Volume 31

Medical-Legal Partnerships as Tools to Reduce Child Welfare Contact: Shifting Health Care Providers from Sites of Surveillance to Sites of Support

by Sierra Campbell

The child welfare system can have devastating short- and long-term impacts on children and families. Families experiencing poverty should be met with support rather than pushed into this potentially harmful system. Yet, when families with low incomes and Black families come into contact with health care providers, they are disproportionately funneled into the child welfare system due to existing policies that equate poverty with neglect, mandatory reporting requirements, and bias in reporting and investigating. This Note argues that medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) can counteract these trends and better support children and families. Because MLPs reduce families’ barriers to access to justice and increase families’ access to income, benefits, and stable housing, they are one tool to address the conflation of poverty and neglect. To best support families and act as a child welfare prevention tool, MLPs must be expanded and coupled with reforms to mandatory reporting to shift health care providers from sites of surveillance to sites of support.

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