Event Report: The Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) Program Delivery and Expansion
Date: Thursday, 29 September 2022
Time: 1:00pm – 2:30pm AEDT
Speaker: Sophie Meehan
About the Presenters:
Sophie Meehan is the Manager of Family Law Projects at Victoria Legal Aid. Sophie and her team are responsible for the FASS program in Victoria, including the expansion to circuit locations currently underway. She was joined by Emina Hidic, a FASS duty lawyer at South-East Monash Legal Service and Shane Bedwell, a FASS men’s support worker with No to Violence.
On Thursday the 29th of September, the Family Law Pathways Network Greater Melbourne ran a webinar on the expansion of the Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) program and the addition of mental health supports within the service. The event involved Sophie Meehan providing an overview of what FASS is, how it operates and who delivers it. Sophie also covered how the expansion to circuit locations in Victoria is to function and the aims for the inclusion of mental health support services. The webinar concluded with a discussion of a case study illustrating the assistance available to clients through the FASS program as well as eligibility and referral processes.
Commencing the presentation, Sophie explained that FASS is an enhanced legal service which was built upon the existing duty lawyer service available in Victoria. The program was built on the idea of recognising the intersections of family law and family violence and assisting clients to navigate the system and proceedings. It aims to provide holistic social supports as well as duty lawyering in order to ensure clients and their children are kept safe and given the connections needed to get their lives back on track.
Sophie then described how FASS operates with the Information and Referral Officer (IRO) being the first port of call for court users. The IRO provides intake, assessment, triage and referrals to a VLA duty lawyer, Community Legal Service (CLC) duty lawyer, mental health support worker, family violence support worker (for male clients) and/or family violence support worker (for female/gender diverse clients). If a court user is not eligible for FASS, the IRO can refer them to a CLC or private practitioner or the VLA Help Line.
The FASS model is being expanded to circuit locations in Victoria as of Monday the 3rd of October and will operate during circuit sittings. As circuits are still remote, FASS will be operating remotely until the Court returns to in-person delivery. At the Melbourne and Dandenong registries, FASS is operating full-time with both in-person and remote assistance available. Mental health supports have been added to the FASS model, with a mental health support worker to be available to clients. This service is being delivered by Relationships Australia Victoria and court users are able to access this even with a current legal representative. Important to note is that the mental health support worker is not there to provide therapeutic ongoing support but can assist in making referrals out to other, more intensive services.
To conclude the session, Sophie presented a case study of a male client with an upcoming hearing in family law parenting proceedings. This client had an interim family violence intervention order in place and faced allegations of family violence and drug use. Sophie then asked Emina and Shane to explain how they would assist this client and what supports would be available to him through FASS. The case study highlighted the importance of collaboration between support workers and duty lawyers in order to provide holistic support to clients and keep them engaged.
Question and Answer Session
1. How is the FASS program managing the hybrid work mode?
The FASS team went back to court in May and managed hybrid work with enthusiasm and some difficulties. Whilst it is easier to manage people in court, Emina has seen increased efficiency through hybrid working as duty lawyers and support workers are able to manage competing referrals at the same time.
2. Are we able to refer service users to FASS if they already have family law services underway?
Yes, individuals who are already receiving family law service support may still be eligible for FASS. Individuals who have a lawyer, can still be referred into the family violence and mental health support services on offer. The IRO will decide eligibility and referrals if needed.
3. How can I refer individuals to FASS?
Referrals can be made via the FASS telephone line on (03) 8610 9803 or in-person at the Melbourne and Dandenong Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia registries.