Community Legal Centres struggling to provide critical family violence support as funding trails demand

May 06, 2024 |

The community legal sector plays a critical role in keeping women and children safe from family violence, forming a key part of the network of services involved in family violence support. Yet a lack of funding for the family violence services that Community Legal Centres provide means that centres are forced to turn away thousands of victim survivors of family violence in need of their assistance. 

Community Legal Centres deliver and coordinate a range of legal and social services that are critically important to supporting women and children who are experiencing or at risk of family violence. This includes support with setting up safe parenting arrangements for children, child protection, social security matters, tenancy issues, migration, financial abuse services and sexual harassment services. 

There are 49 Community Legal Centres in Victoria, of which 72 per cent provide services for victim survivors of family violence, and five are specialist family violence legal service providers. 

Community Legal Centres work to ensure that all the needs of victim survivors are met, from assistance in navigating court and obtaining a family violence intervention order, to accessing financial counselling, assistance in determining safe parenting arrangements, applying for a visa, or finding secure housing.  

However, high (and growing) demand for services paired with vastly inadequate and patchy funding is straining the family violence support model. 

In northeast Victoria, 65.8% of all clients accessing Hume Riverina Community Legal Service are affected by or at risk of family violence.  

 “Family violence is the most common reason for people accessing our service,” said Sarah Rodgers, Manager and Principal Lawyer of Hume Riverina Community Legal Service. 

“Community Legal Centres are uniquely placed to support clients experiencing family violence. We work in integrated partnerships to provide legal assistance alongside counselling, medical and housing support. This model of holistic assistance recognises people experience intersecting legal and non-legal issues and that a range of coordinated support is needed to reach the best outcomes for victim survivors – for their safety and wellbeing.” 

There has been a notable uptick in the number of reporting incidents of family violence in Victoria in recent years, with 92,296 reported incidents in 2022 up from 75,056 in 2017, representing a 23 per cent increase.  

Yet despite rising reports of family violence, funding for Community Legal Centres has stagnated. 

South-East Monash Legal Service is a Community Legal Centres operating in Melbourne’s southeast. It says it has been overwhelmed by demand from victim survivors of family violence.  

South-East Monash Legal Service works in partnership with Northern Community Legal Centre to run the SafeLanding Program, which supports victim survivors of family violence on temporary visas to be safe and begin to recover by assisting them to navigate the legal system.  

There are many programs like Safe Landing run by Community Legal Centres that provide critical support to women and children experiencing family violence, yet the importance of Community Legal Centres as part of the family violence support system is rarely recognised, despite the essential role they play in keeping children and women safe.  

Kris Wallwork, CEO at South-East Monash Legal Services, said: “Community Legal Centres across Victoria and the country are inundated by the sheer number of victim survivors needing support, but the funding just doesn’t match up to demand. 

“Our message is simple. Community Legal Centres who provide critical services to victim survivors need more funding. Without it, the upwards trend of women being killed by men will continue and worsen. 

Short-term and unstable funding also makes it difficult for Community Legal Centres to plan ahead. 

“To establish programs with lasting impact, the sector needs more funding that is long-term and sustained. We want to be making systemic change in addition to responding to need when it arises, but without a sustained injection of cash, we simply don’t have the resources to do so.”  

Louisa Gibbs, CEO at the Federation of Community Legal Centres said: “It would be hard to overstate the impact that Community Legal Centres have on the lives of victim survivors of family violence in Victoria through the provision of integrated services. Sadly, centres are at maximum capacity, and every year are forced to turn away thousands of people in need. 

“Funding is a constant constraint for service providers across the state. There are so many programs out there that are proven to protect and support victim survivors in their recovery, but without funding many of these programs are being shut or are operating at reduced capacity. 

“All eyes are on the issue of family violence in the wake of a series of tragedies that have left Victorians reeling. Now is the moment for change. We urge the Commonwealth Government to consider the lasting impact of investment in Community Legal Centres, and their pivotal role in the fight against family violence.” 

Sign up