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Pro Bono Week Preview: Healthy Together – Improving Child Health through Medical-Legal Partnership

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Founded in 1996, Children’s Law Center is the largest legal services organization in Washington, DC and the only to focus on children. Its 80-person staff, together with hundreds of pro bono partners, helps more than 2,000 children and caregivers every year. This experience allows CLC to advocate for system-wide changes that improve the lives of all the District’s children.

CLC focuses on the whole family, not just the legal problem presented. They do this by creating a cross-disciplinary team of professionals made up of lawyers, doctors, educators, and social workers.

During Pro Bono Week, CLC will showcase their nationally recognized medical-legal partnership program (known as Healthy Together) with a visit to their offices at one of the Children’s National Medical Center’s Children’s Health Centers. Since 2002, CLC has maintained law offices just steps from the exam rooms at various Children’s Health Centers throughout the District. The partnership between CLC and the Children’s National Medical Center is one of the oldest medical-legal partnerships in the country.

A medical-legal partnership is a healthcare delivery model that expands the concept of medical care for low-income families to include legal representation. The program is based on prevention, removing non-medical barriers to children’s and families’ health and wellbeing, and addressing adverse social conditions that negatively impact the health of DC’s low-income families.

Under this model, doctors who suspect that a medical condition may have underlying legal issues can immediately connect a family with a CLC attorney. Together, they find legal remedies to health problems that can get in the way of a child’s success. CLC attorneys have forced insurance companies to pay for equipment such as wheelchairs for children who need them to go to school; filed suit against landlords to clean up apartments that were infested with rodents and mold that aggravated medical conditions such as asthma and allergies; and offered training to doctors to help them to ask the right questions so that they can identify obstacles that a legal action could overcome.

Tracy Goodman, the Director of Healthy Together and the first CLC attorney to participate in the medical-legal partnership, said the medical-legal partnership program has had great support from the start: “We had incredible support and buy-in at the clinic level from day one as the pediatricians and other health care staff welcomed our presence once they learned about the model.” The program has since expanded to a variety of Children’s National Medical Center clinics and programs, including Generations, four Children Health Center Locations, as well as Mary’s Center. CLC’s Healthy Together has eight lawyers and two investigators. Over 100 pro bono attorneys volunteer their time and talent each year to help CLC help as many children as possible.

CLC’s current goal is to double the number of children served by the Healthy Together program over the next five years. One in three children in the District of Columbia lives in poverty, leaving them vulnerable to overwhelming health problems. For every child seen in this program, there are dozens more in need. There are clinic waiting rooms full of children who need the legal expertise that CLC and pro bono attorneys provide.

Pro bono attorneys will play an important role in expanding this important program. Healthy Together refers pro bono cases in special education and housing conditions to over a hundred pro bono attorneys throughout the District, but there are always more cases in need of placement for pro bono attorneys to get involved.

The Pro Bono Week visit will take place on Thursday, October 24th from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Children’s National Medical Center’s Children’s Health Center in Adams Morgan. For more information on becoming a CLC Pro Bono Attorney, check out their website.

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