Pregnant women and new mothers at risk of or experiencing domestic violence will have access to free legal services through a new pilot program based at ACT Health facilities.
The program, launched on Wednesday (14 November) by Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Yvette Berry, and Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris, was developed by the ACT Government’s Family Safety Hub, community and service professionals and people with a lived experience of violence. The program will run until the end of June 2019.
Calvary Public Hospital, the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children and the Gungahlin Child and Family Centre will now have Legal Aid staff on hand to provide the free and confidential legal services.
Ms Berry said the aim of the new program was to make services easier to access for women whose movements and interactions may be restricted by their partner.
“Some women may be afraid or unable to access services because they may not want a police or legal response. This confidential service will help them decide what will work for them according to their own particular circumstances,” she said.
Ms Fitzharris said health facilities had been chosen for the trial because women already had established relationships with the health professionals they were seeing throughout their pregnancy, making it easier for them to talk about their situation.
“We know that in times of need people seek help from trusted professionals,” Ms Fitzharris said. “Our health practitioners and front line staff are professional and are not only able to explain what services and help is available, but also to provide assurances about confidentiality.”
Ms Berry said there was a one in five risk of women experiencing violence from their partner during and after pregnancy and of these women, a quarter experienced violence for the first time while they were pregnant.
“These statistics are unacceptable and this problem requires a whole of community response,” she said.
Ms Berry said a benefit the program was that health, community and legal professionals would be able to regularly interact and share their knowledge and perspectives with each other to provide the best possible care.
Ms Fitzharris said an important part of the pilot was exploring future capability in the ACT’s hospitals and child and family centres.
She said service usage, referrals and the types of advice people wanted in this setting would be monitored to assess its success and whether it would be continued or expanded.
The pilot is part of the work being led by the Coordinator General for Family Safety, Jo Wood.