Upstate News

April 11, 2006
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

University Hospital’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center partners with Syracuse University’s College of Law to advocate for children’s health

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Many government aid programs and laws are intended to assist low-income families with their children’s health needs, but unfortunately some doctors and administrators are often unaware of these programs or do not have the resources to assist families in these areas. But now, through the Family Advocacy Program, a new partnership between University Hospital’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center (UPAC) and the SU College of Law’s Family Law and Social Policy Center and Children’s Rights and Family Law Clinic (CRC), parents have better access to legal assistance on matters directly impacting their children’s health.

“Families may lack the knowledge, skills and information needed to access these resources,” according to Sarah H. Ramsey, professor of law and director of the Family Law and Social Policy Center. “The overwhelming result is poor health outcomes for children that were preventable. The Family Advocacy Program seeks to train health care providers in identifying these health-related legal issues, assist them in becoming better advocates for their patients through case consultations and provide services to families.”

The primary objective of the Family Advocacy Program is to improve the health and well-being of children served by Univesity Hospital’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center through using community resources. Ramsey says examples of health-related legal problems may include: obtaining Social Security for children with chronic illnesses, custody issues, educational law, housing law or services for children with disabilities.

Legal assistance on health-related matters will be provided to children or their families through SU law students who are working within the College of Law’s CRC and the Family Law and Social Policy Center. CRC law students, under the supervision of Assistant Law Professor Suzette Meléndez, CRC director, represent local, low-income children and their families in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies. They also provide non-litigation legal advocacy and engage in educational outreach to low-income sectors of the local community.

“About 100 children visit the Pediatric and Adolescent Center at University Hospital every day,” says Steven Blatt, M.D., the pediatrician at SUNY Upstate Medical University who co-directs the Family Advocacy Program. “This partnership enables us to provide access to legal advice on matters directly impacting these children’s health and ultimately improve patient outcomes. The Family Advocacy Program also is a unique opportunity to train the next generation of pediatricians and lawyers to effectively address these important issues facing children and their families.”

Ramsey and Meléndez estimate that the Family Advocacy Program can serve approximately 100 children within the first full year of operation and they hope to gradually expand its operation. Families and children who cannot be served will be referred to other law offices through the planned pro bono outreach program.

The Family Advocacy Program is the local arm of the Medical Legal Partnership for Children (MLPC), a national program located in Boston that was created to change the delivery of healthcare for vulnerable children and their families nationwide.

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