Trauma-Informed Organisational Toolkit

Trauma-informed, rights-based approaches to legal assistance:

  • Staff competence and supervision

  • Wrap-around, integrated practice & partnerships

  • Client and carer empowerment, safety & involvement

  • Organisational and systems change

The With You Toolkit

The With You Toolkit is an implementation-ready resource designed to promote the development of trauma-informed, rights-based organisations in the legal assistance sector. These include Legal Aid Commissions, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Community Legal Centres. The toolkit serves as a comprehensive guide to inform in every aspect of service provision. This toolkit empowers organisations to develop services that promote safety, dignity, and empowerment for people who experience poor mental health, mental distress and/or suicidality.

At the heart of the With You Toolkit is the concept of trauma-informed practice, an approach that recognises the widespread impact of trauma and seeks to address its consequences. This toolkit provides guidance on implementing trauma-informed practices, ensuring that organisational policies, procedures, and interactions with clients are sensitive, responsive, and supportive. This toolkit will assist in the development of services that reduce barriers to access to justice and prevent further harm or traumatisation for clients.

The With You Toolkit also goes beyond a one-size-fits-all approach by emphasising the importance of a rights-based framework. It recognises that people who experience poor mental health, mental distress and/or suicidality often face intersecting forms of marginalisation and discrimination. By adopting a rights-based approach, organisations can work towards not only addressing the immediate needs of clients, but also challenging systemic inequalities and promoting social justice.

From designing safe and welcoming spaces to designing outreach services and engaging in systemic reform, the With You Toolkit provides models, resources, checklists, and templates to facilitate the implementation of these approaches. It also addresses organisational considerations, ensuring that trauma-informed and rights-based practices become embedded within the fabric of the organisation.

Moreover, the With You Toolkit recognises the importance of collaboration and partnerships within the sector. It provides guidance on establishing effective collaborations with other service providers, community organisations, and government agencies to create a comprehensive and coordinated response to trauma. By leveraging collective expertise and resources, organisations can maximise their impact and promote a holistic approach to support clients.

What is trauma-informed, rights-based practice?

Trauma-informed practice is when the lawyer or other professional ‘puts the realities of the client's trauma experiences at the forefront in engaging with the client, and adjusts the practice approach informed by the individual client's trauma experience’.[1]

Rights-based legal practice promotes civil and human rights, including those rights articulated in international human rights law. The principles which underpin With You are detailed in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

People experiencing distress, poor mental health and/or suicidality may identify their experiences in multiple ways, by using the social model of disability, for instance, or the medical model of mental illness, or other frameworks. With You supports the right of the individual to frame their experience in their preferred way.

With You embodies the three core principles of codesign:

1. Clients are partners from the outset.

2. Power differentials are acknowledged, explored, and addressed.

3. Client leadership and capacity are developed.[2]

[1] Sarah Katzand Deeya Haldar, ‘The Pedagogy of Trauma-Informed Lawyering’ (2016) 22 Clinical Law Review 37.

[2] Cath Roper, Flick Grey and Emma Cadogan, ‘Co-Production: Putting Principles into Practice in Mental Health Contexts’ (2018) Melbourne: University of Melbourne.

How to use this toolkit

This toolkit was developed to accompany and support the With You Training. National consultations included interviews and focus groups with 95 clients who had used legal services; 32 of their carers, family members, supporters and kin; and 306 professionals from over 50 organisations. We also conducted international reviews of scholarly and grey literature on trauma-informed lawyering and effective trauma-informed reflective supervision practices for lawyers. National Legal Aid conducted a survey of existing best practice in legal aid commissions. The result was many examples of trauma-informed rights-based practice across the legal assistance sector, but also evidence that these practices are inconsistently applied across jurisdictions and even within organisations.

Examples have been included from all jurisdictions, although some state and territory governments have been quicker to see the value in investing in trauma-informed and rights-based approaches than others, and this is reflected in the examples included. There are undoubtedly many more examples of excellent practice that were not identified through this process, and many that we did identify that could not be included.

La Trobe University Logo

This toolkit was commissioned from La Trobe University and Maylea Consulting by With You, a Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department funded project led by NSW Legal Aid on behalf of National Legal Aid.

Citation: Chris Maylea, Esther Le Couteur, Laura Cashman, Rebecca Leon, Melanie Sherrin, Vrinda Edan, Damien Linnane, Ailsa Rayner, Panos Karanikolas & Piers Gooding (2023) With You Toolkit: Empowering Trauma-Informed Rights-Based Organisations. La Trobe University.