Crisis Compounded? Legal Aid, Feminist Advocacy, and the Budget Cuts in British Columbia, Canada

By Agnieszka Doll

Since 2002, the successive governments of the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) have enacted large-scale budget cuts to state-funded legal aid. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researchers reported that in 2002 provincial funding for legal aid has been cut by 40 percent (Brewin & Stephens, 2004; Govender & Milne, April 9, 2013) The most severe reductions were implemented in areas of family law, poverty law, and immigration legal aid. In fact, by the 2010 the legal aid representation in poverty and immigration cases was completely eliminated, while in family law, such representation has been limited to high risk cases (Brewin & Govender, 2010; Brewin & Stephens, 2004). In addition to difficulties in receiving legal representation, access to legal information has been also limited by changing eligibility threshold, substituting direct contact with lawyers with online and telephone service, and reducing the number of legal clinics. While legal aid in BC was considered insufficient even before the reductions, the cuts further deepened the crisis by limiting access to justice for the most marginalized populations (Morrow, Hankivsky, & Varcoe, 2004).

Feminist scholars (Morrow et al., 2004) have specifically argued that the cuts have a clear gender dimension. Firstly, prevalence of poverty among women, including those who experience intimate violence, renders women particularly disadvantaged by legal aid cuts as they often rely on state-resources for their access to justice (Sarophim, 2010). Secondly, the implemented cuts predominately targeted services related to family, civil or poverty law, which women tend to use more often that, for instance, services related to criminal law that received no similar cuts and that tend to be more frequently utilized by men. Third, concurrent implementation of changes limiting state funding for women’s organizations and subjecting funding to competitive distribution model, shattered existing infrastructure of research and advocacy-based organizations that are often unable to compete with for-profit organizations for service provision (Knight & Rodgers, 2012).

In the midst of those changes, I conducted (between 2008-2009) a qualitative study in one B.C women’s organization through which I explored how the organization’s staff experience delivering law-related services to women or helping these women access justice in the context of the budget cuts. I was also interested in learning about the extent to which existing legal services meet specific needs of immigrant women who experience intimate violence.

My interviews with the organization’s frontline staff and its administrators, as well as a focus group and hours of observations revealed three major findings regarding the consequences of government cuts on service offered by the organization:

1)      The organization went through severe employment shifts. For example, at the time of my research, the Victim Assistance Program – designed to assist women who experience abuse in navigating their criminal cases through the criminal justice system – lost all of its previous employees and was run by a new staff. Such shifts in the staff composition complicate the organization’s court presence; the previously established relations with the court personnel often need to be rebuilt, which takes significant amount of time and effort. Thus, the cuts contributed to shattering the organization’s credibility as legal advocates by affecting its ability to remain visible to justice and police administration.

2)      The organization became dependent on volunteer work. For example, the women’s center, which is often the first contact point for women seeking legal services, was forced to substitute the loss of three fourth of its professional staff with work of volunteers. This restructuring has consequences on the quality of information received by women who come for legal guidance. Since volunteers provide their help occasionally, their skills are mostly used to support the basic functioning of the center not to provide information about legal aid service to women in need. Often, they do not have the related professional training.

3)      Given changes in priority areas funded by the government, the organization adjusted their own services accordingly. Previous focus on feminist political awareness raising about the nature of gender inequalities or feminist advocacy gave way to emphasis on short-term relief services provided to the victims of gender violence. As organizations became forced to compete with each other for resources, they started to internalize the idea of self-sufficiency as their key for survival. Thus, instead of sharing resources such as translation services, etc. with other organizations, applying for own funding came to be regarded as a strategy of ensuing inflow of additional money to the organization.

One important implication of my study I would like to highlight is the impact of budget cuts on feminist organizations’ potential to pursue advocacy for women in the courts, in the police, and in other law enforcing institutions. While the budget cuts to legal services evidently degenerated the position of women experiencing violence who need to represent themselves in courts and often surround their rights, truly successful legal representation amounts to more then just having a lawyer. It would not be novel to say that the gender stereotypes still prevail in the criminal justice system; the domestic violence cases are considered of a lower importance to other criminal cases, and the knowledge of intimate violence by court, police authorities, but also by lawyers is often not sufficient. Thus, survivors-centered advocacy shall be considered as complementary to prosecution or to other legal procedures resulting from or linked to gender violence so the needs of women are addressed by judicial decisions (Nichols, 2013). I would like to also suggest that individual-level advocacy pursued on the ground by feminist advocates is instrumental for fair and equal access to justice for women, similar, as it is to the needs-based access to legal aid. The structural –level feminist advocacy needs to continue to expose the link between the gendered socio-structural inequalities and gender violence. Those important dimensions of women’s and anti-violence movements have been seriously jeopardized by the discussed budget cuts. The quest for funding had the effect of pushing women’s organizations to depoliticize and subvert feminist ideas about the relationship between gender, violence, and structural inequalities and, instead, adopt “a Band-Aid” solution to gender violence and channel their advocacy efforts. This way, by undermining the potential for feminist advocacy through budgets cuts, the B.C. governments made effective steps towards reinforcing gender order through legal means and within legal system.

Bibliography:

Brewin, A., & Govender, K. (2010). Rights-Based Legal Aid: Rebuilding BC’s Broken System. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/BC Office/2010/11/CCPA_Legal_Aid_web.pdf

Brewin, A., & Stephens, L. (2004). Legal Aid Denied: Women and the Cuts to Legal Services in B.C. BC Office: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and West Coast LEAF.

Govender, K., & Milne, K. (April 9, 2013). BC’s Publicly Funded Legal Aid is in Crisis. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/commentary/bc%E2%80%99s-publicly-funded-legal-aid-crisis

Knight, M., & Rodgers, K. (2012). “The Government Is Operationalizing Neo-liberalism”: Women’s Organizations, Status of Women Canada, and the Struggle for Progressive Social Change in Canada. NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 20(4), 266-282. doi: 10.1080/08038740.2012.747786

Morrow, M., Hankivsky, O., & Varcoe, C. (2004). Women and Violence: The Effects of Dismantling the Welfare State. Critical Social Policy, 24(3), 358-384. doi: 10.1177/0261018304044364

Nichols, A. J. (2013). Meaning-Making and Domestic Violence Victim Advocacy: An Examination of Feminist Identities, Ideologies, and Practices. Feminist Criminology, 8(3), 177-201. doi: 10.1177/1557085113482727

Sarophim, J. (2010). Access Barred: The Effects of the Cuts and Restructuring of Legal Aid in B.C. on Women Attempting to Navigate the Provincial Family Court System. Canadian Journal of Family Law, 26(2), 451-472.

Rethinking the Care Needs of Older Homeless People

by Rachel Barken and Amanda Grenier

The care needs of older adults experiencing physical and cognitive decline generate much attention in political, popular, and academic debates. Yet, particular subgroups of the older population are often overlooked. Such is the case for older homeless people, whose numbers are increasing across Canada and internationally. Older homelessness is also largely invisible in academic study, although interest is beginning to turn in this direction. Few gerontological works focus on homelessness, and studies on homelessness are often organized around earlier parts of the life course (Crane & Warnes, 2005; McDonald, Dergal, & Cleghorn, 2007). As a result, we know little about older homeless adults’ needs for care.

Our research project, “Homelessness in Late life: Growing Old on the Streets, in Shelters, and Long-term Care” explores the challenges older homelessness brings for aging societies as a whole and for service providers working in housing, shelter and long-term care. It involves a critical policy analysis; qualitative interviews with service providers and older homeless people; and participant observation in homeless shelters in Montreal, Quebec. This blog reports preliminary results from interviews with 15 service providers working with older homeless people. Interviews revealed three findings relevant to the challenges and contradictions of later life homelessness: (1) the need to adapt current approaches to homelessness to better accommodate older people, (2) the need to develop and sustain affordable housing across the life course, and (3) the inherent emotional conflicts and contradictions associated with homelessness in late life.

First, homelessness tends to be approached as a rupture in the life course requiring an emergency response. Support services are often provided in reaction to a fixed event, with the aim of reconnecting people with work or housing.  Interviews with service providers, though, reveal that older homelessness is often the result of marginal and precarious positions over time. The combined implications of social marginalization and older age means that traditional solutions based on work and housing are less able to ‘fix’ the problem of older homelessness. A deeper understanding of the interconnected individual and structural forces leading to later life homelessness is necessary.

Second, older people are caught between various housing and long-term care models. Housing options for older homeless adults in Canada include affordable housing units, alternative housing models, emergency shelters, and residential and long-term care facilities. Yet there is often a disjuncture between housing policies and practices on the one hand, and older homeless adults’ experiences, needs, and abilities on the other. Older people may need to compete against younger groups for subsidised housing. Pensions provide a certain level of income, but this does not address the shortage in supported housing options. Add to this that shelters or rooming houses are not intended as spaces to grow old. They are not adapted to changes in mobility and certainly do not qualify as ‘home’. Long-term care is also often inaccessible to older homeless people. They either cannot afford long-term care, or their needs cannot easily be accommodated in institutional environments.

Our third finding is perhaps most interesting to the debates circulating on this blog. Although workers do not necessarily name it as such, their interviews convey emotional, moral, and ethical conflicts around service priorities, personal associations, and expectations of aging. Their comments that one is ‘not expected to be homeless in later life’ poignantly articulate the conflicts that they experience with regards to aging and marginalisation and a profound helplessness given the lack of service options available for older homeless people.

In sum, homelessness rarely figures in to discussions of later life care. This leaves us with few directives when attempting to care for older homelessness people. We suggest that a life course perspective could be fruitfully applied to understand major pathways into homelessness, particularly risk factors and trigger events, and their prevalence across the life course. With this in place, it is necessary to design housing and care options that suit older homeless people’s diverse needs, abilities, and interests. Finally, it is urgent for discussions of later life care to address the realities of homelessness in particular, and social marginalization more generally. Our project, grounded in empirical data, seeks to generate knowledge that will enable policymakers and practitioners to account for homelessness in their responses to later life care.

References:

Crane, M., & Warnes, A. (2005). Responding to the needs of older homeless people.         Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 18(2), 137-152.

McDonald, L., Dergal, J., & Cleghorn, L. (2007). Living on the margins: Older homeless    adults in Toronto. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 49(1-2), 19-46.

* The results discussed in this blog are part of an ongoing study being carried out at the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal, and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: Homelessness in Late Life: Growing Old on the Streets, in Shelters and Long-term Care: Amanda Grenier (PI), Tamara Sussman, David Rothwell and Jean-Pierre Lavoie.

Amanda Grenier, PhD, is Director of the Gilbrea Centre for the Studies of Aging, Gilbrea Chair in Aging and Mental Health, and Associate Professor in Health, Aging and Society at McMaster University, Canada.

Rachel Barken is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University and Research Assistant on the Homelessness in Late Life research project.

Sexual identity and care home provision: some reflections on the research process

My colleagues and I at Swansea University have recently completed a mixed-methods study into the provision of inclusive care to older lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people in residential and nursing care environments in Wales – an elongated title for saying, ‘how well are older LGB recognised and cared for in care homes?’ We know from the literature that heterosexism in residential care provision can mask the sexual health needs, diversity and desires of older LGB residents. Prior research from Australia and the United States has identified institutional and historical barriers that prevent older people ‘coming out’, or identifying as LGB to care providers (Barrett, 2008; Jackson, Johnson & Roberts, 2008; Knockel, Quam & Croghan, 2010; Tolley & Ranzijn, 2006). Our research was funded by the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR) and had a unique focus on Wales as a UK nation with devolved responsibility for providing health and social care to its citizens, including older people. Residential and nursing homes (private and local authority-owned) from across Wales took part. Two methods were used to gather staff perspectives on inclusive care —self-completed questionnaires (121 respondents), and focus groups with care staff and managers (5 groups) from 32 organisations. Other methods included: content analysis of Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) Inspection reports (383 reports) to identify content pertaining to sexuality, sexual health and LGB identities; and, semi-structured interviews with 29 older LGB-identifying adults about their hopes and expectations for future care. The final report is available online and provides an overview of the key findings and recommendations: http://www.swan.ac.uk/humanandhealthsciences/research/research-impact/lgb-residential-care-report/

What follows are some brief reflections on the process of involving care organisations in the research – reflective comments on the research process that do not always make the final edit of reports and papers but may help steer future research in this domain.

Willingness to participate and learn – We initially anticipated that seeking care home participation would be the biggest challenge in recruitment because of the politically-charged nature of the topic and our concern that staff and managers would interpret our research endeavours as a critical appraisal of their practice.  Instead, we were struck by the enthusiasm of staff and managers to participate. Using a random sampling method, we invited 51 organisations to participate with 19 declining. Most of these homes declined because of impeding closures that created logistical barriers to their involvement. For some staff groups, participation in a focus group was framed as an informal learning opportunity into an area that receives little time and attention, an unexpected but positive outcome. Across focus groups, there was general agreement of a ‘need to know more’ about sexual difference and LGB histories. Participating staff members conveyed an awareness of progressive shifts in legislation and social attitudes but in equal measures expressed a willingness to be more mindful of the sexual biographies of residents in their care.

Sexuality, dementia and everyday care – While our research focused on sexual identity and social inclusion, a connected and equally pertinent topic that frequently emerged in focus groups was the complexity of balancing issues of sexual expression, dementia and informed consent. Staff elaborated on the challenges of negotiating sexual relationships and intimate contact between residents with declining mental capacity alongside responding to the often divided opinions of family members. Listening to these accounts of complex care deepened our appreciation for staff members’ commitment to respecting the rights and choices of residents in their care and to continually ‘do the right thing’. It also brought home the ethical complexity of providing care in these settings for employees who were in receipt of a low financial reward just above the minimal wage with little professional recognition.

Missing voices from the research – Staff views and accounts conveyed through the research represent predominantly White perspectives. The majority of participating staff and mangers were white, heterosexual women born in Wales and of mainly Christian background. This clearly did not match our observations of staffing groups when entering homes – we noticed many participating homes employed staff from black and ethnically diverse groups, including individuals from African and Asian migrant communities. We were limited to the staff available to speak to us between rotating shifts and group membership was often facilitated by senior staff members operating as ‘gatekeepers’ for their organisations. It is difficult to pinpoint whether individual staff from migrant and ethnically diverse communities opted not to participate for personal or religious reasons or whether they were not approached to participate; we can only speculate about possible barriers to participation. Ethical requirements prevented us from actively approaching individual staff to participate. Finally, we did not anticipate the eagerness of ancillary staff members (such as cleaners, kitchen staff etc.) to have a say in the research. It became increasingly clear that their various duties involved regular contact with residents and their views were of equal importance in the provision of inclusive care. We confess to underestimating the validity and contribution of these staff members’ perspectives; food for thought for future research.

I hope the above reflections are of some benefit to other researchers and practitioners engaged in research in an area of increasing interest. Putting these observations to paper has been valuable for me in capturing the often sidelined messages about research into organisations providing care to others.

Barrett, C. (2008). My People: A project exploring the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex seniors in aged-care services Retrieved 16th October 2009, from http://www.matrixguildvic.org.au/MyPeopleReport2008.pdf

Jackson, N.C., Johnson, M.J. & Roberts, R. (2008). The potential impact of discrimination: fears of older gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals living in small- to moderate-sized cities on long-term health care. Journal of Homosexuality, 54(3), 325-339.

Knockel, K.A., Quam, J.K. & Corghan, C.F. (2011). Are Old Lesbian and Gay People Well Served? Understanding the Perceptions, Preparation, and Experiences of Aging Services Providers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 30(3), 370-389.

Tolley, C. & Ranzijn, R. (2006). Predictors of heteronormativity in residential aged care facilities. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 25(4), 209-214.

About the author: Paul Willis is Senior Lecturer in social work in the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University. His research interests include ageing, sexuality and social care; wellbeing and identity construction of LGBT youth; and social inclusion in organisations. Email: P.B.Willis@swansea.ac.uk

Care in the first two years of life: OXPIP and the emerging discipline of parent-infant psychotherapy

By Adrian Sell, Executive Director, OXPIP: The Oxford Parent Infant Project

OXPIP is one of the organisations pioneering parent-infant psychotherapy. Founded in 1998 we have been working in Oxfordshire to provide support to parents who are struggling to form a secure attachment to their baby. In the last three years we have worked with over 900 families and consistently improved mental health and the quality of the parent-infant relationship[1]. We work with babies up to the age of two and their parents, normally the mother but we have worked with many fathers as well.

Parent-infant psychotherapy is distinguished by the attention it brings to the mother’s mental health, the baby’s mental health and, crucially, to the quality of the relationship between parent and baby. This focus on the quality of the care that comes from this early experience is critical to our success in addressing intergenerational cycles of disadvantage. We all have a tendency to default to parenting our children as we were parented, even if those relationships were withdrawn, unpredictable or harmful.

Our clinicians are skilled at enabling parents to build and sustain closer relationships with their children. One of the therapeutic tools for achieving this is through modelling thoughtful, empathic ways of relating within the therapeutic relationship. For some of the parents we work with this is the first time they have really experienced being thought about and related to in this way; it can be a powerful tool for change, opening up new possibilities for how they in turn can relate to their babies.

Our team of psychotherapists come from a range of backgrounds including Child Psychotherapy, Adult Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology as well as including prior qualifications in Health Visiting, Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work and Teaching. All have undergone Infant Observation training, and are trained in the use of video through the (NICE approved) Video Interaction Guidance approach. This mix of backgrounds and approaches gives our work a strength and rigour that forces us to constantly challenge our own preconceptions and viewpoints.

We are part of a growing national movement of people and organisations who are bringing greater focus to the first years of life. Our Executive Director, Adrian Sell is a trustee of PIP-UK a new national charity seeking to support similar services to develop elsewhere. We have backing from Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation where we are one of twenty-five organisations they see as critical social game-changers supporting disadvantaged children to develop to their full potential. We are a member of the Centre for Social Justice Alliance where we are recognised for our effectiveness in tackling the root causes of poverty and disadvantage. We are supporters of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age 2 – the first 1001 days

We all instinctively know that the first few years of our life are formative. There is also considerable neuroscientific evidence that has emerged to support this. OXPIP are now at the forefront of developing an evidence base for the positive impact that parent-infant psychotherapy can have. If you want to find out more then please look at our website, get in touch or leave a comment below.

OXPIP: The Oxford Parent Infant Project
Suite J
The Kidlington Centre
Kidlington
OX5 2DL
T: 01865 371080 or 01865 778034
info@oxpip.org.uk
www.oxpip.org.uk