Attorney General launches new toolkit for trauma-informed legal services

The project is a response to prevalent mental ill-health among clients seeking legal aid

Attorney General launches new toolkit for trauma-informed legal services

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has recently launched a trauma-informed organisational toolkit at the Parliament House in Canberra.

The toolkit, “With You,” is a training package for trauma-informed, rights-based legal services to people experiencing distress, poor mental health and suicidal thoughts. The project was launched as a response to the prevalence of mental ill-health, suicidality and distress among clients who seek free legal services. The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department funded the project, while Legal Aid NSW led the project on behalf of National Legal Aid.

The toolkit was developed by reviewing domestic and international literature, analysing existing best practices in the legal assistance sector, and national consultations with over 500 individuals across Australia.

The toolkit showcases best practices from approximately 40 legal services across Australia, addressing organisational readiness; staff competency and trauma-informed supervision; integrated practice and partnerships; client and carer access, involvement and leadership; and organisational and systems change.

The project will also deliver training for the legal assistance sector across the country –the first of its kind designed with the help of those who have experienced distressing encounters with the legal system. The training component will be available nationally in early 2024.

Lyanne Morel, a lived experience advocate from Victoria, emphasised the crucial role of lawyers who understand mental ill-health and can support clients nonjudgmentally.

“Trauma-informed and empathetic practice should be the absolute bare minimum for services that engage with all clients that might be vulnerable and systemically disadvantaged,” Morel said.

Jennifer Chen, the With You project manager at Legal Aid NSW, said that the toolkit offers practical advice to help guide legal assistance services in all aspects of service design.

“Trauma is an everyday reality for most, if not all, of our clients. If we are to deliver effective services, we need to able to recognise and respond to clients with trauma histories,” she said.

Associate law professor Dr. Chris Maylea noted that the toolkit makes specific recommendations for creating safe, effective, and dignified free legal services. These recommendations include putting the voices and views of clients in service design and delivery, collaborating with allied professionals like social workers and financial counsellors, providing trauma-informed supervision for lawyers, and advocating for systemic changes.

The With You toolkit, developed through a co-design approach involving individuals with lived experience of mental ill-health, is freely available to various legal services, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Community Legal Centres, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, and Legal Aid Commissions.

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