Law School's Family Advocacy Program Receives $125,000 Grant

September 1, 2006
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Dr. Diane Pappas, left, and Assistant Dean Kimberly Emery co-founded the Family Advocacy Program.

The Law School's Family Advocacy Program has been awarded $125,000 from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to improve legal aid to economically disadvantaged families who have problems that affect their children's health. The funding will finance a staff attorney full-time for three years.

The Family Advocacy Program is a unique collaboration among the Law School, the U.Va. Children's Hospital and Charlottesville's Legal Aid Justice Center. Through the program, physicians, social workers, nurses and other health care providers screen patients during routine care to identify potential legal issues that affect health, such as access to food, safe housing, health insurance and public benefits. Patients are also referred for legal help with such issues as domestic violence and child support, employment and immigration. Since the program began in 2004, the number of families referred annually has grown from 88 to 200.

"This program allows immediate entry to a connection with a lawyer," said Kimberly Emery, assistant dean for pro bono and public interest and co-director of the Law School's Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center. "Both the medical and legal staffs are thinking about how their two worlds interrelate."

The program also aims to collect data on whether access to legal aid improves the health of children and families over time. "We want to see if it's a good model to implement across the state," Emery said. Richmond- and Lynchburg-area medical centers are considering establishing similar programs and involving neighboring law schools.

Emery co-founded the program with Dr. Diane Pappas J.D. '87, associate professor of clinical pediatrics and the director of child advocacy at U.Va. Children's Hospital.

"The value of the program is that it's holistic," Pappas said. "You might get a child being seen constantly for asthma attacks, and it turns out they live in substandard housing where mold is a problem."

The new attorney will spend three days each week at the hospital and two days each week at the Legal Aid Justice Center. In addition to offering patients legal advice and direction, the attorney will also provide training sessions for Medical Center personnel and be involved in statewide advocacy work.

In the past, four U.Va. law students have volunteered for the Family Advocacy Program each year, conducting legal intake. Emery anticipates that number will grow from eight to 12 with the help of the yet-to-be-named attorney.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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