Women's Legal Service NSW senior solicitor Carolyn Jones shares her passion for grassroots advocacy.
Nine women are sitting in a circle on the third floor of a white terrace house in Victoria St, Potts Point. The walls are covered with paintings and posters containing inspiring quotations about life choices and developing the power to change. Solicitor Carolyn Jones is listening intently as the women share stories of neglect, abuse, drug use and poor parenting.
Each woman has had one or more children removed and various run-ins with the law and the courts, either over their own abuse as a child or young adult, or related to risk factors for their children. If these women were to grade the court system and Family and Community Services, they would give both systems a giant “F” for “fail”.
The meeting is taking place at Lou’s Place, a daytime refuge for women in crisis just around the corner from the Coke sign in Kings Cross. She is dishing out advice in the legal assistance session of a seven-week program called Always Mum. Mostly, though, Jones listens without showing any shock or judgment as alarming stories of being burned with cigarettes, bashings by former and current partners, rape, neglect and drug use are revealed.
Lou’s Place General Manager Nicole Yade set up the Always Mum program to re-establish or improve family relationships for women who had children in out-of-home care. She thought it might be a one-off, but the demand is so high that Always Mum will be a regular offering at the refuge.
“I don’t really have a typical day, which is partly why I love the job,” says Jones, 47. “A couple of times a week I work on the Women’s Legal Service advice lines and then do the urgent responses to what people contact us about. Other times I am in prisons meeting clients, then there is the law reform work, writing letters to politicians and submissions.
“I live in [Sydney’s] inner west with my partner who works in juvenile justice. I do a lot of walking to deal with the stories I come across. The content can be really sad, but I see a lot of hope in the work, too.
“I work with some amazing colleagues and some amazing clients, and their bravery and their resilience is really motivating.”
“I grew up in Gunnedah, the oldest of two sisters. I was always into social justice, mostly due to my parents who were completely committed to voluntary work. My dad grew up in a boys’ home in Sydney. His mother died and his father wasn’t around. It was very sad because his three sisters were kept together and dad was alone. That kind of experience stays with you. For dad, it made him very committed to helping others in need. He also taught us from a very young age about the things to be grateful for.