Published on Monday 28, June 2021

Nadia Morales and Molly Williams - service design and integrated practice in the mental health context

IMCL's Director of Strategy & Engagement, Nadia Morales, had worked for many years at the criminal justice coal face as a defence lawyer and had witnessed first hand the unfair and poor justice outcomes for people experiencing mental illness. An interview with a police sergeant on 3CR's Done by Law program in 2018 planted a seed in her mind about an opportunity to improve the system: 'The sergeant described a novel initiative between police and mental health clinicians. Knowing what we do about the link between mental illness and legal problems, this intersection between criminal justice and the mental health system seemed like a critical and logical juncture for community lawyers to also intervene.'

With support from the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner, in 2019 IMCL was able to bring to life the idea and commence a project designed to improve access to justice for people experiencing mental ill-health. You can read more about the background and development of the project here.

After starting at IMCL as a graduate lawyer in 2011 and having gained experience across a wide range of areas before stepping into the PACER project implementation role, Molly has found integrated practice within the mental health context to be a challenging but exciting new undertaking.

'Working and trying to achieve something in a broken system where there are so many layers of dysfunction, as identified in the Royal Commission, can be difficult,' she told us.

'But it's exciting to work in a space that is so dynamic - where there is lots of change going on and an appetite for things to be done differently.'

Facing such an intense period of change in the wake of the Royal Commission, during the implementation of a project within an already complex system, could be seen by many as a daunting prospect. But Molly's focus is on the opportunities.

'It's an opportunity to re-write and re-think how things are done... I'm optimistic that despite the challenges that will come over the next few years, the lasting outcome will be better for our clients.'

Ultimately, it is the difference that Molly makes in the lives of mental health consumers that drives her work.

'Being able to assist people who have experienced an unfair system in a negative way and may not have had an empowering experience that protects their rights and wellbeing... We can provide legal help in a respectful way and make a difference to their wellbeing and time spent in the system.'

Understanding that consumers are experts in their own lived experience of the mental health system, we know that their active participation is essential to good service design. That's why, in entering Phase 2 of the project in 2021, IMCL has established an inaugural mental health consumer advisory group.

Looking ahead to the group meeting for the first time in July, Molly told us that she was excited: ' lets consumers shape the service they need and want.' 

'We have spent time working with different models and engaging with different partners... direct consumer input is the missing piece of the puzzle which will allow us to test our model.' 

'Ultimately, this will allow us to develop a model that aligns with what consumers want as well as the outcomes of the Royal Commission, allowing us to integrate it into the new mental health system and develop best practice guides to share with the CLC sector.'

You can read more about IMCL's mental health consumer advisory group here.