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Health Justice Australia to 2026: new practice

Can we all just take a moment to pause and take a few deep breaths over the year that has been 2020? Not just any deep breaths – I mean right into the diaphragm, protruding belly, feel it with every inch of your body deep.  

I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like I’ve been holding my breath since March, only now starting to exhale. At best 2020 has been discombobulating, at worst the dealer of unimaginable grief and loss. My thoughts (and I hope my actions) continue to be with all those who have been impacted by the year that was; those who are weary, those who have known loss, those who keep showing up in the face of uncertainty, and those who have made brave decisions to step back from the lives they were living before the pandemic to take time to heal. Included in that list of people are those working and volunteering on the front line of the services Health Justice Australia seeks to support; the people leading and implementing health justice partnerships for those who’ve been hardest hit by the indirect impacts of COVID-19. It is these people who are at the heart of Health Justice Australia’s practice strategy to 2026. 

Health Justice Australia’s practice strategy guides our work in building the confidence, skills and readiness of health and justice practitioners, advocates and leaders to work in partnership towards better outcomes for the people they are here to help.  

From little things big things can indeed grow. Four years ago, we started our journey with a focus on developing resources to support the practice of health justice partnerships (HJPs), but it soon became clear that resources alone couldn’t drive the impact we wanted to see in practice across the national health justice landscape. Working in partnership is tough work. And in recognition of the practice challenges emerging from the work of HJPs, we needed to invest in identifying what was needed to form and sustain effective, purpose–driven partnership towards the goals of better health and justice. What we learnt was working in HJP requires partners to invest as much in how they work together as what they do together.  

Underpinned by global lessons and practice evidence in building and maintaining effective, purpose-driven partnership we have provided mentoring and coaching; shared knowledge about practice through resources, webinars and conferences; and provided place-based partnership brokerage, training and support.  

Health Justice Australia’s practice strategy to 2026 will be provide an opportunity to deepen the foundations of our work to date. We will look to retain our focus on connection and capability as the two central pillars of our work to build a confident, cohesive, skilled and engaged national network of HJPs and practitioners.  

We will continue to convene a national practitioner network and a regular series of learning and development events for that network. Why? Because resilient communities are connected communities; and when working collaboratively towards systems change, practitioners benefit from learning from and supporting each other. We will also continue our broader strategy of sector development and support, promoting evidence-based practice and supporting practitioners, advocates and leaders through advice, support and resources. Why? Because working in partnership across systems for better health and justice outcomes takes investment, not just in dollars but in relationships, skills, knowledge, culture and process. Some of this work will look familiar to many in the HJP practitioner network, some will look new, and all will have the same goal: for health justice practitioners and services to have the skills and capabilities they need to provide responsive, people-centred services to the people who need them most. 

An emerging focus area we’re keen to make explicit in our strategy to 2026 is the resilience and wellbeing of the people who make health justice partnerships and services happen. Why? Because it’s tough to provide sustainable, responsive support and care to people with complex need in areas like family violence, mental health and child protection, if you don’t have the right supports in place to sustain your own resilience in that work. Even before COVID-19, the mental health of front-line health and legal assistance practitioners was some of the worst of any profession. And our work with HJP practitioners has shown that increased isolation, physical distancing and working from home or remotely as a result of the pandemic has added further challenges to already complex work. In addition to the impacts of the pandemic are the very real challenges of working in partnership, and we need to understand what impact, if any, those challenges have on practitioners and the people they work to support. These are partnership-related challenges that require partnership-based solutions. Our hope is that our practice strategy to 2026 can identify the system and organisational barriers and opportunities to maintaining good mental health for HJP practitioners, advocates and leaders; and with this knowledge, support the sector to design and implement strategies that take a pro-active stance to health, wellbeing and resilience.  

As a slightly dusty social worker with a longstanding commitment to helping those who help, I’m thrilled to be working with a team and organisation so ready to back these priorities in the interests of sustaining such a critical sector and workforce. But I also appreciate that this might feel like a deviation for some of those in our national network, so really welcome and encourage your candid feedback and insights on the direction we hope to take over the next 5 years. 

  • Who should we be welcoming to the table when discussing, planning, designing and implementing our resilience and wellbeing activity? 
  • What would you caution us about as we embark on the next stage of our practice strategy? 
  • As a valued network member and stakeholder of Health Justice Australia, what role you do you want to play in this work and how can we support you to do that?  

I look forward to the many opportunities we will have in 2021 to test these and other questions with you as we advance another ambitious strategy for impact.  

For now, I wish all friends of Health Justice Australia a happy, restful and rejuvenating festive period.