Chapter 6. Non-legal support
I’m not just an Aboriginal health worker; I am a social worker; I am a psychologist; housing officer, Centrelink officer, legal officer, core support, you name it. I am also a community development officer, a community capacity building officer, a prevention and promotions officer. You name the job, I am doing it.1
Data for this and other studies indicate that when people have a legal problem, they tend to turn to friends or family, social workers, health workers, church-based organisations and other non-legal service providers for information and advice.2
Consultations with service providers and participants for this study indicated that this was also often true for people with a mental illness.
Oh, with the pension, with more like legal [problems] and … bureaucracy, I’d go and talk to my caseworker.3
[If you did have a problem with housing, where could you go for help with that?] Initially I would talk to [my caseworker] about it, which I have done already. If that did not work I think I would have to go straight to Foster House and see someone there.4
[If you did have a problem with your pension at work, where could you go for help?] First of all it all depends on what type of a problem it is. For some problems I would probably go to a social worker. Other problems, to the federal disability office centre.5
[So you came to the [youth] centre when you got caught?] Yeah, that’s right. They can help you out here.6
People with a mental illness access a number of non-legal services, ranging from mental health workers, youth and social workers, financial counsellors, church groups, tenant advocates and other housing workers, to government departments (such as the NSW Police, Centrelink, DOH, the OPG and the OPC). People with a mental illness may access non-legal services for a variety of reasons, including mental health treatment, financial assistance, housing assistance, other welfare assistance and recreation. People may approach a service voluntarily or be referred by another service provider. Others may be involuntarily taken by the police to hospital for mental health assessment where they come into contact with other service providers (such as social workers). People with a mental illness may also turn to other support networks including their carers and family and friends for assistance with their legal problems.
Consultations for this study and other studies indicate, however, that some people with a mental illness do not access non-legal assistance. This can be due to a range of reasons, including a lack of awareness of services, a lack of available services and fear of stigma.7
The type of assistance provided by non-legal service providers to a client with a mental illness, who has a legal problem, will vary according to the role of the service, their level of resources, the client’s problem and the level of support required by that particular client.8
This chapter will look at the ways in which non-legal services assist people with a mental illness with their legal problems. This chapter will also look at the barriers that people with a mental illness face in accessing non-legal assistance and the support that non-legal service providers need to assist their clients with legal issues.