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Annual Intake Training Conference 2013

This year’s Annual Intake Training Conference proved to be a great hit! Held at the Sheraton Wall Centre, which was a great venue, the conference this year focussed on the new Family Law Act and professional development. From the feedback received, we can tell most of the intake assistants really enjoyed the sessions. A few of the comments were:

The sessions provided skills and tools to take away; e.g, listening skills, how to communicate with clients more effectively, identifying conflicts with clients (conflict of interest).

Food was great — not much wasted. Had a great time, learned a lot, and looking forward to going back to my office with renewed energy.

Best conference I have attended!

Good to have contact with other workers, exchange of info and ideas. It helps with feelings of isolation in small communities. Good hotel choice, healthy food. Thanks for good efforts!

Intake staff are usually the first people applicants meet when they apply for legal aid. Applicants could be facing criminal charges, going through a divorce, dealing with having their child taken away, or new refugees coming into Canada. Intake can be an emotionally taxing job. One of the big takeaways from the conference was that participants really appreciate a chance to meet and talk to each other about the problems they all face.

Many of the sessions touched on this theme. Donna, our Aboriginal community legal worker, spoke about the experiences of Aboriginal people when interacting with the system and encountering the child protection system. Other sessions included “Dealing with clients in distress,” “The Child, Family and Community Service Act,” “Self-compassion,” and “Diversity/Intercultural Communication.”

Intake in Northwest BC

Challenges are many for intake workers in Northwest BC. Our Regional Centre in Terrace and satellite office in Prince Rupert face the task of finding lawyers for clients from Haida Gwaii to Burns Lake — and all the places in between. There are numerous isolated villages on our coast, so there are always challenges to complete intake applications and find local lawyers to represent clients. The local Bar is small. To meet the needs, we often need to pay lawyers to travel from another community to represent clients.

Our intake workers appoint family and criminal duty counsel for courts in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, Kitimat, Houston, and New Aiyansh. There are days that we are unable to find duty counsel in those communities. If someone is in custody, we need to find a lawyer who might be available to provide duty counsel over the phone from another community. Some mornings, we spend a great deal of time on the phone to find duty counsel.

Our staff lawyers and intake workers travel to New Aiyansh every second month and to Kitimat once a month to be duty counsel and take legal aid applications from clients. In the winter months, weather and road conditions can hamper travel to these areas.

The major challenges our clients face in applying for legal aid are travelling to our offices from the outlying villages and trying to find a telephone and fax machine to get their information to us. Some clients may have problems getting to our office and to court due to financial constraints. At times, our fall and winter weather make it very difficult to travel by road, boat, and seaplane.

Intake in the north is a struggle at times but it is rewarding to know that we are helping people access legal aid services. Is it all worth it? … Yes.

My life as an LSS intake worker

As an intake legal assistant, I interview clients who apply for legal aid. I do this in person; that is, when clients apply in person at our walk-in clinic in the Vancouver Regional Centre office, at the criminal, youth, and family courthouses, or over a public telephone line called the Call Centre where clients call in from across the province.

A typical day

I had a young mom who came in with her two-year-old son and a family advocate. I gave the child some paper and coloured markers to draw with, to keep him occupied while I spoke to his mom. But the child was not interested in colouring. He started to misbehave and opened the door and ran down the hallway, disturbing the other intake workers who were on the phone or interviewing clients. Not only did he run down the hallway, but he was screaming in the process. I asked the mother to go and get him, which she did quickly. When I was finally able to continue with the interview, her son continued to fuss and scream — even though his mother was now holding him. He got so loud that during the interview, a couple of my colleagues brought the child a ball and some stickers to keep him occupied.  Thankfully, he found the stickers and ball amusing and played while I continued the remainder of the interview.

The mom’s family issue was eligible for a legal aid referral to a lawyer. The lesson I learned that day was to have toys for very young children in my office to keep them occupied while their parents are busy.

My next client had an immigration matter. He was a refugee claimant from Hungary and applied for help with a Personal Information Form. The man had suffered persecution in his country — he was known, or referred to, as a gypsy. He did not speak English so I had to get an interpreter through CanTalk, a language translation company that LSS uses. When we got through the interview, the client was clearly feeling better than when he first came in, and he left smiling — when he first walked into my office, he looked timid, sad, and intimidated.

When newcomers arrive in Canada, some may feel unwelcome or insecure because they don’t know English or for other reasons.

It really makes my day when I can make someone feel like they are being valued and heard. I feel like I’ve done my job when they leave with a warm handshake and a smile on their face.