Page updated September 6, 2020

Health Justice Partnership maternity service highly effective

September 4, 2020

In its first year of service delivery, WELS has demonstrated that a Health Justice Partnership-based maternity service is highly effective for helping women during pregnancy, a time when they are at an increased risk of experiencing family violence.

WELS is a Health Justice Partnership between Eastern Health and ECLC that started as a two year pilot program in April 2019.

Funded by Eastern Health through its Strengthening Hospital’s Response to Family Violence project, WELS found in its first year of service that the 57 women who were referred to WELS most commonly sought information and legal advice relating to their experience of family violence and their options in seeking safety for themselves and their unborn baby.

The WELS community lawyer has become an essential member of the health team which provides maternity services through Eastern Health to pregnant women so they can access family violence and related legal information, advice, and referrals.

Eastern Health’s Family Violence Project Manager Jackie Orwin said this model improves the health service’s ability to quickly and appropriately respond to the intertwined health, family violence, and legal needs of women at a critical time in their lives when they are at risk of, or experiencing family violence.

“Pregnant women that engage with our maternity services are able to easily and safely access family violence legal support.”

“The streamlined referral pathway provided through WELS enables pregnant women who are at risk of experiencing family violence to get legal help within a trusted health setting,” said Jackie.

The Health Justice Partnership is expanding and will provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women a specialist family violence service from Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service (BWAHS), an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation.

The inclusion of BWAHS aims to remove any additional barriers that Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women may face if they are experiencing family violence when accessing antenatal care. It will also help promote equity and improve the rate of engagement and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their children.

WELS was developed from the knowledge and experience of Mabels, a Health Justice Partnership between ECLC, Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service, and Maternal and Child Health Services at two Victorian local government councils.

WELS has further demonstrated that barriers to family violence screening are not simply due to a gap in knowledge and reinforce that a service system gap (Evaluation of the MABELS Project, Effective Change, 2017) can be addressed by models such as Mabels and WELS.

ECLC’s Manager – Family Violence Initiatives Marika Manioudakis said like Mabels, a responsive and flexible service within a trusted health setting increases the ability for women to safely access family violence legal support.

The WELS pilot is scheduled to finish at the end of March 2021. However, given the demonstrated success of the program and the benefits that have been delivered to women, the Health Justice Partnership is seeking funding to continue and extend the program to more sites across Eastern Health.

This will ensure that any woman using Eastern Health’s maternity services who is at risk of, or experiencing family violence, has equal access to legal advice and support to promote her and her children’s safety.


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