing criminal charges to be diverted from the justice system and receive treatment. To increase the number of diversions, the Client Assessment and Referral Unit launched a pilot to assist private lawyers in the Shoalhaven in making case plans for clients with intellectual disability or ABI in s32 matters. All clients referred to date under the pilot have been granted a diversion order. There will be an evaluation in 2012–2013.

The pilot was set up under a partnership between Legal Aid NSW and the Intellectual Disability Rights Service. See Intellectual disability partnership.

The Disability Casework Project (part of the Disability Services Improvement Project) funded for two years by the Public Purpose Fund, aims to help divert clients away from the justice system through enhanced assessment and referral services. Early results indicate diversion in 100% of matters with 88% of clients not reoffending while completing their diversion order.

The clients, young people with intellectual disability or ABI, are among the most disadvantaged of all Legal Aid NSW client groups, having complex social histories and multiple health and welfare needs. This high proportion of clients who received a s32 order did not pay a fine or go to gaol, but agreed to get help under a support or treatment plan (see graph below).

Disability Casework Project results

Planning ahead

Year ahead

Evaluate the Shoalhaven pilot project for private lawyers.

Evaluate the Disability Casework Project.

Evaluate the Information and Referral Strategy.

Key challenge

Developing consistent, high-quality referral practices across Legal Aid NSW, supported by the new referral network.

Case: Holistic support changes a young life

Following an argument with his mother, a 15-year-old boy was charged with assault and multiple property damage offences. He was taken to Westmead Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed anti-psychotic medication, but did not comply with taking it.

Psychosocial assessment by a legal aid social worker found the boy had endured a traumatic and abusive childhood and spent the past 10 years living in different foster care homes. Reunion with his mother after running away from a foster care placement proved disastrous given his early family history and mental health condition.

With social work help, the boy was able to address a range of problems. He moved in with his aunt, received psychological counselling, took medication and attended an anger management course.