This has been another tough year for organizations working to make communities better places to live. Especially for organizations that challenge the status quo, finding sustained and adequate funding is never easy. Add a pandemic, and keeping the doors open becomes more of a struggle. People are distracted by their own difficulties in these unprecedented and seemingly unending times. Government dollars are spread more thinly than ever. Opportunities to hold fundraising events are limited because of public health protocols and people’s understandable reluctance to attend in-person galas, dinners and other such affairs.
There are countless worthy recipients of financial support from those of us in a position to offer it. You may want to keep your money in your community by supporting your local women’s shelter, sexual assault centre or food bank. You may have an issue about which you feel particularly passionate: the climate crisis, guaranteed basic income, Indigenous land struggles, homelessness, youth poverty. Or you may have charities that you support every year that you want to continue supporting.
However, if you haven’t yet decided where to spend your charitable money this year, let me shamelessly encourage you to support Luke’s Place, an organization I have worked with for many years.
Founded as part of the Durham community’s response to the 1997 murder of three-year-old Luke on his first unsupervised access visit with his father, Luke’s Place provides support to women at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives: as they leave relationships in which their partner has abused them and endeavour to sort out the family law issues that arise as a result.
It’s not a shelter, sexual assault centre or counselling agency, so it doesn’t fit in any of the traditional government funding boxes. This makes securing long-term, sustained core funding more challenging.
Navigating family court
When a woman reaches out to Luke’s Place for support, she is at a critical turning point in her life. She may have already left her partner or may still be in the process of making that decision; in either case, she has a lot of questions and concerns. She will be able to work with a Legal Support Worker (LSW), who will provide her with important information about family law and family court process, assist her with safety planning and applying for a legal aid certificate, provide her with resources, and more. She can receive summary legal advice through one of the organization’s legal clinics, staffed by lawyers who donate their time to this work. Her LSW can attend lawyer’s meetings with her and accompany her to court, as needed.
As one client said:
“I was lost. I did not know how to use the family legal system. Luke’s Place was by my side every step of the way.”
The organization’s work is not limited to providing direct services to women. Family Court and Beyond is one example of the kind of resources Luke’s Place develops. It’s a survival workbook to support women while they are involved in a family court case and as they negotiate ongoing issues with their former partner after the case is over.
Frontline workers also find the workbook helpful:
“Family Court and Beyond goes everywhere with me and is always out on my desk. Thank you so much for providing us with such great material in easy language.”
Luke’s Place integrates its frontline work with work to change systems. Based on what it learns from the lived experiences of the women it serves, the organization develops and delivers training to frontline workers, lawyers, police and others whose jobs bring them into contact with women fleeing abuse.
That frontline work also informs important law and policy research and reform initiatives. Luke’s Place expertise was recognized by Justice Canada, which turned to the organization in 2017 to conduct research into the use of family violence screening tools by family law practitioners. What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You then informed the federal government’s Family Violence Identification and Response Tool, to be launched in early 2022.
Luke’s Place led a national advocacy campaign to ensure concerns about family violence were considered when the Divorce Act was revised in 2019. It is presently undertaking province-wide community-engaged research to study how these legislative changes are playing out on the ground.
Until Doug Ford disbanded the Violence Against Women Roundtable, Luke’s Place was one of its members and its co-chair. It has an ongoing presence in national and regional media, commenting on family violence and family law, and regularly provides speakers at conferences across the country.
When the pandemic hit, the organization turned its small Virtual Legal Clinic into a province-wide project so that women were able to access legal advice regardless of where they lived. Over the past almost two years, Luke’s Place has also met regularly with policy decision-makers at Legal Aid Ontario and in the family court system to raise pandemic-related issues unique to women fleeing abuse.
The visionary Executive Director, Carol Barkwell, has led an incredible team of dedicated, hard-working women. since Luke’s Place opened, including through this most challenging time.