Legal Partnering as PreventionLegal partnering image-1

by Samantha Morton, CEO
October 4, 2019
How we support young children and their families to not merely survive but thrive is a measure of our integrity as a society. Too many families living in the United States confront barriers to resources, services, and legal protections that can promote housing stability, food security, and personal safety, among other things – and these barriers converge to create early life stress and, in turn, worsen health and well-being over the life course. Against this backdrop, MLPB was honored to partner with CSSP and the JPB Foundation  to bring Legal Partnering for Child and Family Heath: An Opportunity and Call to Action for Early Childhood Systems to life – spotlighting an important and under-utilized lever that can expand the “toolbox” of strategies available to connect more families with the supports they need and want.


In the healthcare context, these barriers – when they operate at the individual or household level – are increasingly referred to as health-related social needs; in the early childhood system context, they are understood as barriers to concrete support in times of need, a Strengthening FamiliesTM protective factor. To learn more about the important difference between health-related social needs and social determinants (dimensions) of health, check out this important blog.

Got rights? You bet families do.
They impact child and family health and well-being.
And they matter well before getting to the courthouse door.

Legal partnering is about more than connecting individuals and families to scarce public interest lawyers to represent them in housing and family law cases – at which point the stakes for children and families are exquisitely, unacceptably high. An eviction for non-payment of rent does not appear out of nowhere, but rather evolves in ways illustrated by the graphic below.


The trajectory of an eviction case reflects a continuum of prevention opportunities, nodes at which eviction risks can be detected and often managed (e.g., income loss due to illness or employer wage theft, unlawful reduction or termination of SSI/TANF/SNAP benefits, landlord retaliation re: a tenant’s lawful request that unhealthy housing conditions be remediated, and much more). That’s why MLPB is committed to building the problem-solving capacity of health, human services, and early childhood workforce members who – by virtue of their increasingly strengths-based relationships with families – are often the trusted “first responders” to families confronting barriers to resources and legal protections. 

Got lawyers? Most people don’t.
Systems of care must innovate to assure that families can access
the resources they want and for which they are legally eligible.

That’s why MLPB pioneered the “team-facing” legal partnering model described in the brief – to build and sustain role-appropriate legal problem-solving capacity in valued workforce colleagues. Importantly, this role is an intentional capacity-building function focused on supporting allied colleagues who are in direct service – and often high-trust problem-solving – relationships with families. The role does not involve provision of direct legal representation to individuals or families, though this work can (and should) support improved facilitation of such resource connections for families. Rather, team-facing legal partnering:

  • Prioritizes a range of legal partner contributions to team-based care that keep individual-, family- and population-level legal risks, rights and remedies front-and-center in system design, program implementation, and policy development; and
  • Commits to integration as opposed to co-location, through embedding in regularized interdisciplinary team meetings, among other things. Indeed, a team-facing legal partner is accountable to the team it is supporting for the accuracy, quality, and comprehensiveness of the legal information and support it is supplying. (This has implications for sound structuring and staffing of this role, to be covered in forthcoming material.)

 Got the Big Picture? It’s all about impact.

Team-facing legal partnering is a paradigm shift that calls upon systems of care – including but not limited to the healthcare and early childhood sectors – to recognize that helping people to Know Their Rights under state and federal law – and pursue them if they wish – can be just as important as vaccines and home visiting programs when promoting people’s health and stability. This means – initially – that systems of care should keep families’ legal risks, rights, and remedies front-and-center when designing and administering programs and policies that are intended to promote family health and well-being. It also means that systems of care should observe and act on barriers that are impacting the health of populations of families, such as when other systems are not performing in accountable ways.

When embarking on a co-design process, think intentionally about your goals for impact at the individual, family, community, and population level. Inspired by Thomas Frieden’s Health Impact Pyramid, we’ve adapted and introduced in the brief a Health-Promoting Legal Partnering Impact Pyramid to support teams and systems to co-design with impact in mind. 

While providing direct legal representation to individuals and families is central to a just society (and resources for this critical function must not only be preserved but expanded), scarce legal problem-solving resources increasingly must be deployed in ways that positively impact populations of families through (a) systems of care that are readier, through their workforces, to engage in effective, strengths-based legal problem-solving partnering, and (b) increased accountability for the many other systems that directly control families’ access to resources, benefits, services and legal protections.

If we expand the concrete support problem-solving “toolbox” in these ways, the prevention payoffs for children, families and communities will be exponential.

Want to learn more? Register here for a webinar co-hosted by MLPB and CSSP on October 10, 2019 from 3-4:30pm ET.


DULCE Legal Partners Drive Improvements in Medi-Cal Enrollment Procedures for Babies in Two California Counties

by Ciara Malaugh and Samantha Morton 
Published by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP)
January 29, 2019

DULCE blog image

Integrating a legal partner as a member of the health team can help children and families get the comprehensive services for which they qualify and can also improve the functioning of public benefits systems for the broader community. DULCE, a pediatric primary care intervention for children in the critical first six months of life, demonstrates how this powerful strategy can work. For example, legal partners working in California-based DULCE sites have helped to assure timely newborn enrollment in Medi-Cal and have spurred policy change efforts in LA County.
Read the full blog entry on CSSP's website.


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January 21, 2019

Authors' Note: Since initial publication of this blog on November 27, 2018, there has been a major development in law and public policy. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) -- which funds a range of critical supportive programs for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault -- expired on December 22, 2018 when the federal government shut-down went into effect. VAWA's expiration jeopardizes the operations and sustainability of many community-based domestic violence/sexual assault service providers, meaning that survivors may have to find shelter, navigate complex legal systems, and seek trauma-informed mental health care without any support. This makes it all the more important that healthcare providers and teams become more proficient in serving domestic violence survivors effectively.


Domestic Violence Homicide Doesn’t Just Happen: Moving from Physician Bystander to Advocate

by Meghan Geary, MD and Jeannine Casselman, JD, MA

November 27, 2018

Meghan Geary Meghan Geary, MD is an attending physician at the Rhode Island Hospital Center for Primary Care.

Jeannine CasselmanJeannine Casselman, JD is a Legal Advisor at MLPB.

The physician: Meghan

As the granddaughter of a mailman, I always have stamps in my wallet. When I attached a USPS® Forever Stamp to the envelope containing my patient’s request for funds from a crime survivor’s advocacy group, I thought I was helping her in a minuscule way. It never occurred to me that she would be dead before those funds arrived. Intimate partner violence (IPV) is deadly and not something medical providers are sufficiently equipped to prevent, detect, triage, or treat. 

I became a primary care doctor in the year of the #MeToo Movement. As part of my formal medical education, I learned to routinely screen reproductive-age women for IPV as part of a standard protocol. Even with that training, I was under prepared as a healthcare provider to care for women experiencing domestic violence. In hospital medicine, there is an intensive care unit for management of the most life-threatening conditions. But there is no intensive care unit or “treatment algorithm” for IPV. That’s shocking given the morbidity and mortality associated with IPV. One in three women will experience violence from an intimate partner during her lifetime.[i] In 2015 alone, of the 3,500 US-based women who died due to homicide, almost half of those women – like my patient – were killed by a current or former intimate partner.[ii]

My patient had obtained a restraining order and our clinic’s social worker was engaged with her to offer ongoing safety planning.  As primary care provider lacking depth in IPV dynamics, I thought this plan was reasonable and that if her abusive partner violated the restraining order and hurt her again, she could call 911 and get safe. “The ED is always open,” I told my patient.  While I was taught – accurately – that leaving one’s abuser is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship with the highest risk of violence escalation, I struggled to operationalize this learning within familiar clinical frameworks.  Unlike chest pain or respiratory distress, primary care providers cannot directly intervene with respect to an abuser’s violent and unpredictable conduct.  And I knew that my patient was conducting her own risk analysis: at our last visit, she said that her primary goal was to be free – free from abuse at the hands of her husband, free from fear of what he would do to her and free from worry about what he would say to her friends. I just didn’t realize that that appointment would be her last with me.

The attorney: Jeannine

In the last decade, 55 people have been killed by intimate partners in Rhode Island, the state where I live and primarily work.[iii]  Laws alone are insufficient to buffer survivors from the myriad health-related risks of domestic violence. As a public interest attorney embedded within care teams to support effective SDOH problem-solving, I have witnessed first-hand clinician unease about how best to support patients experiencing IPV, especially when the most valuable supports (e.g., representation in court proceedings, relocation assistance, behavioral health treatment and family counseling, etc.) often are driven by experts and resources external to the healthcare team. In my legal advising capacity, I often field questions about the legal rights and remedies available for IPV survivors. Healthcare team members should understand that:

  • When a survivor attempts to navigate the legal system to secure a restraining order, divorce decree or child support order, they often experience fear, confusion, alienation, and re-traumatization. Every court hearing involves the prospect of direct, proximate contact with one’s abuser – in the parking lot, on the sidewalk, in the courthouse elevator, in the courtroom. In restraining order proceedings, a survivor often attends the hearing alone, without an attorney. If she prevails, a judicial ruling is rendered, paperwork is distributed, and the survivor is sent on her way, many times not understanding the scope and meaning of the protective order.

  • The most important thing care teams can do when supporting an IPV survivor is communicate with them in a strengths-based, trauma-informed way that recognizes the survivor is the expert in their own life and safety. This skill and commitment will increase the odds of successful safe hand-off of the patient to expert safety planning and other resources, whether internal or external to the clinic. Consider the patient’s network of social supports. Are they connected to a community-based or religious organization? Is their membership in a cultural or linguistic group a source of support or a challenge – or both? Will immigration status and income impact their ability to access concrete supports such as SNAP (food stamps) or TANF (cash assistance)?

My role as an integrated legal advisor to interdisciplinary pediatric, family medicine, and internal medicine care teams enables the team to spot and navigate interconnected SDOH. Think beyond a clinical practice guideline framework. Supporting patients to identify pathways to safety is not amenable to a rigid algorithm – it must be an honest, flexible, and holistic effort.

Meghan: I hope to honor my patient who lost her life by building my capacity – and that of my clinic colleagues – to engage in strengths-based, trauma-informed care for patients who have disclosed IPV. In the aftermath of my patient’s homicide, I am reflecting on how healthcare teams can better serve IPV survivors, like going beyond the daily clinical work flow and engaging partners from other disciplines and sectors. Partnering with others such as lawyers, researchers, community-based organizations and activists can help other survivors. We need to work together to advocate for a future with less domestic violence. 

If you are (or someone you know is) in need of support, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

[i], [ii]  Petrosky, Emiko, Janet M. Blair, Carter J. Betz, Katherine A. Fowler, Shane P. D. Jack, and Bridget H. Lyons. 2017. “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence - United States, 2003-2014.” MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 66 (28): 741–46 

[iii] RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence; (accessed 11/13/18)

Blog blue.jpgMLPB Blog Post
by Samantha Morton

March 2, 2018

Accountable care − accountable to whom and for what? Health workforces in Massachusetts and across the nation enter a new normal with SDOH in the job description. As Medicaid ACOs (accountable care organizations) stood up in Massachusetts yesterday and operate in many states across the country, social determinants of health (SDOH) represent a critical frontier of care delivery innovation, workforce quality and satisfaction, cost reduction potential, and health equity progress. Recent developments show promise:

Yet leadership has much work to do:  

Through a blog series for workforce leaders in 2018, MLPB will dive deeper on each of these topics. In the meantime, we are grateful to the organizations with whom we are collaborating in this new landscape – one that promises to better meet the needs of individuals, families and communities through more integrated, human-centered systems and services. 

Managing Health-related Social Needs: The Prevention Imperative in an Accountable Health System

Samantha Morton, JD

Published by the John Snow, Inc. and JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc

In its Accountable Health Communities (AHC) Model, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) uses the term “health-related social needs” (HRSN) to describe health-harming conditions such as food insecurity and housing instability. The AHC model is intended to expand and improve effective and efficient connections between the healthcare and human services communities (aka “clinical-community linkages”). CMS is funding pilot initiatives, with plans for long-term implementation of systematic screening, navigation, and system alignment for HRSN to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Read the full blog entry on the JSI website.