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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Working together for good community outcomes

Cross-sector partnerships help identify clients’ legal problems earlier and provide integrated services.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Health justice partnerships link patients to early legal assistance

Research has shown that medical and legal issues are often linked. Many of our clients have health issues that can be caused or exacerbated by their legal problems, or they have legal problems which are caused or exacerbated by their health issues. It is also the case that people are more likely to approach a health worker with an issue than a lawyer.

Legal Aid NSW has established a number of health justice partnerships with health and welfare agencies. These practical collaborations provide on-site legal assistance to vulnerable people in health-related settings including hospitals, community health centres and health outreach services in public housing estates. They attempt to reach people who are at most disadvantage in the justice system.

Legal Aid NSW now participates in 10 partnerships, with more in the planning stage. Current locations include HealthOne at Sutherland Hospital, Greenway Housing Estate in North Sydney, Bungee Bidgel Aboriginal Health Clinic in Hornsby Hospital, Bidywari Aboriginal Health Centre in Miller, Blacktown Hospital, RedLink at the Redfern Housing Estate, and Sydney West Aboriginal Health Service (formerly Aboriginal Medical Service) in Mt Druitt.

Legal Aid NSW also supports a health justice community of practice—a cross-sector working group that brings together experts in the health, legal and community service sector with an interest in the health justice partnership model.

The purpose of the group is to work together and explore opportunities for collaboration to improve health, wellbeing and legal outcomes of disadvantaged communities.

Western Sydney first: free legal service at Blacktown Hospital

A legal advice clinic was launched at Blacktown Hospital in June 2016 linking patients to timely legal assistance.

The family law advice service is mainly available to women attending the antenatal and maternity unit at Blacktown Hospital, but will also help other in-patients, day patients, their family members and staff. A family lawyer attends Blacktown Hospital every Tuesday and works closely with hospital social workers and other staff. She assists patients experiencing issues such as domestic violence, and child protection with Family and Community Services.

Case studies iconCase Study

Aniela’s story

Our client was 26 weeks pregnant with her fourth child. She had a long history of domestic and family violence and substance abuse issues. Her three older children were in the care of the Minister in two different family placements, and Aniela’s arrangements for seeing the children were causing her concerns. We assisted her to improve contact with her older children and worked with her hospital social workers to put in place appropriate referrals to services to help Aniela with counselling, parenting courses, housing and drug treatment.

We advised Family and Community Services (FACS) of the way Aniela was addressing their concerns and reinforced how her earlier life experience had affected her parenting capacity. While FACS took Aniela’s baby into care soon after the child’s birth, she still has regular contact with her baby for breast feeding and bonding and there is a plan for the baby to be restored to her care.

A lawyer represented Aniela at court and obtained letters from the hospital social workers to support her court case.

Helping stop young people’s ‘drift from care to crime’

Legal Aid NSW has played a central role in an agreement between Police and out of home care agencies on a way to better respond to challenging behaviours by children and young people in out of home care.

Legal Aid NSW has long identified concerns over the use of callouts to police as a behaviour management tool by providers of out of home care. This is an unnecessary and frequent interaction with the criminal justice system for a group of vulnerable young people.

Legal Aid NSW was central to bringing together relevant stakeholders, including the NSW Police Force and representatives of organisations that provide out-of-home care in Western Sydney, to develop guidelines outlining alternative methods of responding to young people in residential care.

Legal Aid NSW partnered with the NSW Ombudsman’s Office to facilitate the development of a statewide Protocol to reduce the Criminalisation of Young People in Residential Out-of-Home Care.

The Protocol has recently been signed, and is being endorsed by NSW Police, Family and Community Services and the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies. Legal Aid NSW is a member of the statewide steering committee which will oversee its implementation.

This work has the potential to positively affect the lives of approximately 500 young people who live in residential out-of-home care across New South Wales.

The Protocol and associated training and monitoring directly address key factors in the ‘drift from care to crime’ whereby young people in out-of-home care are caught up in the criminal justice system–in this case through the overuse of apprehended violence orders and police call-outs.

Case studies iconCase study

Jerry’s story

Jerry is 13 years old and has an extensive history of interactions with the care system. He was born with opiate withdrawal and was removed from his mother when he was six years old due to abuse, neglect and psychological harm, and placed in foster care.

At the age of 12, Jerry was placed in residential out-of-home care. In the first five months of the placement, police were called 58 times as carers used police to manage Jerry’s absconding, property damage and challenging behaviour. There were numerous charges before the Children’s Court which resulted in significant periods of time spent in custody.

Legal Aid NSW, NSW Police, Juvenile Justice, FACS, and the non-government agency which provided his out-of-home care met to discuss Jerry’s case, his history, his relationships, his complex needs, his contact with police and the Protocol.

The out-of-home care provider agreed to develop a behaviour management plan to ensure a consistent and therapeutic response to his challenging behaviour and agreed to examine policies around police involvement.

In the following three months, call outs to police significantly reduced and the period of time that Jerry spent in custody fell by 78%.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

New protocols with partner agencies support clients

Information sharing and clear referral pathways are helping to deliver better services to clients. Examples include:

  • In February 2016, Legal Aid NSW signed a new information sharing agreement with Family and Community Services (FACS). The agreement allows lawyers who are appointed to act on a child’s best interest in family law proceedings to contact FACS and obtain information about a child’s engagement with FACS. The protocol allows children’s lawyers to make enquiries and obtain information about children who might be at risk and convey this information to family courts.
  • At the end of the financial year, there were 1,990 District Court trials on hand in New South Wales. This continues a clear pattern of an increased workload over the past several years. In September 2015, Legal Aid NSW and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions signed a memorandum of understanding about committal matters in a renewed effort to reduce trial delays throughout the state. In January, a senior advocate was appointed at Central Sydney to negotiate pleas with a senior prosecutor on indictable charges handled in Sydney. Similar negotiations are taking place at all regional centres. Legal Aid NSW is monitoring the effectiveness of this initiative.

Better referral pathways bring clients to our attention

Our family law practice took a lead role in improving referrals of forced marriage matters between key agencies— the Australian Federal Police Human Trafficking Team, Salvation Army Freedom Partnership and Anti-Slavery Australia and Legal Aid NSW.

Through the new Domestic Violence Unit (see Support for victims of violence), we were able to build strong service partnerships to better respond to the legal and non-legal needs of our clients. Clear and effective referral pathways and relationships between the Domestic Violence Unit, local Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services, NSW Police, domestic violence service providers such as Staying Home, Leaving Violence, Settlement Services International, Family Relationship Centres, and Family and Community Services were established.

We contributed to the Premier’s priority of reducing domestic violence reoffending

Legal Aid NSW has collaborated with stakeholders such as the Department of Justice, Community Corrections and the Men’s Referral Service as part of the implementation of the Premier’s priority of reducing domestic violence reoffending. A senior lawyer was appointed to determine how our lawyers can help meet this priority. One strategy has been to increase appropriate referrals to domestic violence behaviour change programs. There is some evidence that these programs lower reoffending.

Legal Aid NSW lawyers have a unique opportunity to engage with domestic violence defendants in a setting where trust has been established. Lawyers can identify suitable clients and direct them towards domestic violence behavioural change programs.

Legal Aid NSW has conducted educational sessions to alert lawyers to these possible referral pathways. Resource materials setting out the referral pathways have been circulated to lawyers and given to private lawyers doing Legal Aid NSW work.

Cross-agency partnering improves services to children and parents

We worked closely with partners such as FACS, courts and Community Legal Centres to deliver a range of services in the area of care and protection. This included:

  • working with FACS to redesign the Parental Responsibility Contract in a south western Sydney pilot
  • working with the Children’s Court to develop the Cultural Care Plan
  • liaising with the Department of Education to improve the provision of legal services in Education Act 1990 (school non-attendance) matters
  • improving services to parents in custody through the Court Ordered Contact Working Group
  • contributing to the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies training tools for case workers.

Youth Koori Court pilot—one year on

The Youth Koori Court is a pilot program for Aboriginal young people which started in February 2015 and operates from Parramatta Children’s Court. It is a sentencing court that aims to reduce the risk factors that lead to young people reoffending and provides greater Aboriginal involvement in the court process by ensuring that it is culturally relevant.

The young people who have participated in the court have experienced significant disadvantage and social exclusion and have complex needs such as intergenerational trauma, homelessness, removal from the family home and drug and alcohol issues.

In the first year of this pilot, 30 young Aboriginal people were referred to the Legal Aid NSW Children’s Civil Law Service for help with legal issues like fines, debt, housing, and leaving care plans if they were in out-of-home care.

OBJECTIVE Excellence in legal services

Resourcing our partners gives clients a better service

Legal Aid NSW led the development of a national website for Independent Children’s Lawyers - www.icl.gov.au. It was launched in February 2016 and over 300 lawyers have registered to date across the country.

Key features include significant cases (editorial content provided by the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia), social science research including webinars and forums, and a national Independent Children’s Lawyer mentoring program.

Celebrating the launch of the Independent Children's Lawyer website: Gabrielle Canny, then head of National Legal Aid; Justice Judith Ryan, Family Court; Craig Kelly MP for Hughes (representing Attorney-General Senator George Brandis); Anne Hollonds, Director of Australian Institute of Family Studies and Kylie Beckhouse, Executive Director, Family Law, Legal Aid NSW

Over 800 lawyers and other professionals attended our popular criminal, family, care and civil law conferences (see Professional and personal achievements).

The Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program Unit hosted a two-day workshop for the CLSD Program Services and CLSD Program Regional Coordinators in April 2016. The workshop aimed to build on the Services’ capacity for collaborative practice and working across differences, the key skills of an effective CLSD Program Regional Coordinator.

The Regional Outreach Clinic Program (ROCP) delivered a two-day training workshop for lawyers providing advice services in regional and remote New South Wales. ROCP lawyers were trained in employment, social security, domestic violence, housing and consumer law issues likely to affect our clients in regional areas.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Expand our health justice partnerships by establishing new family law services in rural and regional health settings and at a major metropolitan Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
  • Participate in the steering committee overseeing the implementation of the Protocol for young people who live in residential out-of-home care across New South Wales.
  • Provide mandatory and specialised training on domestic and family violence for Legal Aid NSW staff and private lawyers on Legal Aid NSW panels.
  • Explore expanding the Youth Koori Court to Dubbo.