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Updated 10:00 AM January 31, 2005




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Law School develops collaborative pediatric advocacy clinic

Law School students are working with medical professionals to help low-income families with legal issues, such as dealing with substandard landlords and applying for cash assistance.

The Pediatric Advocacy Clinic—one of the first known law school-connected, medical-legal collaborative clinics of its kind in the nation—offers advice and representation to those in need.

"The clinic will not only serve a community need that has not been previously met, but it will also provide a unique opportunity for students interested in poverty law and the legal issues that can complicate the health of low income children." says clinical assistant professor Anne Schroth of the Law School.

Schroth collaborated with Bridget McCormack, Law School associate dean for clinical affairs, to develop the clinic concept and structure. Several law students also provided assistance to get the clinic launched last fall.

"The clinic has been great in both developing my legal skills and getting to help people who need it the most," said Jenelle Beavers, a student from Kansas City, Mo. The clinical work, she says, has been rewarding because it involved researching, writing, counseling and client interviewing.

The clinic is part of a larger project, the Pediatric Advocacy Initiative that is being developed by the Law School as part of its community outreach work with the Michigan Poverty Law Program. The Initiative partners legal advocates, including clinical law students, with the U-M Ypsilanti Health Center and C. S. Mott Children's Hospital.

"In my clinic I see children with developmental or behavioral concerns who also live in poverty. There are a myriad of advocacy issues that arise with almost every patient. For many of my patients, advocacy is not just something to help implement my intervention—it actually is the intervention," says Dr. Julie Lumeng, clinical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Child Behavioral Health.

Students participating in the clinic provide a range of advocacy interventions to address issues such as:

• Applying for food stamps or cash assistance

• Litigating against landlords of substandard housing that cause health problems

• Providing referrals and representation for victims of domestic violence

• Navigating the special- education system to ensure children receive legally required services

Students work with clinic faculty to develop relationships with the doctors, nurses and social workers in each case. Students also help healthcare providers to better advise and advocate for their patients. Cases are referred to the clinic through health care providers at each site, a mechanism designed to encourage collaboration on advocacy strategies for patients.

"We provide training to health professionals on what kind of work we do so they know how to pick out which issues are legal," Beavers says. "We also encourage the professionals to contact us if they are unsure. It's best for us to get issues at the beginning, before they have escalated to matters that no longer have a legal remedy."

Dr. Terence Joiner, a pediatrician at Ypsilanti Pediatrics who initially set up the partnership there, says visiting schools to intercede for the family had been time-consuming. In addition, he said he didn't have the legal experience to effective.

"Now I can go directly to the clinic, get the information to the family and the case is handled much faster," he says.

Clinic casework covers many issues that will likely include public benefits access and coverage; health insurance; domestic violence and other family law issues; and housing law issues. The clinic is designed to provide a preventive rather than reactive approach to legal advocacy.

Student Ben Berkman, a Philadelphia resident, says his interest in the clinic developed from wanting to pursue a career in health law and policy.

"This program seemed like an excellent way to combine law and public health in a practical setting," he says. "Patients and providers seem excited to take advantage of the services we offer. The clinic has been one of the highlights of my graduate education."

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