As COVID-19 continues to force shutdowns across the country, many essential services are continuing to operate – albeit with strict social distancing practices, or with employees working from home.
CLEON Legal and Mediation Services, a Townsville-based law firm specializing in domestic violence and family law, is determined to continue servicing its clients through the global pandemic.
The firm, which is the only private specialised provider of domestic violence law in North Queensland, is committed to continue operating as seamlessly as possible, with the knowledge that self-isolation is expected to lead to a rise in demand for domestic violence services.
Principal Lawyer, Ms Chrissy Leontios says:
“While we always prefer to welcome our clients into our beautiful office space, we are now conducting appointments via Skype, FaceTime, and phone calls, which are keeping our clients, and our staff safe.”
Ms Leontios says COVID-19 is also prompting a change in some of the services their clients need.
“We have had many enquries from mums and dads who are wondering how they can continue to comply with Parenting Plans and Consent Orders, should Australia enter a full lockdown, and even now, in the current conditions, since clients want clear answers and guidance,” she says.
The Family Court of Australia released new guidelines on the child-focused expectations of parents in these unprecedented times on Thursday last week.
Family violence on the rise
“Unfortunately, there has also been an increase in requests for services from clients seeking new places of isolation as a refuge, after spending an increased amount of time trapped inside their home with an abuser,” says Ms Leontios.
This follows reports that cases of domestic and family violence in China tripled during the country’s lockdown.
By contrast, Italy reported a downturn in cases during the peak of their epidemic. However, Ms Leontios agrees with other experts who say these figures could be deceiving.
“COVID 19 has created an obvious strain on emergency service personnel and legal services, who would typically be resourced to help domestic violence situations,” says Ms Leontios.
The Federal Government has recently announced a $1.1 billion package to support telehealth, mental health and national domestic violence initiatives.
“We also see many cases where the continued presence of an abuser at home may prevent victims or witnesses from being able to seek help. COVID-19 is creating a new strain of psychological abuse.”
CLEON Legal is now also urging employers who may be practicing Working From Home, to build domestic violence considerations into their WFH policies, and take note of employees who could be at increased risk of domestic violence.
“We know that regular employment is often a source of support, independence, and escape for victims of abuse, so when workers are unable to continue that routine outside of the home, domestic violence and abuse can intensify,” says Ms Leontios.
What employers can do
Ms Leontios recommends employers consider the following questions to determine whether an employee may be at risk of or experiencing domestic violence:
- Is your employee more distracted than usual?
- Has their productivity reduced?
- Has their communication style and body language changed since working from home?
- Are their excuses failing to add up?
CLEON Legal is offering a new service to assist employers to develop screening tools for potential domestic violence victims, domestic violence work from home policies, and one-off advice and assistance to an employee who is referred by an employer.
Support for victims who are now unemployed
“We also know that while many in our community are working from home, COVID 19 has also forced many out of a job, which can be even more damaging and stressful for abuse sufferers. CLEON Legal is working to make sure one crisis does not feed another.”
Staff at CLEON Legal are willing and happy to work overtime to make sure domestic violence sufferers do not fall through the cracks of free legal services that are becoming increasingly backlogged.
“Money is tight, for many of us, so we’ve reduced our Initial Consultation fee by 50 percent, to receive initial advice, strategies, and to help new clients learn about their options,” Ms Leontios says.
The Firm is also offering self-representation packages to reduce fees for clients, so that they have the best chance of achieving justice despite the impact of COVID-19.
CLEON Legal is also examining flexible payment options to help people through this uncertain time.
“It is a balancing act of helping families and domestic violence victims, whilst ensuring cashflow for business viability, and maintaining jobs for our wonderful staff,” says Ms Leontios.
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