Increased funding to help Aboriginal families in the child protection system

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) is pleased to provide additional funding to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in the child protection system more easily access culturally safe and appropriate legal services.

Three-year funding agreements have been signed with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and Djirra to enable them to employ and support additional child protection lawyers in regional Victoria.

‘We know Aboriginal families are grossly over-represented in Victoria’s child protection system, and families in regional areas can face extra hardship in finding timely legal representation,’ VLA Executive Director of Family, Youth and Children’s Law, Nicole Rich said.

‘Helping VALS and Djirra to provide additional child protection services means more children and families will have access to representation that is tailored to their needs and focused on maintaining cultural and kinship connections.’

VLA will provide $275,000 plus indexation to each organisation each year for three years, as part of our commitment to improving child protection legal aid services.

‘These funding agreements fulfil one of the actions identified by our 2017 review into child protection legal aid services,’ Ms Rich said.

Djirra will use the funds to expand its child protection work in Morwell, Bendigo, Ballarat and Horsham, and Echuca and Shepparton.

‘Family violence is the single, biggest driver of the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care. Aboriginal mothers have a right to culturally safe and specialist support and early access to services like Djirra is key to supporting our women to keep their children safe and strong in culture,’ CEO of Djirra, Antoinette Braybrook said.

‘Djirra welcomes this support from VLA. It will strengthen our crucial work in new regions across Victoria to address the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care and hold the system to account for the protection of the rights of our children, families and communities.’

VALS will use its funding to employ and support two lawyers in Morwell and Mildura, ensuring vulnerable families are empowered to participate in legal proceedings and are part of the decision-making process.
‘It is essential in child protection matters that families are provided with consistent legal representation to ensure that our families do not move down a path of disconnected care and separation from their community and culture,’ Nerita Waight, Acting Chief Executive Officer of VALS said.

‘The existing cycle of loss, trauma, intermittent incarceration and disadvantage can only be halted by the provision of therapeutic legal services that aim to address not only the legal issue but also the underlying issues that have placed these families in a vulnerable position,’ Ms Waight said.

Alongside this funding to support VALS and Djirra to increase their child protection work, VLA is taking a number of other steps to improve services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

A pilot non-legal advocacy service for families with child protection involvement is beginning operations in Greater Bendigo and the Darebin and Moreland areas of Melbourne in October.

The Independent Family Advocacy and Support service (IFAS) will focus on helping Aboriginal families, and parents with an intellectual disability, to better understand and navigate the child protection system, get the help they need, and avoid matters proceeding to court where possible. From this week grants of legal assistance are now also available for interim contested hearings where any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is in out of home care and the dispute is about contact arrangements with parents or siblings.

Media enquiries
Victoria Legal Aid:
Naomi Woodley, Senior Communications Advisor tel: 03 9280 3882 or 0409 281 304
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:
Nerita Waight, Acting Chief Executive Officer of VALS tel: 03 9418 5919
Laura Vines (for Antoinette Braybrook) tel: 0408 812 830

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