It's been six years since the introduction of Slater and Gordon’s innovative and ground-breaking social work service, making it a good time to reflect on how this has benefited our clients.
The service was created after lawyers reported that they were increasingly being contacted by clients who have suffered harm from an unintended incident and were in a state of emotional or social crisis.
Adjusting to a significant physical, psychological or medical condition is a very challenging and emotional process and can cause people to develop low self-esteem, feelings of social isolation, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Their health and medical problems often lead to financial distress as it can take weeks, months or even years to recover physically and psychologically.
Many of our clients end up with a permanent condition and some are unable to ever return to work.
Simple things such as accessing adequate treatment and care or paying basic living expenses such as rent may be beyond reach whilst legal proceedings run their course and this can compound the psychological distress.
Slater and Gordon’s Social Work Service was born out of the firm’s sense of social responsibility and commitment to helping its clients deal with the consequences of their condition and overcome the many issues causing them hardship.
Senior management in the firm made the decision to provide a free in-house social work service to these clients in recognition of the psycho-social difficulties they can face during the course of their legal claims.
The service model focuses on reducing or eliminating the negative emotional and social factors that have arisen as a direct result of the client’s incident and their medical condition; and, reducing or eliminating the pre-existing psycho-social factors that interfere with the individual’s ability to participate in the legal process. This broad scope allows us to address any of the issues of concern clients raise with their lawyers.
More than 1200 clients have been referred to the Social Work Service since it began.
Reasons for referral include emotional distress; suicide risk; financial difficulties; rent arrears; inadequate housing; homelessness; domestic violence; inability to access appropriate treatment, care and support services; at-risk behaviours; immigration visa issues; and, guardianship and administration issues.
Not every problem can be ‘fixed’ because solutions are dependent on factors beyond the clients’ or the firm’s control, such as over-stretched and under-resourced community services or ineligibility for a service.
For clients having to live with debilitating or serious medical conditions and health issues or loss of function, including the ability to work, learning to adapt to the difficult circumstances can take months or even years and requires a lot of support.
Despite this, we have been able to help many of our clients through the provision of counselling, advocacy, information and education, liaison and referral and case management.
Although serious medical conditions and health issues can strike anyone, many of the clients referred to the Social Work Service are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, experience language barriers or have problems with drugs or alcohol or a pre-existing psychiatric condition.
Consideration of legal issues is often not well integrated within the psycho-social framework to meet the needs of these vulnerable and marginalised people.
Yet Slater and Gordon is pioneering in its holistic perspective, recognising the psycho-social issues its clients face within the legal context.
The Social Work Service is now embedded in the organisation.
Six years on, I can confidently say that the service has made a difference in the lives of many and it is hard to imagine what would have happened to many of our clients if the service did not exist.
For 24 hour crisis support call 13 11 14, or visit www.lifeline.org.au/.