'4 out of 5 ... this is our job' – Gayathri Paramasivam on trauma informed practice

'4 out of 5 ... this is our job' – Gayathri Paramasivam on trauma informed practice

Friday, 28 July 2017

This piece was first published by Associate Director Family Law Gayahtri Paravasimam on LinkedIn, Friday 28 July 2017. 

Gayathri Paramasivam
Associate Director Family Law Gayathri Paramasivam

A number of years ago I overheard a lawyer say 'I am NOT a family violence lawyer I'm a family lawyer, when will people realise this.'

It struck me at the time as odd given the prevalence of family violence in our family law cases and the intersection of the two seemed pretty evident, at least to me it did. But given this was several years ago, perhaps the person could be excused for not connecting the two. Fast forward a few years and it is an altogether different story.

Almost 80% of legally aided family law cases across Australia involve family violence. That's four out of every five cases. With family violence being a key component of most family law work we undertake, trauma informed practice is essential.

Associate Director Family Law Gayathri Paravasimam

This week I, along with a colleague, Emma Smallwood, gave evidence on behalf of Victoria Legal Aid at the public hearings for the Parliamentary inquiry into a better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence.

We had previously provided a written submission to this Inquiry and were then invited to appear as a witness at the hearings. We were joined by our colleagues at Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service and Springvale Monash Legal Service to contribute our views on improvements that could and should be made.

One area we highlighted was the necessity for ongoing education in family violence for all professionals working within the family law system- not just lawyers but also judges, registrars, and family consultants to name a few. With family violence being core business for the family law courts these days, all family law professionals need to be appropriately trained. Otherwise we can and will miss critical opportunities for identifying risk, connecting victims to crucial supports such as safety planning for someone experiencing family violence and engaging perpetrators around accountability for their behavior and its impact. There is the risk too that judicial officers may approve or grant orders that do not achieve safety for a parent and/or the children.

Our work at Victoria Legal Aid

At Victoria Legal Aid we recognised a few years ago that family violence was an issue present in many of our legal matters. We realised the importance of our lawyers being properly equipped to deal with matters involving this ever-increasing problem. Consequently, we rolled out compulsory specialist family violence training in 2013 to all our family and criminal lawyers. A key message throughout this training involved non-collusion with a client who has perpetrated family violence. Building rapport with a client does not need to equate to (unintentionally) condoning their behaviour.

More recently, we have designed a Client Safety Framework, a risk identification tool that is at a level appropriate for all lawyers and legal admin staff to respond and apply when they are working with who may be experiencing violence, or have used violence against a family member. We are still on this journey of learning but we're certainly much further along the path and always looking for ways to improve.

A safer system, with appropriate orders made in the best interests of children, can only occur if all professionals within the system have a shared understanding of family violence, an ability to identify indicators of elevated risk, are alert to the dynamics of family violence and meet a minimum level of family violence competency.

I look forward to a time when family violence isn't a routine part of the work we do, when it is the exception rather than the rule. I'm hopeful that's sometime in the not too distant future. Lawyers have a crucial role to play in creating that future. With specialised training, we can, as a part of the community, build rapport with and help our clients while taking care to avoid condoning attitudes that implicitly support violence and instead be a part of preventing further trauma. We have a real role to play in making families and the community safer.

Follow Gayathri Paravasimam on LinkedIn.

Read our submission

Read our Submission to Parliamentary inquiry into a better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence (docx, 232.6 KB)

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