With a volunteer retention rate of 80 per cent, Refugee Legal Volunteer Coordinator, Bianca DeToma, is justifiably proud of the work that she and Refugee Legal are doing to deepen and strengthen their volunteer program, leading to stronger outcomes for clients and volunteers alike.
“It is so rewarding to see someone remain with us because they feel well cared for and because they believe in your cause.
“We focus on retention, investment and upskilling of our volunteers because we couldn’t do what we do without them.
“Seeing people progress through the roles is one of my favourite parts of the job. Someone comes to us as a Juris Doctor or a first-year law student, then they graduate as a lawyer, perhaps register as a migration agent, and quite a few have ended up employed with us or in the sector.
“When we have Year 10 work experience students coming in and they decide to come back and give their time during school holidays, it really demonstrates how well things are working,” Bianca said.
The Ross Trust has supported Refugee Legal’s volunteer program since 2015 and this additional grant provides funds for the employment of their volunteer coordinator.
Based in Collingwood in inner-city Melbourne, Refugee Legal is an independent, non-profit community legal centre specialising in refugees and immigration law – in fact they are Australia’s largest provider of free legal assistance to people seeking asylum, refugees and disadvantaged migrants – something they have been leading for 30 years.
Responding to an increased demand and the government’s cessation of legal assistance for those seeking asylum, over the last five years the Refugee Legal volunteer workforce has increased from 120 to 550 volunteers, allowing for the continued provision of free legal services to those most in need.
In light of such significant growth, the volunteer coordinator role is increasingly important, with a strong focus on recruitment, retention and recognition of the volunteers.
Bianca says 550 volunteers results in stability in terms of Refugee Legal’s output and work with clients.
“I think there is a correlation between retention and outcomes. When people are able to build on their skills through training and support, then that can only lead to better client appointments and better information we’re able to provide the Department.”
Bianca says recognition for Refugee Legal can come in the form of traditional events for volunteers, but mainly it’s about being responsive to their requests, whether in the form of additional training and increasing skills in their areas of interest, or being flexible around the other aspects of their life.
“Recently I applied for a small grant after identifying gaps in training – they wanted more information about trauma-informed practice. We were able to bring Foundation House in to train us in the best approaches to work with those who have been impacted by trauma. We also use our in-house resources to do training in interview skills or new areas of law.”
Bianca’s role also involves building relationships with pro bono corporate law firms and university law faculties and ensures volunteers are being utilised across the business.
The 2019 grant to Refugee Legal builds on a grant of $90,000 over three years to support the ongoing employment of the same role since 2015.
Further funds were provided in 2018 for Refugee Legal’s ‘Breaking the cycle of injustice’ program, to allow free legal advice and assistance for those seeking temporary protection visas (TPV), particularly in response to the Federal Government’s Fast Track Assessment Process.
Photo by Helloquence, courtesy of Unsplash.