Excerpted From: Sierra Campbell, Medical-Legal Partnerships as Tools to Reduce Child Welfare Contact: Shifting Health Care Providers from Sites of Surveillance to Sites of Support, 31 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy 93 (Fall, 2023) (185 Footnotes) (Full Document)


SierraCampbellFamilies with low incomes and Black families are disproportionately funneled into the child welfare system. This disparity is primarily 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 support children and families. Part II highlights the urgency of this issue, providing an overview of the significant short- and long-term harms of a child coming into contact with the child welfare system and of being removed from their family. Part III explains how poverty acts as a driver of child welfare involvement through increased exposure of families with low incomes to mandatory reporters and the conflation of poverty with neglect. Part IV highlights how health care providers currently act as sites of family surveillance and separation due largely to mandatory reporting requirements, funneling Black families and families with low incomes into the child welfare system, and undermining families' relationships with health care providers. Part IV also highlights the ways in which MLPs promote families' financial stability through legal support for individual clients and advocacy for systemic change to increase access to income, benefits, and stable housing. Part V explains the ways in which MLPs reduce barriers to civil legal services that disproportionately keep families with low incomes, and especially Black families with low incomes, from needed legal assistance. Finally, Part VI offers policy recommendations to expand MLPs and reform mandatory reporting requirements so that MLPs can help shift health care providers from sites of surveillance to sites of support for families.

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The child welfare system has been proven to 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. 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.

J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 2023; B.A. Women's & Gender Studies and Psychology, Georgetown University, 2018.