Social Work in Legal Aid Services Programs

Social Work in Legal Aid Services Programs

The social workers practice in legal services programs of various sizes, although professionally trained social workers tend to be employed by larger agencies. They function as the sole provider of social work services in a legal services program. Social workers in legal services are providing case-oriented services which include information and referral, advocacy, crisis counseling and psycho-social evaluation. In addition, they also provide a range of community-oriented and administrative services.

The breadth of social work services reported is probably reflective of agency needs, size, location, and mission. In field programs, legal staff do not tend to be highly specialized; attorneys usually carry a large, diverse caseload and share responsibility for working on legislative issues, community education projects and supervising paralegals and legal interns. Social workers saw little conflict with agency management regarding the type of services to be provided; services most valued by social workers and program directors were similar to functions most frequently performed by social workers.

The functions of social workers such as providing information, referral and case advocacy do not require social work training. But services such as crisis counseling and psychosocial evaluation require considerable clinical skill and understanding of personality dynamicsCrisis intervention, for example, is a well-established method for managing emotional reactions to loss or threats of loss. Legal services clients are often deeply upset when they seek help, as their legal problems typically involve significant loss or threat to survival. Without the availability of social work services, the emotional and social aspects of the case may be ignored; more likely, they would be handled or mishandled by an attorney with no training in crisis intervention. Clients in crisis are better served if legal as well as psychosocial aspects of their problems are addressed by skilled professionals.

The Social workers are also predominantly involved in providing indirect services including community organizing, community education and community needs assessment, legislative advocacy, management, organizational development and training. Social work in legal services emphasizes in areas related to family and juvenile law. They also focus in the areas of public benefits, family law, juvenile law and housing. These are areas of traditional social work concern.

Problems in the areas of housing and public benefits, such as eviction or benefit check termination, affect the individual's basic needs for income, shelter, food and health care. Social work interventions may be applied at the case as well as at the community level.
To affect change in the public benefits area on the community level, social workers can prepare materials to educate the poor about their rights to welfare benefits, organize local welfare rights groups and participate in local and state-wide efforts to improve the delivery of income maintenance services.

Problems in the areas of family and juvenile law rarely present clear-cut legal issues. They characteristically involve people who have been engaged in emotionally intense relationships over a period of time. Legal action is usually initiated when these relationships have reached the breaking point.

Clearly, consideration of social and emotional aspects of these cases is critical, especially when the welfare of children is involved. In juvenile cases involving alleged neglect of children, for example, social workers can assist attorneys by obtaining historical information and by evaluating the psychosocial milieu in which the legal problem developed. With this information, the attorney is in a better position to judge the merits of the case, to understand the motivations of the key actors, to advise the client, and to negotiate some reasonable compromise or effectively try the case.

In cases which come to court, the social worker may be able to testify to the facts in the case, offer a professional opinion based on expertise in the areas of family and child welfare, or provide recommendations concerning dispositional alternatives. The social worker can serve the parents by helping them to understand how the legal problem developed, to articulate their concerns, and to develop motivation to accept services that they need in order to strengthen family life and prevent future problems.

Besides, In Legal aid services, Social Work focuses on:
§  Protection of women and child torture, torture for dowry/forced labour,
§  Protection for raped, burnt, kidnapped child and women,
§  Protection of human trafficking
§  Protection of destitute and homeless
§  Protection of welfare provisions
§  Protection of fundamental provisions & Social Security

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