Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children

Severe medical problems had kept 11-year-old Malik, out of conventional schools.

Poor housing conditions, lack of health insurance, or inadequate educational supports can be damaging to a child’s health and development. Often families in these situations do not have the resources to deal with such challenges. The Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children brings together medicine, law, and social work to provide free legal assistance and advocacy to vulnerable families and children so they can access public benefits and education.

One of the first “medical-legal partnerships” in the nation, this initiative is based on the idea that addressing social determinants of health can have as much effect on a child’s health as preventive care – that indeed it is a powerful form of preventive care. Working hand in hand with Chicago’s leading children’s hospitals and clinics, the team trains and supports medical professionals to recognize and troubleshoot non-medical problems that profoundly affect child health and development. Adding the legal component enables health professionals to write prescriptions for things like food and special education.

Looking upon these problems as “opportunities to fix systems,” we were able to go beyond solving problems for individual kids. After encountering multiple situations where an illness or injury caused a child to miss weeks or months of school and fall behind, we pushed for a law (enacted in 2011) that requires schools to provide home or hospital instruction to kids with an extended medical absence. The school must make the instruction available within five days after getting a doctor’s note, continue special education services, and provide daily tutoring.

The CMLPC is now operated by the Legal Council for Health Justice. Its creation was supported by the Michael Reese Health Trust, Chicago Bar Foundation, CMF, Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, Polk Bros Foundation and Irving Harris Foundation.

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