Partnerships helping young people get over life’s hurdles

Giving young people access to free legal advice in a ground-breaking first in regional Australia has resulted in many positive outcomes beyond helping fix legal problems.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan to NESAY on January 11 to meet with all the partners involved in the Invisible Hurdles project. HRCLS has partnered with NESAY, Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) to deliver the Invisible Hurdles project from October 2016 onwards.

Ms Rodgers thanked Ms McGowan for showing a strong interest in the project and offering her support in Parliament for community legal centres and initiatives to help young people struggling with life’s challenges.

“We appreciate the support from all MPs who see the value in our work and how we make a difference for people in our communities,” Ms Rodgers said.

Ms Rodgers said it was important to highlight how the partnerships were working to deliver positive outcomes, and everyone agreed co-location, relationship building and trust, and regular access to an Invisible Hurdles lawyer were main ingredients for the project’s success.

“All partners are keen for the project to continue and this is testament to the excellent work everyone is doing,” Ms Rodgers said. “Health-justice partnerships are delivering positive outcomes and it’s important for us to show Government this is a productive service model.”

The Invisible Hurdles health justice partnership project received funding through the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant program, and Legal Aid NSW also provides funding for the project to be run at AWAHS.

Representatives from NESAY, Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and AWAHS outlined how the Invisible Hurdles was helping young people, particularly in family violence situations, as well as creating other benefits for service workers, such as upskilling and education on the legal system.

NESAY executive officer Leah Waring said the health-justice partnership had created a positive ripple effect and helped enhance relationships, while giving support workers new skills.

“Our staff can now identify a potential legal problem and have the confidence to refer the people they’re seeing to the Invisible Hurdles lawyer, and young people would never make an appointment for help without this encouragement,” Ms Waring said. “Our young people are blown away that they can see a lawyer for free. Without access to the Invisible Hurdles project, the opportunities for them to get legal help are almost non-existent.”

Ms McGowan praised the Invisible Hurdles partners for their collaborative approach to address legal problems for young people in vulnerable situations and encouraged them to continue showing Government how the service model was working.

Invisible Hurdles project partners gather to discuss the success the program has created through helping young people with Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP.

Invisible Hurdles project partners gather to discuss the success the program has created through helping young people with Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP(middle).

Family violence legal services gets boost on the Border

Family violence victims living in NSW towns along the border will have the opportunity to access more legal assistance. In a positive move, the addition of a new family law position bolsters Hume Riverina Community Legal Service’s (HRCLS) ability to ensure people living in NSW who are experiencing family violence have access to legal support.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the project, funded through Commonwealth funding distributed by Legal Aid NSW, would enable HRCLS to deliver family law and family violence services in the Southern Riverina of NSW, including Albury, Corowa, Deniliquin and Finley.

“Having a dedicated lawyer provide these services will help improve support we can provide to clients in rural communities who face these issues,” she said. “We will strengthen our links with other family violence services in the region. We already have dedicated lawyers providing targeted family violence services on the Victorian side of the border, so this will ensure those living in NSW receive a similar service.”

These services will officially begin in January 2018 and have been funded until June 30, 2020.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman visited Hume Riverina Community Legal Service last week to find out how the legal service was helping people with everyday legal problems, and to hear about a new family law/family violence project targeting people in the Southern Riverina of NSW.

Ms Rodgers said the opportunity to speak directly with Mr Speakman, who made the approach to HRCLS to visit, was a chance for lawyers to explain the day-to-day challenges they face, and provide solutions.

“The Attorney General was interested to learn more about our approach and what was working well, and also what could be improved to help people get access to legal assistance,” she said. “Mr Speakman was very attentive, asked plenty of questions and able to clarify how the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme (NDVOS) will be implemented.”

Ms Rodgers said the NDVOS, which started on November 25, would help people living on the border because they no longer need to manually register their family violence protection order in NSW or Victoria.

“We have been asking for change and highlighting the difficulties for victims of family violence, who up until this point, have been responsible for registering their family protection orders across the Border,” Ms Rodgers said.

Family violence a key focus for community legal centre helping Border families

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) is joining the 16 Days of Activism campaign and principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers has welcomed the family violence focus on the Border, with local organisations playing a role to change attitude and behaviour in the community.

Ms Rodgers said it was the important for the community legal service to help promote the 16 Days of Activism and support partners, including The Women’s Centre, Yes Unlimited, Women’s Health Goulburn North East, the Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Network and the Centre Against Violence.VAV_A3_Many_hands_poster_V1-page-001

“We want to show the wider community the legal system is responding and we want to play a role to help people,” Ms Rodgers said. “When people separate they need to understand the family law process, and I encourage anyone needing free legal assistance to get in touch with us on 1800 918 377.

“We are seeing an increasing number of clients experiencing family violence and more than half the work we do is in the family law/family violence area.”

People seeking free legal help often experience a number of problems, along with domestic violence. Ms Rodgers said the excellent partnerships HRCLS has formed helped to refer people quickly to the right service to get their problems solved.

“Many people have complex issues, such as housing, fines, credit and debt,” she said. “Often they also have child safety to consider, so we work closely with our auspicing body UMFC and local service providers to get these people help to make sure their families have support and can feel safe.”

Although residents in Albury-Wodonga view themselves as living in one community, Ms Rodgers said the differences in NSW and Victorian family law meant legal issues could be complicated. “This makes it even more critical to help people through the steps in the legal process,” she said.

Getting early legal advice was also important to prioritise the best way forward. “Many people think they need to take certain steps, when in fact they made need to do other things first,” she said.

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