Early support for families recognised at non-legal service launch

Early support for families recognised at non-legal service launch

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

IFAS staff L–R: Neil Boyack, Judy Williams, Robyn Buchanan, Helen Makregiorgos, Steph Headon.
IFAS staff L–R: Neil Boyack, Judy Williams, Robyn Buchanan, Helen Makregiorgos, Steph Headon.

The importance of providing early support to families in the child protection system was recognised at the Melbourne launch of our new pilot service, Independent Family Advocacy and Support (IFAS).

IFAS aims to assist families who are involved in the child protection system before they go to court with non-legal support and advocacy to understand their rights and responsibilities and to speak up about what they need to keep their family strong and children safe.

Judge Chambers, President of the Children’s Court, representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, and our partners from other legal and social service providers gathered in Melbourne last week for the official launch of IFAS.

Our CEO Louise Glanville spoke about why the pilot service is prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and parents with intellectual disabilities.

‘Aboriginal families are over-represented in our legal and child protection systems,’ said Louise. 

‘We are exploring this model of non-legal advocacy because we know providing earlier help and support can make a difference in keeping more families together and children connected to their culture.

‘Our Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review noted that around one third of child protection cases that go to court do not require the immediate removal of a child, so there is an opportunity to work with parents in a positive way, helping them to identify goals and needs, and linking them up with the necessary support,’ said Louise.

The development of IFAS has been supported by a reference group of people with personal experience of the child protection system.

IFAS lived-experience consultant Isla Swanston shared her own first-hand involvement in the child protection system, and explained why IFAS will be so important.

‘Having someone explain my rights and privileges without having to go to court would’ve been much better for me in helping my anxiety and concern of having my children removed from our home,’ said Isla.

At the launch, Victoria Legal Aid Deputy Managing Lawyer, Child Protection, Erica Contini also expressed her enthusiasm and optimism that our new initiative will help to ensure the best interests of children and families are upheld.

‘I’m with clients in critical moments who are often in crisis mode when they attend court,’ said Erica.

‘I’m always thinking ‘if you had someone to speak to ahead of time, you wouldn’t be here.’

‘IFAS will be fantastic as an early intervention to divert families away from the court system,’ said Erica.

IFAS is one of the 36 actions we endorsed after an extensive review of our child protection legal aid services last year.

The pilot service is operating in the Darebin and Moreland areas of Melbourne, and will open in Bendigo later this month.

More information

Read more about our Independent Family Advocacy and Support Service and how you can access the service.

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