The courts system is complicated at the best of times but none more so than when incidences of family and domestic violence are involved.
To make the process slightly less frightening however, is the Mid Coast Women’s Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS). A team with a dedicated group of people based at the Port Macquarie Courthouse to help women and children in times of need.
Sandra Sheridan is the coordinator of the Mid Coast Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service in Port Macquarie and said the services they can provide can be quite varied.
“We are a locally based, independent service for women and their children seeking information and help about domestic and family violence and how to get protection for their family,” Ms Sheridan said.
Funded by Legal Aid NSW, she said they work locally with service providers and the police to take a whole of person approach to helping women in difficult situations.
“Before court we can help explain what will happen in court, can ensure there is a safe place to sit when you have to go to court and then also help in gaining referrals to other services,” she said.
Ms Sheridan said over the past six months, locally, they have received almost 2000 referrals and 139 women were classified as being at serious threat.
She said the service has been around in the Hastings for the last 20 years with the help of Legal Aid NSW but was operating locally before that thanks to the Neighbourhood Centre.
“We have seen lots of changes over the years but most importantly we have always been a voice for women and children who are seeking to flee domestic and family violence situations,” she said.
“The nature of a domestic violence situation is the victim often minimises what happens or tries to talks herself out of making that next step for help. So there has been a lot of work around offering help as early as possible so the victims know what is available.”
So far in 2018, in the Hastings, 417 women have attended court to gain protection via and Apprehended Domestic Violence Order or were required to give evidence in a domestic violence hearing matter with 74 final orders made she said.
If women are identified as being at serious risk of harm they are automatically referred to the local Safety Action Meeting a new measure which forms part of the Safer Pathways program.
Chaired by the police, members include government and non-government organisations the meeting is designed as a way to confidentially share information and make decisions about what actions can be provided to women and their children increase their immediate safety.
The nature of a domestic violence situation is the victim often minimises what happens or tries to talks herself out of making that next step for help.Sandra Sheridan
“As part of the Safer Pathways program we are able to work with local police and every incident the police attend locally that involves domestic and family violence gets refereed to us within one business day,” she said.
“Sometimes the women do not take us up on help but other times we are able to offer advice and assistance."
She said service providers helping those in domestic violence situations now gather regularly to help and update each other on what is going on.
“We have fully confidential meetings where we can share information to help us help the women we are advising.
“We are taking a whole of services approach so that the best services available are being provided to the women who come to us for help.
“Absolutely we can see we are helping women but there is always more that can be done.
“Over the last five years we have seen a 104 percent increase in people using our services but the number of AVOs being made has increased.
“This means that more women and children are seeing that is it okay to ask for help and that means our work is helping.”
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