Private donation saves Court Network

Court Network has begun running a phone support service for Family Court users during the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Danielle Kutchel

Court Network will continue its Family Court support services, after a stunning private donation at the 11th hour revived the organisation.

And in a poetic twist, that funding came from a place with a unique connection to Court Network.

David Baer, whose mother Patricia Baer played an instrumental role in establishing Court Network in its early days, donated $130,000 to keep the vital service running for the next 12 months.

Mr Baer’s touching donation follows protracted negotiations with state and federal politicians and bureaucrats to try and secure the organisation’s future.

“It is a continuation of my mother’s legacy,” Mr Baer said of his donation.

“Courts can be an unfamiliar, unforgiving place. A lot of people there are at their most vulnerable whether women or men, and I think Court Network does a good job at providing access to the services that are available for the people that need them.”

Executive director of Court Network, Maya Avdibegovic, said staff were “speechless, excited and really pleased” to receive the donation.

The funding will support Court Network’s free, volunteer-led services at Dandenong and Melbourne Family Courts.

It also gives the organisation a bit of breathing room as they continue to advocate for ongoing government funding beyond 2021.

Court Network’s Family Court services had historically been funded by the Federal Government, until a change in 2015 saw the money transferred to the states with no clear direction about allocation for Court Network.

Victorian Legal Aid took over administration of the funds and supplied Court Network with the money they needed to continue their work, until that avenue also dried up.

Ms Avdibegovic said Court Network “streamlines processes for everyone in court”, helping to improve access to justice for vulnerable court users.

Court Network has been serving Dandenong and Melbourne Family Courts since 1990.

Three days a week, six volunteers help court users navigate the intimidating Family Court process, working collaboratively with security, men’s and women’s family violence services and legal services to provide support, identify risk and provide referrals to other services.

Since Covid-19 hit, with court activities limited, the organisation has focused on providing a statewide phone support service.

Around 75 percent of calls made to the service are family violence-related, with many coming from people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

“The need is there – courts are still working, in very limited capacity,” Ms Avdibegovic explained.

Magistrates have also expressed an interest in the phone support service, she added, seeing it as a true statewide service that can provide support in rural and regional areas where there may be limited alternatives.

The organisation will monitor and evaluate the program and hope, if it is successful, to run it alongside their in-court services once they resume.

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