At Youthlaw, our passionate and dynamic lawyers and social workers assist young people every day. With very little, we do a lot. Have a look at our last annual report to get a feel for what we do. We see our role as advocating for access to justice & for justice for all young people. This includes services but also drawing attention to legal need, barriers to justice, bad laws and justice responses.
Just as young people depend on us, we depend on equally passionate members of the public to support young them to achieve their full potential
Due to Covid-19, it has been extremely challenging to raise much-needed funds. But it’s also been a time when the public has shown immense compassion to each other.
“Mum grew up in foster care and was pretty traumatised by things that happened to her and often took her anger out on me and was sometimes violent. I found a flier for Youthlaw at the police station. Katrina [the lawyer] explained all my options and helped me apply for an intervention order; she really helped me get my life back on track.”
– Elyse, 15, Youthlaw Ballarat
Please consider making an End of Financial Year donation (below) to support Youthlaw’s vital work so we can continue to support young people like Elyse.
Ariel Couchman, CEO
Make an End of Financial Year donation now 2020 was a testing year for almost everyone, but especially for Youthlaw clients, who are already vulnerable young people. Many are now facing additional legal challenges, such as tenancy, Covid-19 related fines, debts and employment issues. Your generous help is needed more than ever to ensure that these young people can get their lives back on track.
Youthlaw has Deductible Gift Recipient status, which means that all donations are tax-deductible.
*Staff & volunteer news :
Our Fines practice volunteers worked remotely from August last year. Our general volunteers were prevented from coming into the office but in April this year, we finally welcomed them back to answer our phones and be paralegals to our lawyers. We’ve had a few staff changes with staff leaving to take up great opportunities and go on maternity leave. As well we welcomed a number of new staff. We are always amazed at the quality and passion of applicants that apply. We are also doing our bit for population growth with many staff having had babies in the last year and more expected this year. We pride ourselves on being supportive and flexible to our many staff with babies and young children.
*Outreach, court, working from home & clients:
We are back at Frontyard Youth Services, our outreach lawyer has started visiting our partner sites ( headspace and other youth centres) & our Ballarat lawyer is back at Ballarat Community Health. Our RMIT service is still largely remote and our staff are working a mix of work from home and in the office. We are still largely online to the courts & getting pretty good at Webex hearings! Vulnerable clients are being encouraged to attend online court at our office. Our internal Pelham clinics have begun again.
We continue to work with vulnerable young people who received COVID fines during Victoria’s hard lockdown last year. Tiffany continues to lead our advocacy to influence decision-makers to waive fines for children and vulnerable people. Tiffany met with Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and there was much agreement that the approach to young people needs to be health education rather than punitive.
Members survey :
Thanks to all who responded to our members’ survey. This will be used to make sure we are providing the information & opportunities you want. Congratulations to member David who won the $100 voucher.
AGM & new Board members :
Our COVID delayed AGM took place in March 2021. Our guest speaker Elena Campbell gave members a great insight into the complexity of Adolescent Violence in the Home. Elections took place and we welcome back Lynette Dong and also new members Kelly Phan, Linda Le & Sam Whitney
Justin Jaramillo is Youthlaw’s superstar admin officer and volunteer coordinator.
How long have you been with Youthlaw? It will be three years this year.
What is your job at Youthlaw? I do casework for clients, I help staff with IT issues and general admin issues go through me, and I provide support to other lawyers. I also help coordinate the Friday Fines clinic and am the volunteer coordinator.
Best thing about your job? The people and the culture here, that’s the best thing.
What’s the biggest issue in the youth justice arena that needs to be fixed? Just being able to help every single person who needs help. Because of the lack of funding, we can’t do that, which is heartbreaking.
What’s the best thing to do on the weekend? Meeting with friends and going out for brunch and coffee. I also love staying at home and relaxing.
How do you have your coffee? An iced latte, even in Winter!
Adolescent Violence in the Home
Adolescent violence in the home (AVITH) is a less publicly understood area of family violence in which children and young people use and experience violence in the home.
Youthlaw formed an AVITH Practice group in January 2021 to help provide expert advice, research and multidisciplinary collaboration from a range of agencies and institutions, all with a focus in their practice, policy or research of supporting adolescents using or experiencing violence in the home. Members include Victoria Police, Drummond Street, YSAS, Anglicare, DVVic, Royal Children Hospital, Orygen, Jesuit Social Services and RMIT’s Centre for Innovative Justice.
The AVITH Group aims to: contribute to improved understandings of AVITH across the service system, document how best to work with adolescents using or experiencing violence, and advocate for a specialised and coordinated AVITH service system response.
Many adolescents using violence have experienced family violence themselves. Responses to adolescent violence needs to consider their protection, safety and developmental needs, as well as their behaviour. Some struggle with substance use, mental health issues and school disengagement.
Adolescents are at a crucial developmental stage, where family relationships and connection make a vital difference to their outcomes. Effective interventions therefore need to focus on maintaining family connections wellbeing and safety for all .
Tiffany Overall, Advocacy & Human Rights Officer
Long-awaited changes to Victoria’s rental laws came into effect in March, increasing security of tenancy, that landlords must provide basics such as heating & allowing tenants to make their rental a home with pets, hooks on walls etc.
‘Raise the age’ of criminal responsibility
Australia currently has one of the lowest ages in the world at which a person can be prosecuted for a crime. Our view and that of many is that children committing crimes under 14 need support and services, not criminalisation & jail. We continue to campaign for the age of criminal responsibility to be increased. In Victoria, a private members bill was introduced recently to lift the minimum age ofcriminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old.
Adolescent Violence in the Home
This issue did get much-needed media attention recently when The Age reported on a shocking 20 percent increase in child-to-parent violent incidentsbetween October 2019 and September 2020.
Spent Convictions law in Victoria – at last
Victoria is one of the last states in Australia to have spent convictions law. It was a long time coming but finally happened in March. We thank all who campaigned for so many years to bring pressure for this to happen. Youthlaw briefed parliamentarians on the importance of the law & we did our bit to respond to alarmist commentary that it would hide violent crimes committed by children.
Spent Convictions law allows some minor convictions to become ‘spent’ after 10 years, or 5 years for a juvenile conviction, on the condition that the person does not re-offend during that time. All offences committed by a person aged under 15 years will be automatically wiped from their record.
Without a spent conviction scheme young people and other vulnerable members of the community experience compounding discriminatory barriers and damaging effects of old criminal records in their everyday life when applying for jobs, embarking on careers, getting into courses and applying for services such as housing.
The scheme acknowledges the capacity for genuine change and rehabilitation rather than punitive labelling for a lifetime.
Our services and programs In this newsletter, we highlight the work of our Legal Pod program
The Legal Pod program was initiated by Youthlaw in 2018 with funding from the Victorian Legal Services Board.
It is a service for care leavers leaving child protection & transitioning to adulthood. Young people leaving care, particularly those who have been in residential care units usually have very little financial or personal support on leaving care. Those who we have assisted over the past 3 years have mostly been in insecure housing (many being homeless for periods of time), often accumulated significant debts (often for common things like power) & fines. They need help with tenancy situations, employment & abusive relationships. Many also want to access their care records.
The Legal Pod program connects care-leavers with a ‘pod’ or small team of lawyers who provide ongoing legal support for up to 3 years. Each pod consists of 3 to 4 lawyers who volunteer their time and skills. Currently, we have 9 firms providing18 pods. The firms are Ashurst, Baker McKenzie, Colin Biggers & Paisley (CBP), DLA Piper, Gilbert + Tobin, Holding Redlich, PwC, Russell Kennedy and Wisewould Mahony.
Over 60 young people have been assisted by the program with over 100 legal issues. The pods not only provide legal assistance but also link young people to services & supports ( financial, housing etc) During the COVID restrictions many pods reached out to explain the restrictions and see how their clients were doing.
Once young people build a trusted relationship with their pod, they go back to them time and time again for help. Common legal issues include debts, fines, criminal charges, accessing their care records and addressing current & past mistreatment & violence. Others include enrolling to vote, obtaining a passport and understanding superannuation, tax, tenancy and employment rights.
Edward Vong from PwC is one of the pro bono lawyers working in the Legal Pod program. PwC’s participation represents one of their significant partnerships providing pro bono assistance, and Mr Vong says it has been rewarding for the lawyers involved.
“Other pro bono work is usually one-off; the client comes to you with one problem, you help them, and they move on. There’s rarely an opportunity to see how your legal assistance helped their lives,” he says. “But Legal Pod is different because you get to work with a client over a long period of time. You witness their growth and change. And with our clients being young people, a lot can change in a short space of time.”