More than 11 thousand people contacted our specialist Legal Help family violence priority phone line in its first year of operation, with callers waiting significantly less time for their call to be answered than on our general Legal Help phone line.
We launched the priority line in May last year to respond to concerns that COVID-19 restrictions and physical court closures were increasing safety risks for people experiencing family violence, and preventing them from accessing legal information and advice.
‘In April last year, our Legal Help and reception staff noticed an increase in the number of people unable to wait on the line or others speaking in whispers because they were at home in an unsafe situation,’ said Leanne Sinclair, Victoria Legal Aid’s Associate Director, Family Violence Response.
‘This demonstrated to us that we needed to introduce a priority response for people with family violence legal matters to quickly receive information and advice,’ said Leanne.
The phone line was followed by a priority web chat channel in June, which has also recorded very strong demand.
‘The webchat channel quickly became very important for people who could not safely make a phone call during the stay at home restrictions,’ said Jon Cina, Associate Director Access and Equity.
Key figures for first 12 months of operations
11,222 calls made to the Legal Help Family Violence priority line
Average wait time: 7 minutes and 11 seconds
Average length of call: 26 minutes and 54 seconds.
Making a difference
Legal Help lawyer Kelly Beck said while the subject matter meant working on the family violence priority line could be difficult, it has also been very rewarding to know that clients are accessing the family violence assistance they need.
‘During the peak of the pandemic in Victoria, it allowed the most vulnerable people to access legal advice and support when many services were no longer available to them, or when they could not leave their homes,’ said Kelly.
‘It is making a difference to people with family violence needs as it allows people to access services expediently and safely.
‘In particular, I consider it is providing a real difference to culturally and linguistically diverse community members who may not feel comfortable attending physical services and speaking to someone face to face initially about their family violence concerns.
‘The service allows people to speak to someone who has insight into the complex needs of people experiencing or perpetrating family violence,’ said Kelly.
Fellow Legal Help lawyer, Debbie Nadar said the specialist safety training for staff on the priority line meant they could provide more targeted services to more people.
Debbie said callers to the priority line have appreciated being able to get straight through to someone who can help.
‘The benefit of the family violence priority line is that callers in need of urgent assistance do not have to wait in the queue for long durations, hence reducing the likelihood that they will give up and hang up,’ said Debbie.
‘We are reducing the risk of priority clients not receiving the assistance they need.’
Debbie has brought her previous work in family law to the task, as well as insights from her personal experience.
‘I am of an Arabic background and have witnessed many women in my family become victims, as well as many men become perpetrators of family violence. Admitting you are a victim of family violence is the hard part. Providing people with the advice and legal pathways they deserve, that’s the easy part,’ said Debbie.
‘I commend all victims for coming forward and saying, “I need help” and contacting our service. I also commend any perpetrators for taking responsibility and seeking help. At VLA, we are committed to prioritising family violence issues and I am grateful to work for an organisation where I can contribute to the ongoing success of these projects.’
Reviewed 14 April 2022