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Annual Report 2016 - 2017

Effective partnerships benefit the community

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

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Achieving better health and legal outcomes for clients

Legal Aid NSW has increased its response to Australian and international evidence regarding the adverse health and social consequences resulting from unresolved legal problems. Research shows a correlation between long-term illness/disability and legal problems with the number of legal problems increasing with the level of disability or illness. Health justice partnerships aim to integrate health and legal services to improve health, wellbeing and legal outcomes for clients.

Our partnerships with health services expanded over the year to include new partnerships with Headspace in Dubbo, Community Mental Health in Campbelltown, Maayu Mali Aboriginal Residential Rehabilitation Service in Moree, Calvary Riverina Hospital Drug and Alcohol Service Rehabilitation Clinic in Wagga Wagga, and The Royal Women’s Hospital and the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network in Randwick. We are also partnering with a number of services for the Northcott renewal project—a housing renewal project for the public housing precinct in Surry Hills.

In a first for Legal Aid NSW, we launched a new partnership with Blacktown Drug Health Service (DHS) where our lawyers attend a weekly advice clinic, engaging with clients before they appear in court. The DHS includes a methadone clinic where over 200 patients attend daily.

Lawyers see clinic patients on a non-appointment basis and have assisted 55 clients since the partnership began. Many more patients have been assisted informally with legal information and referrals.

Rounding things off, the DHS has now become a Work and Development Order provider assisting clients to work off their debts. At the same time, a family law health justice partnership at Blacktown Hospital meets clients’ family law needs. These combined initiatives address clients’ multiple legal and health needs efficiently and effectively.

Case study

Health justice partnership location: Blacktown Hospital Methadone Clinic

Our lawyer saw Phil* who had a criminal matter already listed for hearing at a nearby Local Court. Phil had not sought legal advice before and had represented himself until this point. He had no intention of instructing a lawyer at the hearing.

Our partners at the clinic referred Phil to our lawyer for on-site advice. We were able to advise Phil that the reasons he had pleaded not guilty were not in fact a defence to the charge. However, these reasons would be taken into account by the Court in reducing his sentence.

Health justice partnership location: The Hub Community Health Centre and Budyari Aboriginal Community Health Centre

Jane* was referred to us by an Aboriginal health worker who was worried that Jane was being bullied and harassed by her son, who had recently moved into her public housing home. Jane could not leave her house due to illness, so we provided Jane with telephone advice. We advised Jane to tell Housing NSW that her son was living in her home or she could be in breach of her lease. This could lead to termination of her lease and a large rental debt. Jane had asked her son to leave but he refused. Her son had to go to court soon and she was worried about what would happen.

Our lawyer explained Jane’s options to her and told her son that he could not live at his mother’s house without the knowledge of Housing NSW. Jane’s son eventually left her home, and her tenancy was no longer at risk. We referred Jane’s son to South West Sydney Legal Centre for help with his criminal matter.

* Not our clients’ real names.

Protecting vulnerable young people stops their ‘drift into crime’

Just over a year ago, Family and Community Services, the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies and Family and Community Care State Secretariat (NSW) entered into a formal protocol with Police on a way to respond better to challenging behaviours by children and young people in out-of-home care. Legal Aid NSW worked closely with the NSW Ombudsman’s Office to drive the development of the protocol.

The protocol was a response to long held concerns about the use of callouts to Police as a behaviour management tool for young people in care. This has led to unnecessary and frequent interaction with the criminal justice system for a group of extremely vulnerable young people.

Legal Aid NSW is a member of the state-wide steering committee that includes Family and Community Services, Juvenile Justice, NSW Ombudsman’s Office, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd, Office of the Children’s Guardian, NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, out-of-home care providers, and Police.

In practice, the protocol has provided a more holistic and hands-on approach to dealing with children in care, particularly when they have complex needs. Stakeholders such as Police, residential care providers, counsellors and Legal Aid NSW lawyers have worked together to achieve the best outcomes for these young people.

During 2016–2017, we partnered with Family and Community Services to train our partners and increase their awareness of the protocol’s guidelines.

Case study

Unnecessary interaction with the criminal justice system avoided

Legal Aid NSW assisted Family and Community Services caseworkers to open a dialogue with Police about the protocol in relation to a young person in out-of-home care. The out-of-home care provider had earlier approached the Police about how they could best manage the young person’s trauma-induced behaviour without criminalising her.

Police at first felt constrained by domestic violence legislation; however, when introduced to the Protocol they were happy to use it as a framework for a more supportive model of intervention as opposed to each interaction leading to a charge.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

New tool for lawyers working with vulnerable clients

In partnership with the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University, we developed a Good Practice Guide for Independent Children’s Lawyers guided by the results of a survey and a literature review. It encourages Independent Children’s Lawyers and others to reflect on the ways they currently engage with children and how this may impact on children’s understanding and experience of family law processes.

Tenants are paying off their debts and remaining housed

A ground-breaking housing partnership between Bridge Housing Limited, Legal Aid NSW and other community partners offers tenants an alternative way to repay arrears and to address underlying issues that have led to their debt.

Hand Up is modelled on the successful Work and Development Order (WDO) Scheme, a partnership between Legal Aid NSW, Revenue NSW and the Department of Justice, that enables people experiencing serious hardship to pay off fines through approved activities.

Hand Up tenants with high or repeat arrears are able to ‘pay off’ the debt owed to Bridge Housing by undertaking financial counselling plus an approved activity or treatment program.

Hand Up was formally evaluated this year (report released in May 2017) with extremely positive findings. All participating tenants have remained housed and some have already paid off their debt entirely.

Interdisciplinary learning and training will improve client service

Training guided our partners to identify legal issues. It included:

  • education workshops at Melaleuca House mental health facility and Blacktown Hospital
  • lunchtime learning talks held by the Illawarra Health Justice Partnership in Wollongong on topics like elder financial abuse, and assisting clients whose application for the Disability Support Pension has been rejected
  • regional training about compulsory schooling orders included panel lawyers and Magistrates
  • advocacy training for Independent Children’s Lawyers
  • a clinical supervision program to state wide family dispute resolution practitioners to ensure a continuing high standard of mediation.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

Turning young Aboriginal lives around

The Youth Koori Court based at Parramatta Children’s Court marked its second year as a pilot program. Legal Aid NSW partners with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd to provide advice to young Aboriginal people with complex needs and, often, multiple civil law issues which, if left unattended, would affect their path to rehabilitation and staying out of the criminal justice system.

The Court’s success depends very much on wider collaboration from all sides of the legal fraternity, including Elders, Magistrates, the Police, Juvenile Justice, Western Sydney Community Legal Centre and non-government organisations that support the Court.

Since the program commenced, Legal Aid NSW lawyers have worked with over 70 participants. In February 2017, Senator for Western Australia, Pat Dodson attended the court and spoke to young people directly. He commended the partners of the Court for their work in “laying down the pathway for our youth to reduce their interface with the criminal justice system”.

Case study

“My life has changed since I joined the court”

Laura, a young mother, had pleaded guilty to offences of violence but had been out of trouble since she had commenced on her Youth Koori Court action and support plan. She told the Court that “ever since I joined the Court, my life has turned around and changed. I have goals and my support worker helped me accomplish them”.

Seeking more effective state and national models

Legal Aid NSW and the Mental Health Commission of NSW co-chair the NSW Health Justice Partnership Community of Practice. This year we hosted Putting the Consumer First: Creating a person-centred HJP attended by more than 50 health, legal and community services practitioners.

Legal Aid NSW chairs the Sydney East Justice and Wellbeing Task group–a multi-agency task group which aims to progress more effective models of collaboration between the health and justice sectors.

The Task Group worked on a blueprint for evaluation strategies.

Legal Aid NSW worked closely with Clayton Utz and Justice Connect in their establishment of Health Justice Australia—the new national centre for health justice partnerships. The centre will conduct research and evaluation and develop resources for lawyers as well as advocate for reform.

We worked with partners across New South Wales and Commonwealth Government agencies to establish the New South Wales and Commonwealth Government Working Group to Prevent Underage Forced Marriage.

By expanding the scope of work of Legal Aid Care Partners, we were able to capture early intervention work with families, leading to more referrals and support for early intervention liaison between care partners, non-government organisations and Family and Community Services.

We convened the Child Support Liaison Group with membership from Community Legal Centres NSW, LawAccess NSW, the Department of Human Services and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

In partnership with the Inner City Legal Centre, we organised a forum on the social, medical and legal issues facing children with gender dysphoria, attracting over 100 attendees.

The year ahead

  • Strengthen our health justice partnerships and undertake strategic planning to help allocate resources where they will have the most impact for our clients.
  • Participate in an evaluation of the out-of-home care protocol and deliver training about it to the Judiciary and Police prosecutors.
  • Lead the development of a multi-disciplinary training program for lawyers on the representation of children in family law matters.
  • Develop a framework for a coordinated state-wide approach to supporting private lawyers through shared training and resources.
  • Develop a management framework for Legal Aid NSW key partnerships.