A UNIQUE health justice program for Central Highlands youth is at risk of folding due to a lack of funding.
The program, the only of its kind in Victoria, has a lawyer embedded in the Ballarat Community Health youth team in a bid to prevent young people slipped through the cracks in the legal system. This can particularly help those unable to access Victorian Legal Aid, due to the nature of their case or age.
BCH chief executive officer Sean Duffy said there might not seem like an obvious connection between health and law but this was clearly apparent for those on the health frontlines.
For many young people, necessarily go to a lawyer but their health status can be significantly improved when outstanding legal matters are addressed.Sean Duffy, Ballarat Community Health chief
"For many young people, necessarily go to a lawyer but their health status can be significantly improved when outstanding legal matters are addressed," Mr Duffy said.
"...This could be problems with economic well-being and other pressures with accommodation, finding work and financial resources. There are flow-on effects and this can be in mental health and drug addiction."
One example is Laura, aged 24, who was referred after her violent former partner had been released from prison. The mother-of-two had missed appointments due to housing moves, time in hospital and mental health struggles. A BCH youth worker and lawyer persisted in helping Laura to pursue crimes compensation that allowed her financial stability for housing and counselling.
Eisha, aged 16, had dropped out of school due to bullying and had been served with an intervention order from another student with a private lawyer. Her health had deteriorated in weight gain and depression. The youth lawyer helped negotiate a mutual agreement for the students to stay away from each other, allowing Eisha a chance to feel heard, supported and hope to re-start studying.
Issues navigating debt can also be a major issue for young people tapping into the service.
Mr Duffy said the co-designed health justice program in the region is stretched thin with partner organisations, including BCH, Federation University and Central Highlands Community Legal Centre, desperately working to keep what they viewed as an essential service viable. The program has run the past four years.
Initially launched on a grant via Victoria Legal Services, the program has been working with Melbourne-based program Youthlaw the past two years in providing a lawyer. This lawyer supports health workers and youth in more than 30 organisation across the Central Highlands.
"It's free and we know other legal avenues have long waiting lists," Mr Duffy said.
"There are lots of barriers to entry for young people in navigating a complex legal system. There is a chance young people can just disengage and this can create more complex problems."
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