New FASS chapter begins with Relationships Australia

A new chapter for Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) has begun this year with Relationships Australia now providing social worker support alongside Tasmania Legal Aid lawyers.

The FASS program helps men and women affected by family violence in need of legal and social support as they move through their family law matters.

TLA FASS lawyer Kati Agh said the federally funded program was set up to help the large numbers of people in the family law courts “coming through unrepresented as they did not qualify for legal aid and had no money to pay for a private lawyer”.

Kati said since the program was set-up four years ago FASS lawyers and social workers have been made available in Family Law Courts around Australia.

“We help by providing advice, give information about court procedures, process and documents," she said.

"We can offer help to people with language, literacy or other barriers in preparing family law documents. We also help people with their court appearances and give guidance on what will happen in court. We assist them in court to a limited degree and we help prepare for trials,” Kati said.

Tasmania Legal Aid Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) lawyer Kati Agh.

FASS is “geared towards people affected by family violence…whether as victim or a person who has used family violence”, Kati said.

FASS lawyers get many referrals from Community organisations such as shelters, family violence support services for women and men, and counselling and financial services.

Melanie Tighe, Talisa Reed  and Fred Thoen, the Relationships Australia social workers who started with the FASS program in January 2021, have many years experience working with men and women in family violence situations.

Melanie has seen many clients struggle to understand their personal experiences as family violence. Through conversations and counselling, she said, more perpetrators and victims come to understand domestic abuse can be more than physical.

“Sometimes people just don't know how to articulate what's going on and sometimes they will know something's wrong but they don't quite know if it's wrong enough,” she said.

“And that's where I think being able to talk to a social worker about that, and discovering that yes they do have a good reason to be worried or they do have a reason to be afraid and what steps they can take to be safe.”

In addition to legal advice provided by the Duty Lawyers, the FASS social workers are able to talk with clients to help them comprehend that family violence is more than physically violent actions – it can be verbal threats, manipulation and “coercive control”, where someone dominates a partner or family member, taking charge of decisions over things like finances, attire and friendships.

Fred Thoen brings experience working with Relationships Australia’s Men’s Program, which is a "for perpetrators of family violence”, he said. Having male counsellors available can help take off some hard edges.

Relationships Australia FASS social worker Melanie Tighe (L) and Kati Agh (R) in the FASS office at the Hobart Federal Court building.

“For example, if a guy walks up and he doesn't want to work with Mel because she's female, they can give me a call and I can provide the service,” he said.

Melanie is based a the Federal Court building in Hobart while Talisa works from the Hobart Legal Aid office and is available for inter-office social advice for in-house lawyers and their clients.

Kati said having social workers present during interviews with family violence victims benefits the clients and lawyers.

“In my 35 years of being a lawyer, I think FASS is one of the most brilliant setups because of the dual support we are able to provide clients  and where they don’t have to keep repeating their story,” she said.

“And that's really important because we're lawyers, we’re not social workers. So it's really hard when you've got traumatized people, either  perpetrators or victims, and we  are explaining the law and assisting people though the court system, but they also need support with their emotional wellbeing together with things like housing, financial stress and mental health and now we have trained personnel to assist them.”

To speak with someone from our FASS team, phone 1800 431 157

More information on the Family Advocacy and Support Service can be found here.

Last updated: 02/03/2021