Legal problems can lead to health problems which further increase stress, diminishes wellbeing, and holds people in cycles of disadvantage.
Health justice partnerships address the link between health and legal problems, such as family violence and poor health; neglected mouldy public housing estates and respiratory problems; debt, fines and increased anxiety. They provide a pathway for services to more effectively respond to complex and intersecting problems in people’s lives.
There are more than 100 of these collaborations between health and legal assistance services now operating across Australia.
About half of all health justice partnerships respond to domestic and family violence issues. This will also be the focus of Tasmania’s first health justice partnership, which has emerged with the help of philanthropic funding from Equity Trustees.
“Women experiencing domestic and family violence are more vulnerable than others to a range of legal needs including family law, victim of crime proceedings, housing, immigration and money issues,” according to a recent Health Justice Australia report into domestic and family violence.
Health justice partnerships embed legal assistance in the healthcare services where people are already turning for help. This gives women and children who are vulnerable to, or experiencing family violence, access to legal help when they need it and in a place they trust.
Equity Trustees’ funding helped the Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS) and Health Justice Australia to lay the groundwork for the first local partnership.
TasCOSS identified existing policy levers that could be enhanced by a health justice partnership and communicated the benefits to government departments and other funders.
That work led to The Tasmanian Community Fund recently committing more than $500,000 to launch the Just Healthy Families: A Pilot Tasmanian Health Justice Partnership.
The two-year pilot program, run by the Women’s Legal Service Tasmania and Tasmania Legal Aid, will help reduce the impact of family violence for women, children and young people by providing better access to legal help in healthcare settings.
The program is currently recruiting three solicitors who will work with health and social services specialists such as Child Health and Parenting Services (CHAPS), Child and Family Centres, general practitioners, shelters and other allied health professionals, to address family violence.