We are working with the State Government and others, including police, courts, family violence services and community legal centres, to improve the way we respond to family violence. The practice expertise we are contributing through this work will help drive change and shape laws and services to benefit clients and the community.
We are committed to the elimination of violence in the community. Our response to family violence and the recommendations includes service design, professional development, community legal education, and contributing our expertise to changes to the law and practice.
Why safety is important
Legal services play an important preventative role in responding to family violence. Legal services can enhance victim safety and increase perpetrator accountability.
We are more likely to achieve safer long-term outcomes and reduce the prevalence of violence in the community by providing legal advice to people who use or have experienced family violence.
We work with Victoria Police, the courts and support services to connect people with the services they need to deal with their legal and non-legal needs. Providing safety-aware legal services is a key part of a quality legal service.
While lawyers are not risk managers, they can and do see indicators, or flags, of risks when they work with clients. The Client Safety Framework (CSF) was developed for our in-house legal and non-legal practice as part of our organisation-wide response to family violence.
It ensures that our client-facing staff are delivering robust advice to their clients, meeting all ethical obligations, and promoting safety while doing so.
Client Safety Framework
The CSF helps our staff to understand the nature and dynamics of family violence, harm and lethality indicators in a family violence context. It also helps them to identify suicide risk indicators.
It gives them tools to be able to respond appropriately when providing legal advice, casework services and referrals to specialist support services.
The CSF recognises the ways lawyers and non-legal workers interact with clients can make a difference in our client’s lives. This may help to minimise safety risks and the chance of re-offending.
The CSF is not a safety planning tool or ongoing risk management framework. It supports our staff to:
- identify safety risk indicators
- understand the nature of risk (particularly high risk)
- provide safety-informed legal advice
- make appropriate referrals to support services.
Why is a risk identification framework needed for lawyers?
Legal services can be vital points of identification for serious harm and lethality risk indicators in a family violence context. This is because:
- lawyers are privy to information that has a bearing on risk
- lawyers are trusted professionals who can provide motivating referrals to increase safety
- family violence is a multi-faceted legal issue where early identification will impact on any advice given.
How was the CSF developed?
An external advisory group made up of experts from key family violence support, homelessness, behaviour change programs and youth work fields was formed. This group ensured the tool was relevant and aligned with sector and community expectations.
Our tool needed to cater for working with both victims and people who use violence in their relationships. It also needed to respond to the diverse work settings that our staff experience – both seeing clients and delivering services (for example duty lawyering, telephone advice and ongoing casework).
How does it work?
There are three components to the CSF:
- Safety aware practice principles
These principles direct the values and tone under which client interactions take place. They underpin a supportive and inclusive environment for honest discussion about client safety risks.
- The Recognise, Apply and Respond model
The Recognise, Apply and Respond model guides practitioners to use the information available to lawyers in diverse settings so that they can recognise safety risk indicators, clarify the nature of the risk and address family violence risk factors. Ways of addressing family violence include giving tailored legal advice and identifying appropriate referrals if necessary.
This model does not set any expectation or requirement around lawyers acting as risk managers or engaging in ongoing safety planning.
We run a one-day training session for our staff on the CSF. In the training we cover the nature and dynamics of family violence, what evidence-based safety risk indicators look like in the context of legal work, how to ask important questions with tact and relevance, and how to make appropriate referrals.
What our staff say about the CSF
Our staff say the CSF is:
- easy to use
- built on an understanding of a lawyer’s role for clients who have experienced or used family violence
- clarifies what is and is not a lawyer’s role when faced with family violence legal issues
- is not an addition to your practice but a lens to see client’s issues more clearly
- helps build more trusting and constructive relationship with clients
- assists you in having hard conversations.
For more information, please contact Associate Director Family Violence Response Leanne Sinclair – (03) 9269 0234 (switchboard).
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
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Reviewed 13 December 2022