The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) established Balit Ngulu – “strong voice” in the Wurundjeri language – to improve access to legal services, support and case management for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in contact with Victoria’s legal system.
VALS and a national partner wanted to assess the performance of Balit Ngulu and to better understand the enablers of effective and culturally safe legal services and holistic support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.
They sought an independent evaluation partner whose findings would inform future legal service design and funding decisions.
Nous reviewed evidence on the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in Victoria’s justice and child protection systems.
We then interviewed Balit Ngulu clients, staff and justice sector stakeholders to hear about their experience with Balit Ngulu, including its service quality and the support they received. These interviews were conducted in an ethical and culturally safe way, approved by Victoria’s Justice Human Research Ethics Committee.
Our evaluation revealed that many young people who participated in Balit Ngulu felt supported by experienced staff who demonstrated care and earned trust. They said this support helped them manage stress, participate in court, feel stronger in their family and community and re-establish their lives.
The former staff and service partners Nous interviewed said Balit Ngulu ensured that children and young people came to court well-prepared and able to talk with magistrates and Elders. They also said that Balit Ngulu’s strengths-based case management helped young people take responsibility for their actions and re-connect with education, employment and their own dreams and goals.
Although Balit Ngulu closed as it was unable to secure ongoing investment, these insights provided lessons for future youth legal services and a framework to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people a strong voice.