Legal Aid swamped by work, ending enhanced child protection service
'We didn't want to do it': Director Nick Summers says resources needed elsewhere
A program giving extra attention to child protection issues has been axed from the Legal Aid Commission in St. John's because resources are needed elsewhere.
The Family and Child Office is closing around July 31. There will be no layoffs according to Nick Summers, provincial director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission, but there will be less support for clients.
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For the past 10 years, the office has given people a lawyer, paralegal and social worker to help them through the legal process — but not anymore.
Now the social worker will be available to all lawyers in the commission, not just the Family and Child Office.
"Where you had three people assisting before, now you've got one," Summers said. "It's going to take a little longer. It may be a little less comfortable. But in the end, I think they're still going to get the outcome that they should get."
Not all clients dealing with child protection issues used the services of the Family and Child Office. Many were represented by other legal aid lawyers.
Economy to blame for workload
With the office closing, some funds will be shuffled to open a new St. John's office dealing with family and criminal matters.
It is expected to take a strain off legal aid in Carbonear, which deals with approximately 200 cases that the capital city can't handle.
"We are facing great pressures on our resources at the moment, and by reallocating the resources, we can be more efficient — basically serve a greater number of people," Summers said.
He blamed the increasing workload on a poor economy.
"We figure, because of the economic downturn in the province, we have had a massive increase in the number of people who have applied for and qualified for legal aid," he said.
I'd like to have given them better.- Nick Summers, provincial director
"The last time I looked at the number a couple of months ago, we were up over 12 per cent."
Summers stressed the closure was not made to target a vulnerable sector, but to provide a boost to all areas of legal aid by removing an enhancement to one group.
Staff have been critical of the move, but are coming to accept it, he said. After all, a smaller bottom line in the province means smaller budgets for everyone involved.
"I'd like to have given them better, but economic times are economic times, and we have to make do with what we have. And what we have, is getting stretched further and further every month."
He said two other family and child offices elsewhere in the province will remain open.
With files from Jen White