Child protection program could expand across Victoria after pilot success in Bendigo

There are a limited number of child protection practitioners supporting clients through the Children's Court and in other matters in Bendigo.
There are a limited number of child protection practitioners supporting clients through the Children's Court and in other matters in Bendigo.

A PILOT program giving vulnerable people greater legal access to the child protection system could be expanded across Victoria after its success in the Bendigo region.

Victoria Legal Aid has been running the program through the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre since 2015, allowing people to access community legal support rather than rely on private law firms.

Now Victoria Legal Aid is keen to expand it across the state.

In a report, VLA found it had been an “extremely cost effective” way of improving access to the child protection system, and addressing the city-country divide.

“In less than two years of operation, the pilot has demonstrated an alternative approach to practice in the challenging environment of a child protection system that is experiencing ongoing pressure from increasing demand, gaps in service provision and legislative change,” the report reads.

“It has delivered on its twin outcomes of providing and increasing access to quality legal services for disadvantaged clients while introducing a new, cost effective and holistic model of service into the child protection jurisdiction.”

In Bendigo, there are a limited number of child protection practitioners required to cover the wider Loddon-Campaspe region from Swan Hill to Kyneton.

The program had a target of providing duty lawyer service in 170 matters in Bendigo. It managed to provide service 222 times to 178 clients.

The total number of grants increased by 88 per cent for Victoria Legal Aid during the pilot program, and 15 per cent for private practitioners.

VLA will assess other community legal centres across the state to see if they have the resources to take on the program. The Women’s Legal Service Victoria in Moorabbin also took part in the pilot.

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