Monash Health will partner with the Women’s Legal Service Victoria to host a new Health Justice Partnership (HJP) designed to maximise the possibility women experiencing family violence during pregnancy can remain united with their baby after birth.
The Legal Services Commissioner has awarded $338,000 for one year to enable the Women’s Legal Service to provide a lawyer, project officer and social worker to be located on site at Monash Medical Centre for an early intervention child protection pilot project.
The early intervention HJP will ensure women experiencing family violence, at risk of family violence, or already involved with the child protection system, are supported with legal advice throughout pregnancy and prior to hospital discharge so that mother and baby can remain united after birth.
The appointed lawyer will be based at Monash Medical Centre two days per week and receive referrals from social work and midwifery staff. The lawyer will be able to provide patients with direct legal advice such as how to apply for an intervention order, legal support with accommodation issues, legal advice and support if Child Protection are involved and advice regarding navigating the court systems.
Head of Social Work, Jacinta Re, says the experience of social workers at Monash mirrors the experience which has driven the set-up of health justice partnerships around Australia – people are almost twice as likely to ask a health and wellbeing professional for legal advice as they are to speak with a lawyer.
Jacinta says Monash has been able to demonstrate successes with its existing HJP with InTouch – Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, which provides legal services from Dandenong Hospital to people from CALD communities.
The new service, which is likely to start in the first quarter of 2020, will be social-work led and available to women right across Monash Health, with midwifery one of the key stakeholders. The social work team will accept referrals from across the organisation, with systems and processes to support the service to be developed before it launches.
“We want this to empower women who have experienced family violence to make informed decisions and reduce the risk of mums and babies being separated,” Jacinta said.
“Often a big part of psychosocial issues and stresses of our clients relate to legal and financial challenges. We are expecting this kind of empowerment and early intervention will maximise legal outcomes and allow them to tap into legal advocacy to help with informed decision making
“For the social work team, this will also enhance our practice and help us with how we effectively support our clients. By improving our social workers’ understanding of the systems our clients are engaged with, including the legal frameworks that guide practice, we envisage that we will see positive client outcomes,” Jacinta said.
A governance committee will be established by Social Work with key midwifery staff and representatives from Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Monash Health key stakeholders, Safe Steps Family Violence Response Service and Victoria Police.
The partnership between Monash Health and the Women’s Legal Service was one of 15 projects awarded funding by the Legal Services Board, and one of 41 which applied in the 2019 round of funding. This is part of the Legal Services Board’s Designing Justice Differently program.
The pilot period is for an initial 12 months with potential scope to extend after the evaluation.