We have analysed client data over a ten year period from 2003 to 2013 to map the frequency with which clients used our services.
The top one percent of our users were identified as 'frequent' or 'high contact' users. Their demographic characteristics were examined to see if and how they differed from the remainder of our client group.
While all users of our services, particularly those who receive grants of legal assistance, are relatively disadvantaged, we found that frequent (or high-contact) users were more likely to exhibit certain demographic characteristics. The characteristics that stood out amongst this cohort were they:
- had early contact with Victoria Legal Aid (prior to 18 years of age)
- started criminal offending at a young age, specifically between 10 and 17 years of age
- identified as having a psychiatric issue, acquired brain injury or a cognitive disability
- identified as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
They were also more likely to have seen us for a child protection or family violence issue before the age of 18. This has implications for how we predict who may be likely to continue to use our services and how we deliver services to this group.The brief states that
VLA should consider either introducing and/or enhancing the following approaches:
- providing more intensive service delivery when the person has initial contact with VLA, including careful case management and provision of a single contact point within the organisation for that client
- providing more holistic services, with a focus on appropriate referrals to non-legal service providers
- embracing a multi-disciplinary approach, where VLA lawyers work actively with social workers, teachers, doctors and police to address the problems of the individual that is contributing to or causing their legal problem(s)
- advocating for systemic change, where current practice or policies may contribute to criminalisation, particularly of vulnerable people, such as young children or people with mental health issues or cognitive disabilities.
It is worth noting that VLA does prioritise vulnerable clients, such as children or people with disabilities, for intensive service delivery and aims to provide holistic legal services for its vulnerable clients. Our services in the child protection area are particularly focused on linking them to other practice areas (such as Youth Crime) and to provide continuity of representation where possible.
It is suggested that this approach could further benefit from additional resources to provide even more intensive case management and advocacy. Any outcomes from other similar projects, such as the NSW Children’s Civil Law Service Pilot, will provide useful insights for VLA in improving outcomes for high-contact users.
Any changes to service delivery would need to be evaluated to determine the effectiveness of these approaches, and whether they do in fact, reduce further contact with the criminal justice system or the risk of additional legal problems. VLA would also need to evaluate whether the provision of intensive services early in an individual’s contact with VLA provides other tangible benefits for that person.