“ With effective intervention girls and young women go on to live full and fulfilled lives.”
– LISA ABBOTT, EXECUTIVE MANAGER SOCIAL IMPACT AND GROWTH
Lisa Abbott, TaskForce’s Executive Manager Social Impact and Growth, was born and raised in Frankston, and is passionate about the project she helped establish with TaskForce to help the local community.
“Before we started Living Free in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula, girls and women were falling through mainstream systems like education and health and into contact with police. Young women were experiencing significant barriers in navigating complex systems such as alcohol and drug and mental health and presenting to court for offending related to these wellbeing needs.”
Female identifying people in the justice system often present with unique needs and distinct pathways to offending such as trauma, mental health, alcohol and other drug use and often have a history of relationships marked with violence and abuse. Between 57% and 90% have experienced child sexual abuse and other forms of victimisation, 89% have a history of sexual abuse, and as many as 98% have experienced violence.
“A targeted, gendered and coordinated response was required to support these girls and women”, Lisa says, “but prior to Living Free there was none, and there wasn’t a platform to build collaboration across all the sectors which vulnerable girls and women come into contact with.”
The Living Free Project is a placebased intervention operating in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula with the aim of preventing female identifying people from entering the justice system by addressing these earlier harms. Combining wraparound, direct
intervention with system capacity building and advocacy, Living Free is able to significantly improve the lives of women and girls in the region.
Lisa stresses the importance of intervening early, “Our most marginalised and vulnerable girls and young women face significant challenges from an early age. Without intervention it is a clear trajectory that ends in repeated cycles of victimisation and justice
system contact. With effective intervention girls and young women go on to live full and fulfilled lives.”
“Living Free has two typical clients who often fall through service gaps,” Megan, our Living Free team leader says. “One is a school aged, young girl who has experienced significant trauma and victimisation throughout her life and is struggling with mental health difficulties and a lack of direction, often disengaged from school and at times socially isolated. The other is a young woman who has had some contact with the justice system and identifies as struggling with managing commitments of daily life. Many of these women have substance use difficulties and have often been the victim of domestic violence, both at a young age and into their adult lives.”
Lyanne, a former Living Free client and now TaskForce’s Lived Experience Advocate, was once one of these women. “In 2019 I lost custody of my daughter which sent me into a magnificent rock bottom and spiral with alcohol and drug problems. I ended up having a few court cases and my Legal Aid lawyer referred me onto Living Free while I was in the midst of the chaos.”
According to Megan, Living Free “makes a difference by identifying and supporting young women to connect with sustainable support at the earliest possible time. The flexibility of the program allows for workers to meet the client where they’re at and provide assertive outreach as needed. The workers provide clients with a safe space to share life’s difficulties and walk alongside clients to support them with whatever their goals may be.”
For Lyanne, this meant that her worker assembled a care team “with my Headspace worker, my lawyer, my WAYSS housing worker and my community corrections worker. She coordinated all of that so that I didn’t have to continue to tell the same thing to like seven different people. That saved me a lot of anxiety and stress trying to coordinate everything myself, which gave me the time to work on myself and recover, and focus on the things important to my wellbeing.”
This help meant that Lyanne could begin her recovery journey. She was eventually able to also secure employment, which “helped me get my life back on track.” Most importantly, “I eventually did get my daughter back – she lives with me full time now and she just turned five.”
Since its launch five years ago, Living Free, funded by the Australian Government and a variety of philanthropic foundations, has grown to support more girls and women in need, and to strengthen its impact in changing the sector for the better. Megan says that Living Free “has created a number of practice networks and panels and has promoted interservice discussions around issues faced by young women and girls in the local area.” It delivers professional development to workers in these other sectors to make them “more aware of considerations when working with girls and women at risk of, or in contact with, the justice system and subsequently adopt a gender responsive approach,” and advocates for policy reform through participation in state wide committees, panels and conferences.
Now as a TaskForce employee, Lyanne has thrown all her strength into advocating for change for women, girls and other people just like her. She leads workshops empowering young people to share their stories to make change, she has spoken at national conferences, and met with senior politicians, and she is building TaskForce’s structures to allow people with lived experience to participate at a higher level.
“This project is an example of what we can achieve when we work together to support our most vulnerable girls and women and put their needs at the centre of it all.”