A Health-Justice Partnership (HJP) in NSW-Victoria border communities researched by academics from The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law has been re-commissioned following a successful trial.
The research is being led by Associate Professor Liz Curran and Pamela Taylor-Barnett in partnership with Upper Murray Family Care and local partner agencies. The organisations are involved in the “Invisible Hurdles Project”, a multidisciplinary partnership with lawyers and health, allied health and education agencies.
The project targets young people who rarely seek help with escalating legal issues. Its focus is on empowering young people, including Indigenous youths, at risk of family violence so they can gain help early and stay safe.
Stage One of the project was funded through the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant Program (LSB). It was rolled out over the course of three years in southern NSW and northern Victoria, targeting those in rural and remote communities aged 15 to 25 years and predominantly affected by family violence. Comments from allied health professionals that emerged from the research included:
“There are huge benefits, knowing that lawyers aren’t your enemy and that they can help you in so many ways that you didn’t know about.”
“Harm can be done to kids by unthinking external agencies who themselves don’t think about flow on effects of their advice for the kids and access to a lawyer has and can help so much with this. It also keeps others accountable, so young people don’t get further behind."
“A young person was suicidal and felt she had nowhere to turn. After legal advice was quickly accessed through the partnership, the young person realised things were not so bleak and she had a number of options for help.”
Stage Two of the project has recently been funded again by the LSB, paving the way for further longitudinal research over two years into providing effective services to “hard-to-reach” young people, said Associate Professor Curran.
"The most important thing we learnt in Stage One was that young people, the vulnerable and even professional services providers don’t trust lawyers and the legal system, and that trust takes time to build,” she said.
“With this further funding, we have the opportunity to use our tools to dig down further to gather the evidence-based data to inform effective service delivery to this cohort."
The project’s expansion includes community and professional development in addition to systemic work to empower young people and address the underlying causes of problems.
The four partners delivering multidisciplinary health-justice services in Stage Two are: the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (a program of Upper Murray Family Care); the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service; the Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre; and North East Support and Action for Youth Inc.
A key objective is to build stronger partnerships between legal and non-legal service providers and for the partners to create better referral pathways and “joined-up” services available to young persons.
Stage One research led to an April 2019 report by the ANU researchers that identified hurdles and recommended effective service-delivery models that are “culturally appropriate, flexible and reliable” to strengthen and enhance the HJP’s impact.
“Now that Stage Two has been funded, we can really test the trajectory of the model in a more longitudinal context to help shape effective service delivery, ensure impact and develop replicable models,” said Associate Professor Curran.