Legal Aid gets DV-Informed

Stopping Family Violence (SFV) Operations Manager Mark O’Hare teamed up with Legal Aid WA’s Family Violence Specialist Consultant Michael Hovane to deliver essential Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) training across two days through a series of workshops for staff from the Family Division – including lawyers, paralegals, admin and secretarial staff.

Yesterday’s training with a group of 14, focused on identifying and responding to FDV risk in a legal setting and to enable the staff to become DV-informed in all the work they do on the frontline, and through the referrals and aftercare that follow.

Mark said it was important to remember that the work the legal staff do with FDV-related issues is often quite trauma-focused, and self-care was a vital component for the staff.

“This kind of training is emotionally taxing, so the lawyers need to remember to look after themselves and each other when dealing with clients experiencing trauma.”

Mark O’Hare

“It’s very exciting to have these conversations with small groups of lawyers and legal staff, and although we do acknowledge that the world of DV is tough, we do need to start that dialogue and ask more questions.”

Emphasising the importance of being DV-informed across the whole industry, Mark said it was essential to have that knowledge and be able to utilise it in the legal context of work with clients.

Legal Aid training
Pictured: Michael Hovane and Mark O’Hare worked together on the legal aid training

The training is a package that was developed by ‘Legal Aid Victoria’ and ‘No to Violence’ over the course of three years. It was then adapted to a WA context, including some extra content for working with Aboriginal clients and families. The training includes extensive FDV and suicide awareness and offers insights to legal staff on how best to recognise safety indicators. The workshops are also an opportunity for staff to learn practical strategies to respond to potential FDV and suicide risks.

Two of the biggest risks identified amongst the clients from Legal Aid services were suicide and FDV, so it was determined this comprehensive training was needed to provide a minimum level of awareness amongst all legal staff.

The training is starting in Perth and will be rolled out to all the nine WA offices including regional spaces, over the next 18 months and Michael said they were excited about the potential to work jointly with other legal services in the area and build partnerships.

“When everyone is on the same page, we have that universal knowledge and we can work together to empower clients as we bring the best FDV knowledge to the work we do,” he said.

“By building this awareness, it’s just amazing how incredible the difference is in the work we do, how we work with clients and speak with them and understand their stories in a warm, supportive and holistic way.”

Michael Hovane

As the workshop moved forwards with the training, Mark and Michael opened up a group discussion on how to approach FDV cases and clients, and the reflection naturally moved to their own experiences.

One such group discussion examined the reality of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) clients experiencing FDV.

“They can be quite accepting of their life as a victim, so we need to make them aware of their rights, despite culturally-ingrained experiences,” a lawyer said.

Pictured: The lawyers participate in a group discussion

During the discussion, another participant Michelle said it was confronting to see the victims sometimes as they were so low mentally and physically.

“I see them broken and I want to rescue them.”

Michelle

Chimpo, another solicitor, said he had never worked with a client who said the relationship was bad from the beginning.

“There are always a set of circumstances that occurred to change things and that could be years down the track and there are children, a house and they are so emotionally and financially entwined, it becomes complex quite quickly,” he said.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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