History

A brief history of BWLAP is important to offer context and background to the organization's development. In 1983, the Family Law Project was conceived to serve as a two-year project for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. Its focus was to be on raising access and awareness of legal services and systems for low income women and children. The program served a variety of functions, all focusing on the originally purposed clientele. The Family Law Project developed do-it-yourself pro-se divorce clinics for women with financial concerns. It also raised awareness of child support issues, laws and regulations. Information was provided for clients concerning the amounts of child support awarded by judges in their counties, education on the requirements for those paying child support and advice on child support enforcement and receiving child support increases. The project also worked to ensure that implementation and interpretations of the Domestic Abuse Act were being properly handled by judges, attorneys and law enforcement.

By 1986, the end of the allotted two years, it was clear that the demand for such a project was still high. It was also made clear the focus of the project should be on issues surrounding domestic violence. This issue was at the center of the problems faced by many of the women involved. The Family Law Project was renamed the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project, and implemented as a permanent fixture of the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

The mission of the project changed to working to improve the responsiveness of the legal system to the needs of battered women and their children. The project began to operate statewide, and their services expanded and changed.

One of these services became legal consultation. Attorneys and advocates consulted over the phone with other advocates, battered women and those working on cases and issues involving domestic violence. Litigation support became another feature of the project. While no direct representation was provided to battered women, litigation was provided on cases that significantly affected the justice of battered women in Minnesota. The project also assisted programs, judges and others in creating and refining policies concerning domestic violence laws. Another feature of BWLAP was to provide trainings for a wide variety of people, including law enforcement, advocates, judges and attorneys. The training included updating these people on new and changed legislation and these issues will affect battered women and programs.

BWLAP services were very successful in aiding the cause of battered women, and in 1996 it spun off of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services into an independent non profit organization. BWLAP has established a statewide reputation as a premiere legal resource for battered women and children, as well as those who work with battered women and children (advocates, attorneys, county social service workers, immigration staff, law enforcement and housing service providers and other system professionals). While our services continue to be centered on the legal aspects of domestic violence, the range of our expertise is exceedingly broad, therefore, each year we provide services to thousands of battered women and their advocates in areas including but not limited to: orders for protection, harassment restraining orders, housing assistance, immigration, child custody issues and stalking.

Recently, BWLAP refined its mission and program areas. Our new mission is to promote justice for battered women and children. We accomplish this by: 1) providing education and outreach to advocates, attorneys, professionals, battered women and other interested individuals on effective advocacy within the legal system for battered women; 2) collaborating with organizations and involvement in committees and task forces to represent the voice of battered women and children in the legal system; 3) policy making, organizing, legislation and other systemic approaches for increasing responsiveness to the unique circumstances of battered women and children; and 4) fostering development within under-represented communities and communities of color so that systems work more effectively for all communities.

BWLAP is a unique agency that advocates for system change, advocates to secure access to justice and, advocates to improve the legal system's response to battered women and children. BWLAP recognizes the importance of an effective and skilled advocate to support battered women. We exist to respond effectively to the constantly evolving legal needs of battered women and we are the first resource people turn to in a legal crisis.

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