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School hires lawyer to help families deal with legal issues

School hires lawyer to help families deal with legal issues

School Principal, David Smillie said he increasingly found he was being approached about issues that were completely unrelated to the school curriculum.

“A lot of those issues actually centre around family break-up, issues with relationships,” Mr Smillie said.

“Sometimes it’s around violence in the home.”

The student population can be transient, with children sometimes forced to leave the school suddenly if their families are evicted from a rental property or their parent’s relationship breaks down.

Rapid population growth in the area had also left many students geographically isolated, with public transport struggling to keep up with demand.

David said the lawyer helped students, and parents, with issues like transport fines, employment issues, tenancy disputes and homelessness.

“Part of my concern initially was people would assume that because we’ve got a lawyer, we’ve got a high criminal history rate here which is not necessarily the case.”

“If you’re a young person who is traumatised or doesn’t know whether they’re going to be in the same house this time next week, that has huge impacts on learning,” David said.

The lawyer hired by the school, Vinnie Shin, is from the Western Community Legal Centre.

His two-year placement at the school has been funded by donations from philanthropic organisations, and a $10,000 grant from law firm Slater and Gordon.

“Young people and children are more involved with the legal system, more so than 20 years ago,” Mr Vinnie told SBS.

“It’s really important that there is this lawyer who is accessible.”

Social worker Renee Dowling was one of the brains behind the school lawyer project.

A school in Melbourne's south-west suburbs has become the first to put a lawyer on staff. (SBS)

A school in Melbourne’s south-west suburbs has become the first to put a lawyer on staff. (SBS)

She previously worked for the Department of Public Prosecutions, and saw where young people could end up without early intervention.

She said there had been the occasional student involved in criminal cases, where Vinnie’s assistance had prevented more serious outcomes.

But she said its help with other areas of law that is most commonly needed.

“Part of my concern initially was people would assume that because we’ve got a lawyer, we’ve got a high criminal history rate here which is not necessarily the case,” Renee said.

“The sorts of issues we see families accessing our lawyers for are the same as anyone else.”

“Such as mortgage distress, financial hardship, not being able to pay the bills,” she explained.

“We’ve got certain families here on certain visas, their families aren’t eligible for payments from Centrelink.”

The Grange P-12 College’s population is extremely ethnically diverse, with more than 58 nationalities represented.

David Smillie said changes to the school demographic had brought different challenges.

“In the last two to three years we’ve had lots of Horn of Africa families move in,” he said.

“I think with any new group coming into the school, it’s very difficult to adjust to how our community operates and often the law is a very significant part of that.”

Renee Dowling said some of the issues for students from migrant backgrounds had been unexpected, such as employment law.

“We’ve got certain families here on certain visas, their families aren’t eligible for payments or Centrelink,” she said.

“So their children are often strongly encouraged to go and work and because there is that pressure there, they’ll accept conditions that perhaps less vulnerable children would stand up and say, ‘hey that’s not ok’,” Renee said.

“That’s been a real eye-opener.”

And there had been other unexpected issues as well.

“…such as arranged marriages and those sorts of things,” she said.

“It’s a first for us and it’s a first for the school lawyer as well,” she said.

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About Ellis Ferdinand

Ellis Ferdinand is the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of EducationGhana Limited and the Managing Editor at EducationGhana.net . He is a passionate writer,a publicist and an online Marketer and Promoter. He is Ghana's number 1 Education Blogger who brings all happenings in the Ghanaian Education Sector ,from Basic to Tertiary, to the doorsteps of readers on EducationGhana.net He is also the Founder of Education Awards Ghana which will soon be launched in Ghana to help boosts the Education Sector. He is Passionate about Promoting Education in Ghana, Africa and the world at large. Ferdinand Completed Accra College of Education and was Awarded a Diploma In Basic Education by the University of Cape Coast and Currently reading Psychology and Foundation of Education with Management and Accounting Options at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Ferdinand is willing to work with any organization who believes in Promoting quality business as well as Education in Ghana and Africa. You can Contact him for Promotion of Events,Advertisements,Publications and any other business through Education Ghana.

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