VLAF Newsletter Winter 2012
Welcome to the first Victorian Legal Assistance Forum (VLAF) E-Newsletter for 2012. We already have lots to report on for this year and also offer you an insight into some interesting events waiting in the wings.
But firstly, it is with great sadness that we say goodbye to VLAF’s Project Sponsor at VLA, Rachna Muddagouni, who is moving on to take up the role as CEO of Community West (http://communitywest.org.au/). Rachna worked at VLA for 4 ½ years and was primarily responsible for setting up Bushfire Legal Help and VLAF, both entities born from a vision of working cooperatively across the legal assistance sector for the benefit of clients. Everyone at VLAF wishes Rachna all the best for the next part of her career.
Planning for 2012
The project team and working group convenors met on two occasions earlier this year to map out VLAF work for 2012. Plans were then taken to working groups for consultation and the VLAF Main Forum for endorsement. Some of the main priorities for the VLAF Working Groups for 2012 include:
- Data collection on current trends so that the information can be made available to Main Forum members and working groups to inform the planning and development of services. VLAF can also use this information to set priorities. All working groups will report on trends to the Main Forum in their area of interest.
- Skills development of policy workers in the sector by organising workshops and sharing tools.
- Identification of campaign work for the sector
CALD Working Group
- Identification of access issues in relation to migration law.
- Capacity building and training to improve awareness and ensure organisations focus more on delivering services that meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Disability Working Group
- The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The working group aims to raise awareness of the scheme among stakeholders and explore the legal impacts.
- Exploring the model of Legal Health Checks for people with a disability or mental illness, looking at the intake, referral and triage process, developing a checklist tool and assessing training needs within the sector.
- Guardianship law reform in Victoria
Legal Referral Working Group
- Focus on professional development activities. The groups will continue to support the Federation of CLCs’ referral training package and work with VLA to provide input and support to roll out its Improved Client Access and Triage project.
- The observational placement project, which ensures to provide front line staff with the opportunity to learn and understand the work of the legal service providers, aiming to improve referrals.
- Support VLA’s project staff with the development of the Main Forum agenda.
Are you culturally competent? – VLAF’s Forum addressing CALD communities
One of the most vexed questions in the legal aid sector is how do we plan for service delivery addressing clients from diverse cultural backgrounds who have limited or no understanding of our legal system. For example, many of us are familiar with, and have worked with, clients who think that any interaction with the courts and police means ‘big trouble’.
VLAF’s CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) Working Group identified this as a major issue for legal aid sector workers and hosted a forum addressing this issue on 16 February 2012.
Over 80 people attended this VLAF Forum, The Question of Culture – dealing with CALD Communities, to hear Michal Morris, from the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health in Carlton present the keynote address. Michal highlighted that the context of culture and how organisations engage with recently arrived migrant and refugee groups is mission critical to planning programs in this sector. Her talk looked at the question of what a culturally competent organisation looks like and what steps can be taken to reach that goal.
In short, cultural competence requires that organisations:
- have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviours, attitudes, policies and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
- have the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalise cultural knowledge, and (5) adapt to the diversity and cultural contexts of the individuals, families and communities they serve.
- incorporate the above in all aspects of policy making, administration, practice and service delivery, and systematically involve consumers, families, and communities.
The keynote address was followed by an excellent panel discussion on Good Practice Models of CALD Engagement chaired by Angela Costi, Chair of the VLAF CALD Working Group and VLA’s Senior Community Legal Education Coordinator. The panel members were:
- Vicky Guglielmo, Arts and Participation Program Manager, City of Melbourne
- Jeremiah Temple, Social Inclusion Mentor Program Coordinator, The Salvation Army
- Dr Regina Quiazon, National Program Manager, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health
- Gillian Davy, Community Legal Education Worker, Western Suburbs Legal Service
- Jemal Ahmet, CEO of Whittlesea Community Connections
The panel discussed a number of compelling approaches to working with CALD communities and common themes emerged on the approaches that got the best results, such as listening carefully, thinking deeply, having an open mind and empathetically engaging with clients. The panel members openly discussed projects or programs that had failed and shared their learnings and experience. Jeremiah Temple for example related the exasperation of African communities and community workers to the general expectation that all Africans could be dealt with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Jemal Ahmet thought that organisations that already knew how to deal with people, respect them, listen to their needs and respond, were ahead of the game. All agreed that the organisations in the room dealt with the same clients and that the Forum had brought different sectors closer to working together on solutions.
VLAF Spotlight Speaker Series
This year saw VLAF launch a new innovation – an occasional speaker series to showcase projects and to share knowledge. With the larger VLAF forums looking at topics more in-depth, the idea behind the speaker series is to make sure that good work and new approaches in the sector are brought to the attention of a wider audience, and we hope that giving people this platform will lead to further innovation and partnerships.
The first speaker series on 22 March 2012 included:
- Gary Sullivan, Director, West Heidelberg Community Legal Centre, who examined the relationship between poverty and crime, proposing a number of reforms to the operation of courts, the payment of fines, the conduct of police and lawyers, and the role of welfare and support agencies in Victoria.
- Rosy Jolic, Senior Research Analyst, Victoria Legal Aid presenting the outcomes from VLA’s 2011 Client Satisfaction Survey
- Tina Turner, Senior Referral Lawyer, LIV Legal Assistance Scheme, Referral Scheme, Public Interest Law Clearing House outlining how PILCH has integrated evaluation into all of its programs.
Next Speaker Series, 22 June 2012
The VLAF occasional speaker series continues with three interesting and relevant talks that showcase innovative approaches to community engagement.
VENUE LMC, 360 Queen Street, Melbourne Vic 3000
DATE Friday, 22 June 2012
TIME 2.30 pm – 5 pm
Michele Lee, Community Legal Education, Victoria Legal Aid
Across 2010 and 2011, Victoria Legal Aid, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre and Western Edge Youth Arts developed and delivered 'Space Invaders', a legal education theatre project on police powers and young people, and presented the theatre show to seven high schools across Melbourne. Michele Lee, Senior Community Legal Education Co-ordinator, Victoria Legal Aid, will talk about the evaluation of the project and show some footage from the performance.
Tenancy and emerging communities
Laura Berta, Footscray Community Legal Centre
Footscray Community Legal Centre’s Refugee Tenancy Project was developed in response to the need for tenancy advocacy services in Melbourne’s western suburbs for vulnerable tenants of refugee background. The Project, which is supported by multi-lingual refugee community workers, encompasses a legal tenancy clinic, community legal education and community development initiatives.
Laura Berta, Community Development Solicitor, will talk about this work and the major policy report Making it Home: Refugee Housing in Melbourne’s West, which makes significant housing and tenancy recommendations.
Schools education programs – what works
Joh Kirby, VictoriaLaw Foundation
Joh Kirby, Executive Director. will talk about the Foundation’s schools education program - what works and what doesn’t in delivering schools programs drawing on the experience of the project team and the Teacher-in-Residence.
RSVP by Monday 18 June 2012 to Sina Oum -email@example.com (03) 9269 0138. Video conferencing will be available through VLA regional offices by prior arrangement. Please indicate if you wish to attend via video conferencing. For more information regarding the event contact Simon Roberts, VLAF Project Officer - firstname.lastname@example.org or (03) 9269 0545.
As a result of Tina Turner’s presentation at the Speaker Series on 22 March2012, VLAF organised a meeting for those interested in sharing knowledge to further capacity build around program evaluation. This group will not undertake any formal work but will meet from time-to-time so that participants can continue to share methodologies and outcomes. Funders and governments will increasingly demand more rigorous and formal evaluation processes which is a good reason for this group to continue to meet on an ad hoc basis. If you are interested in being part of this group contact Simon Roberts by email email@example.com or phone 03 9269 0545.
Top photo: (L to R) Kristen Hilton, Fiona Knowles, Erin McCoy and Zana Bytheway. Bottom Photo: the attentive participants in the VLAF Employment Forum
The number of clients seeking help for employment law problems has been steadily growing in recent years and in recognition of this trend VLAF hosted a forum on “Employment Law in Victoria” on 29 May 2012.
The forum brought together not only workers from the legal assistance sector, but representatives from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Fair Work Australia (FWA) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to discuss the current problems and look for adequate solutions. Hugh de Kretser, the Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, facilitated the event and started proceedings with an overview of the type of casework involved. He highlighted the complexity of addressing individual client needs given that employment law is at the intersection of state and federal jurisdictions, OH&S laws, awards and agreements, anti-discrimination legislation, human rights commissions and tax and superannuation law. He also stressed the complex referral options include community legal centres (CLCs), VLA, private firms and unions. By many measures, employment law matters continue to be amongst the most frequent legal issues and CLCs and VLA have tracked a large unmet demand in the area. At the same time, there was a big reduction in the resources allocated to the specialist Victorian CLC, Jobwatch.
Hugh’s overview was followed by a panel discussion, including Kristen Hilton, Director, Civil Justice, Access and Equity, Victoria Legal Aid, Fiona Knowles, Principal Lawyer Discrimination, Fair Work Ombudsman, Erin McCoy, Industrial Officer, ACTU and Zana Bytheway, Executive Officer, Jobwatch. Each of the panel members set out how their organisation was addressing employment law client demand:
- Kristen explained that VLA has measured a strong demand in this area through its Legal Help phone line, and is hoping to address some client needs through its new Equality Law practice.
- Fiona outlined the various strategies used by the Ombudsman to address demand, including tools on FWA’s website, alternative dispute resolution, investigations of small claims that go to the Federal Magistrates’ Court and investigations that lead to prosecutions under the Fair Work Act.
- Erin explained that the union movement’s capacity to help non-members was limited, and that it was best to be in a union to ensure proper representation in an employment dispute. The ACTU has a small call centre. However, many of the issues brought to it are pre-existing and it is then up to individual unions to decide whether they can represent a client. The call centre refers cases out to Jobwatch and VLA.
- Zana explained the funding pressures on Jobwatch over the past year, which have led to a dramatic decrease in its capacity to help clients, with over 60% of demand through its phone line being unmet in recent times. With new funding from the Federal Government, Jobwatch will be able to help many more clients through its holistic approach to client problems.
After the panel attendees broke out into three workshops on:
- Professional Development
- Existing referral mechanisms
Reporting back from the workshops it was apparent that participants from within and outside the legal assistance sector were keen to continue the dialogue around capacity building, better referral procedures and ongoing advocacy to ensure a proper level of resources is allocated to employment law in Victoria.
Summer 2011 newsletter