1I Partnering and cohabitation


Anna McCarthy,
Legal Aid NSW

Ruth Pilkinton,
Legal Aid NSW

Wednesday November 21 2018

Time: 2:05pm – 2:35pm

Room: Bluewater 1

1I Partnering and cohabitation

Health Justice Partnerships


Research shows:

  • those with long-term illness or disability are more than twice as likely to report one or more legal problems
  • unresolved legal problems play a role in stress-related and physical ill health
  • vulnerable people often first seek help with their legal problems from non-legal professionals, including health professionals.

An integrated model of service delivery including legal, health and human services has benefits for disadvantaged people. In the past three years, the Family Law Early Intervention Unit of Legal Aid NSW has been partnering with a number of health services to place lawyers in hospitals, primary health services and therapeutic drug rehabilitation facilities to assist clients address legal issues. Promising results are being shown from these partnerships.

Legal Aid NSW has a team of outreach lawyers who attend community locations including family relationship centres, women’s refuges, Aboriginal community services and migrant resource centres. Now we have added primary health services and hospitals to our programs in a new model of Health Justice Partnerships (HJP).

This presentation will explore the work we are doing in our HJPs and why we have established these partnerships. The most significant work includes:

  • mothers in antenatal programs and maternity wards who have had dealings with child protection services and are at risk of their baby being assumed into care at birth
  • victims of domestic and family violence attending hospital for treatment of injuries
  • Aboriginal families attending Aboriginal primary health programs who do not generally consider family law options to deal with risk issues with children and as a result are at greater chance of child removal by child protection services.

The work focuses on key transition points in the lives of clients. The most significant being the first few days of a child’s life and ensuring, if at all possible, that the child is not removed and the mother has the most supported option to retain their babies in their care. The other significant point is at times of separation where there has been domestic violence particularly where there are children involved or supporting family members of an Aboriginal child where, following an illness, trauma or birth an Aboriginal child comes into the care of a non-parent family member.

Much of the lawyer’s work in an HJP involves referral of clients to therapeutic services providers including domestic violence programs, parenting programs, drug and alcohol programs or the like. The key to the success of the work is collaboration and partnership with locally-based services to provide timely support and evidence of the support provided for clients. We will look at the kinds of evidence from therapeutic service providers that can make the difference for clients. Participants can take learnings from this presentation to assist in their own practice supporting clients experiencing a stressful life event.

The presentation will explore some case studies detailing the kinds of results that can be achieved and what is involved in establishing an HJP.


Ruth Pilkinton is the Solicitor in Charge of the Family Law Early Intervention Unit, Legal Aid NSW. The EIU provides outreach services to 45 locations and duty services in 4 court registries.

Anna McCarthy is a solicitor with Legal Aid NSW based at Coffs Harbour. She commenced practice in 2004 and worked in a small private practice until joining Legal Aid in March 2010. She provides weekly legal advice and assistance for family members at the Interrelate Family Relationship Centre at Coffs Harbour. In this time, Anna has also assisted in numerous Legally Assisted Mediations at both Coffs Harbour and Lismore. In 2017, Anna established a Health Justice Partnership at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus (Coffs Harbour Hospital).