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Legal Aid Society, Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong Partner to Help Needy Families with Legal Issues

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A new collaboration between the Legal Aid Society and Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong will work to improve the health and welfare of low-income children and families in the Rochester area.  The Health, Education and Law Partnership (HELP) is being launched with grants from the Trask Foundation and Pediatric Links with the Community.  It seeks to improve health care outcomes for children by ensuring that their basic needs for housing, adequate food and income are also addressed.

The collaboration recognizes that children living in poverty are especially vulnerable and their health is linked to environmental and nutritional factors.  Children in poverty are more prone to malnutrition, family stress and inadequate social support, and have higher rates of hospitalization and more health problems.  Through HELP, a Legal Aid lawyer will be based at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong to aid needy families whose legal problems impact their children’s health.  In addition, HELP will provide training to pediatricians and other health care providers so that they are better able to spot issues for which legal advocacy could positively impact their patients’ health.

New to Rochester, HELP is modeled after the Boston Family Advocacy Program, a similar project whose success has led to its replication in other large cities, including New York and Baltimore.  HELP will aid children of low-income families who come to the Strong Pediatric Practice for care.  The program will focus primarily on poor children in Monroe County, with the majority being from the City of Rochester, with a goal of reaching 185 children and training 120 health professionals in its first year. 

“Children living in poverty are a vulnerable population,” says Carla M. Palumbo, director of the Civil Division of the Legal Aid Society of Rochester.  “Their health, and their ability to thrive, is closely linked to community and environmental factors beyond their basic health care issues.  HELP seeks to improve health care outcomes for children with a holistic approach that ensures their basic needs for housing, adequate food and income are also addressed.”

“Pediatricians recognize that the solutions to health problems challenging low-income children must involve the resolution of the community and environmental issues that impact on the family’s ability to provide basic foods, shelter and a safe home life,” says Golisano Children’s Hospital Pediatrician Jeffrey M. Kaczorowski, M.D.  “Many of these problems can be resolved with appropriate legal intervention, but many poor families do not have access to an attorney.  HELP will fill that void.”

Children with special health needs, disabilities, mental health issues, and serious and chronic illness will be among those who benefit from HELP.  Their legal issues are likely to include housing problems, insufficient income, domestic violence, family-law situations, immigrations, disabilities and education, according to Palumbo.  For example, HELP will assist families in increasing their income so they can have appropriate housing and adequate nutrition for their children; preventing homelessness and unsafe or unhealthy living conditions; acquiring health insurance to gain access to treatment; resolving immigration issues and obtaining legal status; and assuring family stability by assisting with domestic violence, child support and custody problems.

HELP’s education component will provide training to physicians, nurses and other health care workers so they will better understand the issues faced by low-income clients and can recognize situations where children may benefit from legal intervention.  Golisano Children’s Hospital staff will be trained in child/family-related legal issues and be provided with legal consultation and technical assistance to help them identify their patients’ legal issues and advocate on their patients’ behalf.   Consultation and training will give health care providers accurate information and skills to provide more effective care for children when problems first develop.

“Ultimately, the hope is that HELP’s legal interventions and multidisciplinary education will be a springboard for policy-level interventions to surmount community and social barriers that negatively impact child health and family functioning,” says Amy T. Campbell of Golisano Children’s Hospital and the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Psychiatry.  “In this way, HELP can facilitate broader system transformation to that of a more public health-oriented, multi-stakeholder defined and driven approach to child development.”

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