New services to meet increased demand for family violence legal help

New services to meet increased demand for family violence legal help

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

We implemented a range of new, early intervention services to respond to the community’s increasing need for help with family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Family violence has been the most common legal problem we’ve helped people with across all our services during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said Amy Schwebel, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Acting Executive Director, Family, Youth and Children’s Law.

Importantly, our data shows a 13 per cent total increase across all our services for people experiencing or fleeing family violence between March and October this year, compared to the same period last year.

Graphic showing a 13 per cent increase in overall services for people facing family violence between March to October 2020, compared to the same period in 2019

This is significant given the overall number of people helped by VLA across all program areas and legal matters was lower during this time due to COVID-19.

‘We know people sought extra help from family violence services and Victoria police during the lockdown period,’ said Amy.

‘While many cases were adjourned due to COVID-19 the courts have continued to hear urgent family violence matters, demonstrating the importance of people accessing early legal assistance alongside social services support.’

‘We have worked collaboratively with our partners in the community legal sector to provide this support to as many people as possible.’

Prioritising safety

Not surprisingly, there’s been a significant increase in people seeking help and information via our free Legal Help phone and webchat service.

To respond to this need we set up a priority service on the phone in May and webchat channel in June for people seeking help with family violence.

‘The webchat channel in particular was tailored towards people who could not make a call from their home during the period of stay at home restrictions because they were worried about their safety at home,’ said Amy.

Between July and the end of October we answered 23 per cent more calls and more than triple the number of webchats (236 per cent increase) from victim/survivors or people facing family violence, compared to the same time period last year when the webchat service was relatively new.

For the same time period we answered a similar number of calls, but a 187 per cent increase in webchats from people accused of using family violence or those worried about their own behaviour.

 

Graphic showing a 236 per cent increase in webchats and a 23 per cent increase in calls answered by Legal Help from people facing family violence between July and October compared to the same period in 2019

Graphic showing a 187 per cent increase in webchats and a steady rate of calls answered from people responding to accusations of family violence between July and October 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

We have been able to respond to 71 per cent of calls and 90 per cent of chats on the priority channels.

Many people using webchat will be referred onto a more intensive service and we are looking at ways to provide that tailored advice at their first point of contact.

Services at court

During COVID-19 fewer people have been attending court in person to see a duty lawyer on the day their matter is listed.

We have switched to providing services remotely across the state, and in some circumstances we are providing advice to people over the phone in advance of their court date.

Where we have the resources, we have actively promoted the pre-court advice option to the courts, police, family violence services and our partners in the community legal centre sector.

‘Pre-court advice is a feature of Victoria’s specialist family violence courts, but we believe it should be available in all Magistrates’ Courts across Victoria,’ said Amy.

We are exploring ways for the legal assistance sector to extend pre-court advice services and the Legal Help priority channels beyond the COVID-19 pandemic because we are confident they play a role in improving safety in our community.

More information

Read more about the legal services we are designing for Victoria’s Specialist Family Violence Courts.

Get help for family violence.

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