New service offering support to Bendigo families

New service offering support to Bendigo families

Thursday, 4 April 2019

A new service in Bendigo is providing early assistance to families to address child protection concerns in a positive and supported way.

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) is funding the Independent Family Advocacy and Support (IFAS) service for three years, to evaluate if a non-legal advocacy service can help more families to engage with child protection and other services, before they have to go to court.

‘Our review of child protection legal aid services, released in 2017, identified the need for this sort of early intervention for families to help them understand their rights and responsibilities as part of the child protection system,’ VLA Executive Director for Loddon-Campaspe, Peter Noble said.

‘Our advocates work with families to identify their own goals and needs and to develop their skills and confidence to speak up for themselves,’ Mr Noble said.

‘IFAS can provide information about the child protection system and arrange referrals to other support services like drug and alcohol counselling or parenting programs. If families need legal advice as well, they’ll be referred to a lawyer for help.’

The IFAS team includes a lived experience consultant, Isla Swanston, who has experience of both the out of home care and child protection systems.

‘I believe that having a program like IFAS would have been helpful for me to navigate the system to prevent myself and my children’s cases from getting to the court system,’ Ms Swanston said.

‘To be able to have someone to help me know my rights and to understand them, and to also know that I could gather my own evidence to prove concerns about my parenting skills were not valid, would have been very valuable.’

‘All of my children remain in my care, and I’m proud to be working with a team who can provide that advice and support to other parents.’

While families involved in the child protection system may ask for assistance, IFAS is prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families or those where one or both parents have an intellectual disability.

‘We know Aboriginal families are over-represented in the child protection system, and we hope this kind of early support will help more families to stay together and connected to their culture,’ Mr Noble said.

IFAS is working closely with health, social service and Aboriginal organisations to help potential clients who may benefit from extra support to access the program.

The IFAS pilot is running in Bendigo and the Darebin and Moreland region of Melbourne and it welcomes referrals from other organisations.

Bendigo was chosen to assess the usefulness of such a service in a regional area, where there is a good range of other support services to collaborate with IFAS.

In 2017–18 Victoria Legal Aid funded 440 ongoing grants of assistance for child protection matters in Bendigo, and 350 child protection duty lawyer services.

More information

Read more information about Independent Family Advocacy and Support.

Read our Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry please contact Senior Communications Advisor Naomi Woodley on 0409 281 304 or email Naomi.Woodley@vla.vic.gov.au

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