More Law Student Involvement in Programming For SRLs: The Family Court Support Worker Program

More Law Student Involvement in Programming For SRLs: The Family Court Support Worker Program

As we reported in our last e-blast (“Pro Bono Students Canada Begins Family Law Coaching Project at Windsor Law”) Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) is ramping up its involvement in programming that focuses on assisting and supporting self-represented litigants in family court.

In another PBSC initiative, law students are working as volunteers alongside Family Court Support Workers from the Barbara Schlifer Clinic in Toronto. The Family Court Support program is available to those who have experienced domestic violence and abuse and are heading into the family court system – very often without legal representation because they cannot afford to pay for counsel, yet do not qualify for Legal Aid. The Family Court Support program is funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General and is available at 49 locations across the province. The Barbara Schlifer Clinic provides these essential services in the Toronto courts.

We asked one law student volunteer, Alissa Saieva from the University of Toronto, to tell us what she learned from her work in the program with clinic staff. Alissa said: “In this program I learned that everyone is fighting a battle that at first we may know nothing about. Women from many different backgrounds and in all kinds of situations experience domestic violence. The Family Court Support Program provides a safe space for these women to share and seek help with those battles. I saw that these clients viewed the Family Court Support Program Workers as their liaison between the complicated legal system and their difficult situations. Aside from being an informational resource, many clients confided in the clinic staff and conversations often had a therapeutic dimension to them. It made a big difference to these clients and brought them some measure of peace to know there was someone there to help them.”

Executive Director of the Barbra Schlifer Clinic, Amanda Dale said: “Research conducted by Luke’s Place in Oshawa showed the outcomes for women who experience violence, the majority of whom are unrepresented, leaves them exposed to legal bullying and in many cases, the research shows that undergoing a legal proceeding increases the risk of death or serious harm for women leaving abusive relationships. This is particularly so when there is a child custody matter. Our program sees about 500 women a year, and without PBSC, we quite literally could not handle the numbers”, she concluded.

As public concern intensifies about the pressures and the disadvantageous circumstances that face women who are experiencing violence and going to court unrepresented, Julie and Professor Nancy Ver Steegh will present a webinar for more than 200 US family judges and court staff on “The Self-Represented Litigant Phenomenon: Implications for Justice Seekers and Justice Providers in Domestic Violence Cases” on September 28.



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