Intersectionality and Feminism
Our model is based off the idea that domestic/family violence affects everyone, no matter their age, gender, background, etc. Each person experiencing violence/abuse requires specialized and individualized advice, as their barriers to access justice vary according to their circumstances. Intersectionality is a cornerstone in our services, and our service are not exclusive to female and female-identifying people. Our organization, Calgary Legal Guidance, prides itself on working tightly with many different people in our community, no one is left behind. The characteristics of an individual, especially immutable characteristics – being Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color, having English as a second language , struggling with mental health issues, having a disability, being a woman or youth, being LGBTQ2S+, having limited or no financial resources, are not barriers to the justice system, rather they are realities of their life! It is the system that created barriers. As a feminist organization, we believe that all people should be treated with equity and justice. They way we work, the help we provide, and the role we play in the system has the potential to influence change and reduce barriers that exist independently of the individual.
We try to help people subjected to family violence safely remove themselves from their situation, ideally setting them up for self-efficacy and self-sufficiency in the family law legal system. We also try to help them to address concurrent needs and barriers, and allow them autonomy to make decisions that are right for them in their unique circumstances. We rely on processes that are fluid, without strict formulaic processes or rules, and open communication. Due to the nature of our organization, we are limited in the services we can provide, however, we prioritize being available for clients when they need us, and when they are ready. This is why we are flexible and accessible. We work as a team to ensure that the client leaves feeling empowered and able to do the work on their own, or find other resources in the community that can provide help or additional services. There are no cookie cutter solutions, and no straight lines forward that are the same for all people.
Strengths-based is term most often used in the Social Work field. However, it is important that as lawyers we use this approach when dealing with family law clients. What a strengths-based approach does, is focus on an individual’s self-determination, resiliency, and their strengths. It sees clients as in control of their story and situation. It also empowers clients to play on these strengths and be a resource in their own matter. A strengths-based approach ensures that the file is being client-centered and that the outcomes are always tailored around what will lead to positive outcomes for that person, according to their strengths.
Our entire team had adopted the strengths-based model. We all work proactively together, toward the goal of a client leaving the relationship safely and entering the legal system.
The Domestic Family Law Family Program is part of Calgary Legal Guidance and we serve marginalized and vulnerable populations in Calgary. The program began its work in 1995, and initially consisted of two programs: court preparation, and restraining orders. Over the years, the program has undergone a number of changes regarding its services, however, the focus has always been on family law and marginalized or vulnerable people.
We work to ensure that gaps in the legal sector are filled to ensure that everyone is receiving the legal help they need. Our main area of focus is on individuals who are subjected to family and intimate partner violence. We look carefully at what programs are being offered by other community service agencies, as well as Legal Aid Alberta. We do our best to keep up with research and ongoing court cases, as well as listen to what others in the community are saying. We believe that collaboration in the community is vital, especially for domestic violence victims and survivors.
Currently, there appears to be a large gap in education, awareness and responsiveness in the legal system when it comes to domestic or family violence, and its many forms. We also recognize that there is a necessary shift in the legal atmosphere that needs to happen, when it comes to legal practice itself. The law can be formulaic, paternalistic, and imposing; it is by nature, reactive. We work to ensure that we are proactive when providing legal services to our clients.
Our focus is narrowed to only those who have been subjected to violence and abuse. We advise people at any stage in their legal process, and do our best to give everyone that comes to us the power of knowledge, along with tangible and realistic steps forward. We start with the position that each person has their own unique set of circumstances, and that each person has the strengths from which to build on. Our goal is to empower our clients. We work off a self-referral program. We also take clients from our evening clinic appointments, as well as community referrals.
Collaboration and Holistic Approach
Ideally each client had the opportunity to spend an hour with our social worker, and an hour talking to our family lawyer. In that small amount of time, we do our best to address the person’s biggest concerns and give them options that are safe, realistic, and doable. Beyond the one or two hours of free advice, the lawyer and social worker have the flexibility to provide other services on a case-by-case basis. We are flexible and ensure that we are always accessible.
We recognize that the reality of the survivor or victim of violence and abuse is far more complex than a narrow set of legal issues, and that non-legal matters must be addressed alongside or before the legal issues in order for that person to move forward. Most often these issues include safety, housing, immediate financial aid, and quality, thoughtful and direct referrals to services such as counselling.
To that end, the program employs two full-time lawyers, one full time registered social worker, and a full-time program coordinator, all with specialized skill sets, training, and experience. The lawyers and advocates work collectively, and on an equal footing with one another, deferring to and relying on one another’s expertise and insight in order to address a client’s underlying needs, in the hopes that we can help that person take steps to leave the relationship, while being safe and setting themselves up for success in the legal system if necessary. Our ultimate goal is to build on our clients’ existing skills and strengths, and to stop the cycle of violence. As such, we are an interdisciplinary, collaborative program that not only helps clients with the legal needs, but can provide internal social work needs, and external agency support.