Siblings Jy’elle, Jahlil and Corey were on the verge of homelessness a few years ago. Thanks to Child HeLP – a partnership between Cincinnati Children’s and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati – their family won the right to remain in their home.
When Sharkira brought her son Jahlil to the Pediatric Primary Care Center (PPCC) at Cincinnati Children’s for a checkup, she had a lot on her mind. Her daughter Jy’elle was still adjusting to her first year of kindergarten, and her 1-year-old son Corey had been diagnosed with asthma and needed to be seen by specialists in our Asthma Center.
Looming over everything else was a letter she received from her landlord: She was being evicted over a mix-up with her housing subsidy. In less than a month, she would be forced out of her apartment.
Sharkira felt completely overwhelmed. Not knowing where else to turn, she began calling local shelters, trying to make a plan for the day she and her children would have to leave their home.
So at Jahlil’s checkup, one of the forms caught her eye. It listed common stressors, including "threatened with eviction or losing your home."
Sharkira's first impulse was to leave the box unchecked. Why would a doctor’s office want to know about her housing situation? And how likely was it that they could actually help her? She checked the box anyway – it couldn’t hurt, and she didn’t know what else to do.
At the end of her son’s appointment, Sharkira was introduced to a social worker who told her about a program called the Child Health-Law Partnership (Child HeLP). Through Child HeLP, the staff at Cincinnati Children’s refers families to the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, where they can get help with legal issues ranging from accessing public benefits to addressing housing concerns.
Sharkira could hardly believe it. An attorney from Legal Aid would meet with her right at the PPCC, to help contest her eviction. She had walked in to Jahlil’s check-up full of worries. She left full of hope.
Good Health Requires More than Good Doctors
Walking through the hallways of a world-class medical center like Cincinnati Children’s, it may be tempting to believe that keeping kids healthy is mostly a matter of getting the right doctors to prescribe the right medications or perform the right surgery at the right time.
While it’s certainly true that our doctors provide expert, life-saving care, it’s also true that good health requires more than just good medicine. What happens outside the hospital is just as important – sometimes even more – for long-term health.
Every person’s well-being is profoundly influenced by “social determinants” – access to healthy food, safe housing, a nurturing home life and other factors.
After all, the best medical treatments in the world won’t keep a child healthy if she lives in an unsafe home or goes to bed hungry every night. This truth strikes home every day at Cincinnati Children’s. We want our patients to thrive, and too often we see them held back by the overwhelming challenges of poverty.
That’s why we partnered with Legal Aid to create Child HeLP. Now in its eighth year, the partnership with Legal Aid gives our doctors a powerful resource for taking care of patients and addressing all the issues that impact a child’s health.
“The presence of legal advocates on-site has transformed the way our clinic cares for low-income children,” says Robert Kahn, MD, MPH, Associate Chair for Community Health at Cincinnati Children’s. “We can raise issues like poor housing and hunger because we know we have powerful help at hand. Sometimes our most effective ‘prescription’ is a referral to a lawyer!”
Elaine Fink, managing attorney for Legal Aid, agrees with Kahn that the collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and Legal Aid offers unique support for families struggling with legal issues related to poverty.
“Working together, doctors and lawyers are able to address families’ needs in a more effective, seamless way,” she says. “They quickly receive expert legal advocacy, alongside world-class medical care for their children, that can help improve their health and well-being.”
Cincinnati Children’s provides more than world-class medical care. We help families, like Sharkira’s give their kids a safe and nurturing home.
Changing the Outcome Together
As Child HeLP demonstrates, close partnership is vital for any successful community health program. Only by working hand-in-hand with local organizations can we improve the conditions in which our children live, play and learn.
“Cincinnati Children’s recognizes the needs of our very diverse community,” says Liza Smitherman, a local business leader and a member of the Cincinnati Children’s Foundation Board. Liza and her husband, Albert, are generous supporters of the medical center’s community health programs, and Liza is eager to let others know why these initiatives are so important.
“By partnering with other organizations, we can work toward real and sustainable change for kids and families with limited resources and support,” she says.
Child HeLP is just one among many valuable partnerships for Cincinnati Children's. Another took shape last year, when Michael Fisher, president and CEO of Cincinnati Children's, agreed to serve as co-chair on a child poverty task force. The task force will bring together dozens of civic leaders from across Cincinnati in an effort to lift 10,000 of the city’s children out of poverty by 2020, a 22 percent reduction in the child poverty rate.
“It's important that the community really understands the severity of this issue and what it is doing to stunt potential,” Michael says. “We have good programs, good efforts and good intent. We need to align it better, scale it and import new ideas and practices.”
By building on best practices and by reaching families where they are – and finding those who are hard to reach – we have the opportunity to change generations of lives.
Giving Hope to Families in Cincinnati
Thanks to the assistance she received through Child HeLP, Sharkira and her children were able to stay in their home and avoid the chaos that would have come with eviction. She has remained in touch with the team at Legal Aid, and they’ve helped her navigate through other challenges.
“I’m so thankful for everything they’ve done,” she says. “Facing those things can be overwhelming. It’s hard to get ahold of the right person and to understand the problem.”
Programs like Child HeLP are possible because of the support of people like Liza and others, who share our vision for healthier kids in Cincinnati. These initiatives are often not reimbursable and so philanthropic support is vital.
“I don’t want any child to be held back by conditions that we can improve by working together,” Liza says. “Children deserve every opportunity to grow up in a nurturing community. We will make our city stronger by providing resources for the kids and families who need it most.”
For more information or to support this important work, please contact Sarah Sullivan at 513-636-5664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo above: Virginia Tallent, JD, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, makes it easier for families to access legal help by meeting with them in the PPCC.
Making Innovation Routine
Sharkira’s story shows how we can change lives by asking the right questions at the right time.
This is especially true when it comes to monitoring child development. Early childhood is full of key milestones. One of our goals is to help parents and caregivers know what optimal health looks like for their child. We can go a long way toward improving a child’s future if we catch the very earliest signs of learning difficulties or behavioral problems. We must also be quick to address social determinants when they harm a child’s health.
The new Primary Care Community Innovation Lab at Cincinnati Children’s will help us discover and test the best ways of guiding every child toward optimal health. This virtual lab will foster collaboration among families, schools, social agencies and health clinics in neighborhoods throughout the community.
The cross-disciplinary team of caregivers will explore innovative ways to combine preventive health services with mental, behavioral and dental care. They will leverage existing community resources to ensure children are happy, healthy and ready to learn in school.
“As we work hand-in-hand with child health experts and advocates from a wide range of organizations, we’ll share our successes and quickly scale them up, allowing us to improve outcomes for as many kids as possible,” says Mona Mansour, MD, director of Primary Care and Social Health at Cincinnati Children’s. “This is exciting work that has the potential to transform the way we care for children early in their lives.”