Embedding specialist family violence lawyers into health services could help address family violence situations before they escalate into bigger problems, advocates say.
Tasmania is the only state in Australia not to have a health justice partnership. But the Women's Legal Service and Legal Aid Tasmania are trying to change that.
Health justice partnerships are collaborations between healthcare services and lawyers which work to address intersecting health, social and legal problems.
WLS chief executive Yvette Cethel said the organisation was trying to get funding to establish a pilot health justice partnership with the Legal Aid Commission.
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The pilot program would see family violence lawyers working with childcare centres throughout Tasmania to help spot and address family violence before it escalates. Ms Cethel said it would cost about $300,000 to employ two extra specialist lawyers to work in the North and North-West.
"We would like to get a health justice partnership set up in Tassie so that we can offer more services and more assistance to women and children at an earlier stage," she said.
Health Justice Australia - the national centre of excellence in health justice partnerships - chief executive officer Tessa Boyd-Caine said the aim of health justice partnerships was to addressing complex social problems.
"An example of that is the way mould in a public or rental house can affect your respiratory system," she said.
"Often the action you take in response to that problem is to go an see your doctor about your asthma, but if we can't fix the mould in your house ... we can't actually fix the problem."
She said about one fifth of the partnerships across Australia were aimed at tackling family violence, but more than 90 per cent of the partnerships dealt with it in some way.
"There is this really clear opportunity to recognise that health, legal and other services are likely to be coming into contact with people who are experiencing, or who are at risk of, family violence but they need to know how to identify that experience and how to respond to it," Ms Boyd-Caine said.
"The impact of health justice partnership is in enabling a range of professionals who might not have, previously been taught, expertise in family violence but through this [partnership] they now have the capability to recognise and respond."
Law and Development Partners director and international human rights lawyer Cate Sumner, who was awarded a Churchill Trust Fellowship in 2019 to explore how partnerships between government, philanthropy and business could fund health justice partnerships, said evidence that the partnerships worked was already well established.
"The evidence is clear - for women, men and young people - they need to be able to access legal help on a range of issues that affect their health and wellbeing at the places they visit on a day-to-day basis - child nurses, child and family centres, GPs, youth services, homeless services. The challenge now is to fund these health justice services in Tasmania," she said.
"We know from international research the impact that family violence has on young people and why it is important to try to reduce levels of violence in families in Tasmania as early as possible."
Ms Sumner said conversations with potential health partners in Tasmania had shown overwhelming support for a collaborative approach.
"From the conversations we have had across the state we know that doctors and nurses want to focus on medical side of the work they do," she said.
"They would love to be able to refer, in a really easy way, the complex family violence and legal issues that they are being asked on a daily basis."
Justice Minister Elise Archer said the government was working with stakeholders to determine the best model for a health justice partnership in Tasmania, including the possibility of funding.
"Eliminating family and sexual violence remains a top priority for our government. Over the past five years we have invested an additional $56 million in family and sexual violence services in Tasmania," she said.
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