In our Hospital-based Children's Project, pro bono lawyers work together with doctors, nurses, and social workers to identify and resolve legal issues that may affect the health outcomes of children from low-income families. For example, if hospital staff discovers that conditions such as crumbling plaster and peeling paint are exacerbating a child's asthma, a volunteer lawyer can compel the landlord to make the necessary repairs.
Living in poverty can exacerbate a child’s health problems. For example, a child living in East Harlem, a neighborhood with a high poverty rate, is almost 13 times more likely to visit the emergency room for asthma than a child living on the Upper East Side, an adjacent affluent neighborhood, according to the New York City Department of Health.
If a child’s home is besieged by mold, peeling plaster, roaches, or rats, treating an acute asthma attack will do little to resolve the underlying problem. If a child with a chronic illness is evicted and becomes homeless, continuing consistent treatment can become impossible. Through the Hospital-based Children's Project, pro bono lawyers can step in to rectify these underlying problems and enable medical professionals to concentrate on improving children's long-term health.
VOLS builds collaborations between hospitals and law firms and provides ongoing project coordination and training. At participating hospitals, our staff and volunteer lawyers introduce the Children's Project to the medical staff at Grand Rounds and to social workers at other meetings. We organize legal information sessions at the hospitals on topics such as landlord/tenant issues and immigration. We also organize trainings for participating law firms on key topics, and offer expert back-up assistance to our volunteers on housing matters through a relationship with South Brooklyn Legal Services.
A mother was served with an eviction notice while she sat at the bedside of her sick newborn. She had lost her job during her difficult pregnancy and had fallen behind on her rent. Her two-month old child was diagnosed with kidney disease and would need injections three times a week by a visiting nurse. Volunteer attorneys expedited the mother’s public assistance approval process and were able to get her approved for the city's Family Eviction Prevention Supplement program to help her pay off the back rent. She was able to return home, with her newborn, and without the threat of eviction.
In another case, a three year-old boy was diagnosed with multiple serious medical conditions caused by a stroke he suffered at birth. He suffered from cerebrovascular disease, brain infarction, Kawasaki disease, and expressive language disorder. The boy had difficulty walking and experienced weakness on his right side, for which he wore a brace. His communication skills were delayed, and he had some cognitive impairment. His mother had applied for Social Security disability benefits on behalf of her son and was denied. Although she subsequently appealed the decision, she never received a response. VOLS' volunteer lawyers persuaded the Social Security Administration to grant a hearing to review the denial of benefits. After submitting significant medical evidence, the administrative law judge ruled that the family was entitled to $13,000 in back benefits and approximately $653 in disability benefits each month going forward. The family's social worker reports that they are happy with the outcome and doing well.