The Walking Alongside Program is a unique socio-legal program, designed to provide highly specialised and integrated health and family support to clients of the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre.
The program aims to improve the health, legal and justice outcomes for clients, their families and communities by providing holistic, empowering and culturally appropriate, individual and community based responses to clients in conjunction with legal support and advocacy.
The Youth Engagement Officer works with these young people to support them in their own systemic advocacy work, acknowledging them as experts around the impacts of and possible solutions to racialised over-policing in Victoria. The Youth Engagement officer also supervises the Peer Advocacy Outreach Team
Peer Advocacy Outreach Team
This initiative expands our Walking Alongside Program through a team of young peer-advocacy workers who provide outreach, mentoring and critical support to other young people from diverse backgrounds who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing social exclusion and disadvantage.
Daniel Haile-Michael and Maki Issa, lead applicants in the 2013 race discrimination case now provide outreach and critical support to young people who experience or are at risk of experiencing racialised policing and abuse.
Liddell, M. & Johns, D. (2015) Evaluation of the Walking Alongside Program (WAP). Research for Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre, RMIT University.
This report on the evaluation of the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre’s (FKCLC) Walking Alongside Program (WAP) presents findings on the extent to which the outcomes of the program have fulfilled its objectives to date.
The Walking Alongside Program has been developed in response to the specific and high needs of clients of the Police Accountability Project at the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre. This unique client group has undertaken a range of discrimination and/or human rights complaints, legal or civil actions due to the actions of Victoria Police or other agencies.
The Walking Alongside Program recognises that the predominately young people in this client group face complex and interconnected problems due to their experience with police misconduct and their involvement in complex legal responses – in addition to their vulnerable status as refugee or migrant background young people.
Clients of the Police Accountability Project are predominately highly disadvantaged young people of refugee and humanitarian entrant backgrounds. Risks faced by our client group include homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, self harm and suicide and further entrenchment within the criminal justice system.
Furthermore, clients of the centre have experienced discrimination and often violence or abuse at the hands of the police or other agencies. Many of the clients of the Police Accountability Project have experienced symptoms of post traumatic stress due to their police contact and have exhibited self-harm and suicidal behaviours often in connection with the original incident of police misconduct. Effects on individuals and witnesses to the violence have included intense paranoia, fear, refusal to leave the house, helplessness, loss of weight, dropping out of school, long term injuries, loss of sight, long term pain, scarring and deep distress and distrust of institutions.
Sadly, many of these experiences of discriminatory or unlawful police behavior in Victoria reflect experiences of persecution which they or their families had escaped from or experienced prior to their flight to Australia. This serves to compound the trauma suffered.
In addition, some clients remain at risk of maintaining their contact with the criminal justice system through minor criminal behaviours and increased visibility to police.
Despite the extraordinary commitment and bravery of our clients undertaking public interest or race discrimination litigation, the need to engage in long, stressful and often frustrating legal processes, such as Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, mediation, court appearances and cross-examinations, has a demonstrable impact upon their health. These observed impacts include heightened anxiety and fear, sleeplessness and reluctance to attend meetings or court.
These three cumulative vulnerabilities and health impacts form a unique nexus in this client group and justify the tailored response provided by the Walking Alongside Program.
An integrated legal and health approach
Local and international research confirming links between health issues and legal needs has reinvigorated interest in providing integrated legal and health services. Research indicates that experiencing ‘justiciable events’ (problems for which there is a potential legal remedy) leads to stress, anxiety and deterioration in physical or mental health problems. Within the community legal sector, these research findings are considered compelling reasons to integrate legal, health and welfare services or programs.
The concept for this program was originally inspired by the ‘Youth Justice Advocacy’ workers employed by the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) in the Northern Territory.These field workers work as part of the legal team, provide outreach support and facilitate intra-agency case management for young Aboriginal clients of the service. A major focus of these workers is the involvement of immediate and extended families to reinforce and support young clients.
Some of our young clients are on the edge of becoming permanent clients of the criminal justice system. While the Police Accountability Project will continue to defend and advocate for clients, this integrated and proactive approach helps to address the underlying issues at the core of their problems.
Delivery of this program is based around two levels of support pathway; intensive support (including assertive engagement and outreach and provision of after-hours response where appropriate) and supported referral to local agencies and programs.
The Walking Alongside Program forms a strategic and tailored intervention in the lives of the young clients of our centre, enhancing both their health and legal outcomes as well as supporting resilient family and community support structures.
Building and maintaining trust
Victims of police violence require trust in the people and institutions who claim to support them. For victims to sustain long term involvement in complex legal processes intensive and ongoing support is required.
Relationships must be built upon trust and mutual understanding. Disjointed, sporadic and ad-hoc contact with a range of workers, programs and agencies has been shown to reduce trust and prohibit the development of truly supportive relationships. Accessing a range of workers and negotiating services contributes to the stress for our clients. The Walking Alongside Program worker provides this important continuity of support. They act as a broker and case manager for a range of services and programs and the young person.
Rather than replicate existing services, the Walking Alongside Program worker provides the all important personal link between the client, the legal team and the different programs and agencies the clients might be linked with. Youth workers and programs have emphasized that the role of linking young people with other services is critical and often involves a considerable amount of advocacy as the young people needing support don’t often fit within existing services frameworks. For instance, advocating alongside the young person for better service delivery from agencies such as youth justice, housing services or Centrelink. This builds upon, integrates and avoids conflict with the ongoing legal advocacy of the centre.
The outreach component of this program is pivotal, being able to support young people to attend appointments, access services and to build trust across agencies is crucial to developing a supportive network around the young people and their families.