Pathways to Empowerment and Justice: The Invisible Hurdles Stage II Research and Evaluation Final Report
123 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2021 Last revised: 2 Sep 2021
Date Written: June 15, 2021
The Invisible Hurdles project is an integrated justice project of four partner organizations the project leader is the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) a program of Upper Murray Family Care and this research was funded through them by the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioners grants program. The other three partners in this multidisciplinary and Health Justice Partnership are : Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) – this is an Aboriginal Community Controlled organization; North East Support and Action for Youth (NESAY) is a leading agency supporting young people and their families in North East Victoria, servicing a vast region of seven municipalities; The Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre (WFLC) – this is a campus of the Wodonga Senior Secondary College - an alternative education center was established in 2014. The project is run in the Hume Riverina region of Victoria and New South Wales focusing on ‘at risk’ young people.
Numerous hurdles get in the way of young people receiving legal assistance, particularly where they face disadvantage in other forms such as poverty, family violence, drug or alcohol issues and insecure housing. Research, including from the first iteration of the project shows that young people are reluctant to trust legal professionals and to seek help, relying instead on family and friends’ advice or failing to address their legal problems at all.
Pamela Taylor-Barnett (Hon. Lecturer)and Dr Liz Curran (Hon. Assoc Prof.) (in their Honorary capacities (pro bono at ANU) through ANU were commissioned to conduct and produce this Second Stage Research and Evaluation in July 2019 having done the initial study over three years for Stage One which was completed on 14 June 2021.
The first report (also on SSRN) recommendations from Stage One led to the further funding of Stage Two (and expanded service project from Stage 1 to include greater focus on community development and systemic work) and they were retained again to build on the longitudinal nature of the research.
Findings and conclusions based on the data for this Stage 11 research & evaluation (quantitative and qualitative data collected) include: Over five years of funding from multiple sources, the Invisible Hurdles team has delivered a first-class, fully integrated legal practice despite threats to the end to its funding presented by short term funding from time to time. This uncertainty makes it hard to reassure partners and young people that the service is there for the long haul and to retain staff as was highlighted in Stage 1. The extensions of funding for Stage 2 saw a more consistent staff that enabled traction. Longer term funding certainty should be a priority to ensure the projects significant gains are not lost and momentum continues to build. Such long term 5-8 year funding (with evaluation to ensure and test ongoing effectiveness) should form part of governments’ stated commitments to family violence, regional people, to closing the gap and to breaking the cycle of poverty.
The Invisible Hurdles team has made excellent contributions to systemic work by young people. The most important advancement about this work is that some of the young people involved have started to use their voice to self-advocate. The evaluators would like to see this aspect of the project to continue. Collaboration in systemic advocacy that enables multiple voices, varied agency expertise across disciplines and perspective to occur in such partnerships (based on the outcomes of other evaluative studies and in the research literature) is especially rare. The project has the capacity to be an authoritative advocate for the needs of regional youth.
There are also some useful findings around service delivery during a pandemic and the critical nature of trust and established relationships to sustain service delivery, flexibility and innovation.
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