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Health justice partnership as a response to domestic and family violence

General practitioners, community health services, hospitals and other health settings are often sites of trusted help for people who are vulnerable to or experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV). Yet the issues arising as a result of DFV commonly extend far beyond their health. They include legal issues ranging from the need for violence protection orders to assistance with family separation, housing and money problems.

Health Justice Australia’s new Health Justice Insights paper, Health justice partnership as a response to domestic and family violence, looks at health justice partnership as an integrated response to DFV, and a way for services to provide accessible, timely legal help to people experiencing the complex array of issues surrounding DFV, while also supporting the capability of health services to act as an effective pathway to support.

Coordinated and integrated service responses can take many forms and involve a range of combinations: police, specialist family violence services, health services, homelessness services, legal services, courts and others. This diversity is important as people differ in their experiences of violence, the support they may seek or have access to, their comfort or trust of different services, their opportunities to get help and their resulting pathways to safety.

As key responders, police are often identified at the centre of integrated approaches. However, health services also play a critical role, as a widely and routinely accessed and trusted source of support for people facing DFV. Now, as service delivery is reassessed in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic, there is a renewed opportunity to explore health justice partnership as a tool to provide accessible, safe, client-centred and holistic support for those experiencing DFV.

Key observations from the paper

  • Women experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV) are more vulnerable than others to a range of legal needs including family law, victim of crime proceedings, housing, immigration and money issues.
  • Women experiencing DFV more commonly seek help from or are in contact with health services than legal assistance services. This is in line with health professionals being commonly identified as trusted carers and advisors.
  • Many health services screen for DFV and yet may not have all the tools required to respond to the range of issues arising.
  • Health justice partnerships (HJPs) bring lawyers into healthcare settings and teams to address intersecting health and legal issues facing patients.
  • While only one in five Australian HJPs target DFV, most see clients experiencing DFV. Early indications are that collaboration through health justice partnership can benefit clients and the services and practitioners supporting them. Evaluations of HJPs in maternal and child health services have indicated:
    • streamlined access to legal help for people facing DFV
    • legal assistance in a convenient, safe, child-friendly space
    • legal assistance at time and place appropriate to individual client needs
    • greater confidence for health practitioners in identifying DFV and capability to directly link clients with legal help and
    • increased use of secondary consultation and expertise-sharing between practitioners.
  • There is, however, more to learn more about the place and potential of HJP in the broader DFV service landscape – particularly in light of service changes arising from Covid19. Questions to explore include:
    • the value of HJP in different health settings, and in supporting health service screening for DFV
    • how HJPs connect with and complement other services, including the specialist DFV service sector, to support accessible, trusted and effective pathways to safety for victim/survivors and their families
    • the potential for some more generalist HJPs to help support perpetrators towards behaviour change.

Find out more in our Health Justice Insights paper, Health justice partnership as a response to domestic and family violence.

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