New approach to help keep children and families safe from family violence

New approach to help keep children and families safe from family violence

Tuesday, 6 June 2017
L–R: The Honourable Justice Christine Thornton, Family Court of Australia; Magistrate Kate Hawkins, Supervising Magistrate Family Violence and Family Law, Magistrates’ Court of Victoria; Gayathri Paramasivam, Associate Director Family Law, Victoria Legal
L–R: Hon Justice Christine Thornton, Family Court of Australia; Magistrate Kate Hawkins, Magistrates’ Court of Victoria; Gayathri Paramasivam, Associate Director Family Law, VLA; Senator James Paterson, Parliament of Australia; Leanne Sinclair, Associate Director Family Violence Response, VLA; Nicole Rich, Executive Director Family, Youth and Children's Law, VLA.

A new approach that combines specialist legal assistance and social support is now available for families affected by family violence who are involved in family law proceedings.

Launched on Tuesday 6 June by Senator James Paterson, the new Family Advocacy and Support Services place lawyers and specialist family violence support workers in both of the state's busy daily family law courts, Melbourne and Dandenong.  

Family Advocacy and Support Services have been established by Victoria Legal Aid with funding from the Australian Government under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022.

Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law Nicole Rich said: ‘People coming to family law courts have more than just legal needs, so this new and enhanced service combines legal advice, risk screening, safety planning, social support and referrals.

‘It is the first time people coming to these courts who are affected by family violence can be directed straight to the different support services they need.

'Previously, they would have been given a phone number by a duty lawyer, but in many cases they would have nowhere to go after that – often leaving significant issues that contribute to family violence unresolved.'

Executive Director Family, Youth and Children's Law Nicole Rich

Ms Rich said that looking at new ways of delivering a combination of services was important because about 80 per cent of all legal aid cases at the family courts have some element of family violence.

‘This is about trying to help people break the cycle of violence and keep children and families safe by providing the right combination of help at a crucial time,’ she said.

Family Advocacy and Support Services staff will assist both victims and perpetrators.

Social support available through this service will help people engage with family law processes in ways that keep them and their families safe.

It will also connect people with relevant services, such as accommodation, financial counselling, and drug and alcohol support.

Legal services will ensure that the voices of family violence victims are heard.

Ms Rich said that this might include, for example, helping to gather evidence so that courts have a more complete picture of a family’s situation, or representing a parent in an urgent application.

‘In more of a one-stop-shop approach, people will also get legal assistance with related State-based legal issues, such as family violence intervention orders and child protection.’

The services will also support perpetrators to leave violent patterns of behaviour behind.

Family Advocacy and Support Services are funded to run until 30 June 2019. 

Kim’s experience

In cases like Kim's (not her real name), it is easy to see the benefits of providing more than legal advice. Find out how Kim got legal advice and other help, which meant that she is no longer living in fear that she and her children will be forced out of their home.

Read Family Advocacy and Support Services – Kim’s experience

Key facts about FASS

  • In 2016 the Commonwealth committed $18.5 million over three years for integrated duty lawyer and social support services in family law courts across Australia
  • FASS is a national scheme that enables legal aid commissions in Australia to work alongside specialist family violence services to help families affected by violence work across state and federal court systems
  • Victoria Legal Aid has established FASS at the Family Law Registries in Melbourne and Dandenong
  • FASS builds on existing duty lawyer services in family court settings to offer legal advice, risk screening and assessments, safety planning, social support services and referrals for families affected by violence
  • At Melbourne, social support is delivered through partnerships with Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre and No To Violence Men’s Referral Service. Victoria Legal Aid and Family Law Legal Service provide the duty lawyer services
  • At Dandenong, social support is delivered through partnerships with WAYSS Ltd and Relationships Australia. Victoria Legal Aid and Peninsula Community Legal Centre provide the duty lawyer services
  • For information about FASS in Victoria, call Legal Help on 1300 792 387  

Find out more about our response to family violence

We are working on many other initiatives to better respond to family violence. 

Watch Facebook live to find out from our Executive Director Family, Youth and Children's Law Nicole Rich about how we are working with others in service design, delivery and education.

Our Associate Director Family Violence Response Leanne Sinclair also reflects on the journey that now sees family violence risk identification underpin all Victoria Legal Aid staff interactions with clients. Read her LinkedIn post Identifying family violence risk... A job for everyone, even between dumplings

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry, please contact Senior Communications Adviser Paula Wilson – (03) 9269 0620 or 0438 612 289 paula.wilson@vla.vic.gov.au