August 2022 Newsletter

Join us on Sep. 29 for a live event!

Are you an early childhood system-builder invested in new strategies that promote health, wellbeing and flourishing for all children and families?  Interested in how to fill or expand your toolbox? 
Join us next month for a live event
Legal Problem-Solving Principles & Practices for the Early Childhood Sector: Handbook Release!
Thursday, September 29 
2-3pm EST / 11a-12n PST
 
We’ll be hosting a virtual conversation about how early childhood system-builders can incorporate legal problem-solving into their work.  Hear from a panel of remarkable colleagues and be the first to get our new handbook!

Additional event details to follow right after Labor Day!


In early October, we’ll be at the Root Cause Coalition’s Annual National Summit on the Social Determinants of Health, alongside our valued colleague and First 5 Orange County ambassador Ana Page.  

Stop by our poster presentation: Embracing Legal Problem-Solving to Address SDOH: Lessons from an Early Childhood-based Learning Community.  

We’d love to connect and hear what’s on your mind!

And join us in November for important dialogues about legal problem-solving and early childhood flourishing at the 30th Annual A View From All Sides Conference, New England’s premier family support conference (hosted by The Children’s Trust) as well as the APHA 2022 Annual Meeting & Expo
30th Annual A View From All Sides ConferenceAPHA 2022 Annual Meeting & Expo
Nov. 2-3, 2022 | Framingham, MA & virtualNov. 6-9, 2022 | Boston, MA
Learn more / registerLearn more / register

Legal partnering in an Emergency Medicine context 
High Touch, High Trust: Using Community Health Advocates And Lawyers To Address ED High Utilizers (The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Aug. 1, 2022) Link offers free access to article through 10/15/22 
More evidence of DULCE impact!  
Benefits Of A Universal Intervention In Pediatric Medical Homes To Identify And Address Health-Related Social Needs: An Observational Cohort Study (Academic Pediatrics, Jul. 18, 2022) Subscription required
Cancer health disparities and legal partnering
Patient navigation to address sociolegal barriers for patients with cancer: A comparative-effectiveness study (Cancer, Jul. 1, 2022)
Legal partnering as part of a Family Medicine residency program   
From HRSA Grant To A Medical Practice: Improving Care For Children And Adolescents In A Family Residency Clinic (Rhode Island Medical Journal, May

On our mind

Top Story: The Health Benefits of Paid Sick Leave

Access to Justice, Civil Rights & Health

Climate, Environmental Justice & Health

Food Security & Health

Health Inequities & Care Transformation

Housing & Health

Join our team!

Were hiring

Law & Policy Consultant – MA-focused

Think different? Lawyer different. This new colleague will partner with communities of care in Massachusetts and nationally, and will support MLPB’s refinement of our team-facing legal partnering innovation.

CEO/Executive Director

We’re also seeking a talented and adaptive leader to join and lead a passionate, committed team into the next successful stage of MLPB’s growth and impact.


Bridging Divides banner

New Blog Post!

Next-Generation Social Need Screening: The Intersection of Individual-Level Needs and Institutional Violence


In the news

When change happens at the speed of trust: 
Leadership reflections at the intersection of health and justice

Yesterday, ConvergenceRI published an interview with Samantha Morton, CEO, whose departure in 2022 was announced last month.

Covered through the Delivery of Care lens, the interview covers wide-ranging topics including:

  • Healthcare delivery transformation trends
  • The leaked Supreme Court opinion draft
  • Racial justice

On our mind

Disparities, Equity & Social Health Integration

Education & Health

Health Care Access

Housing & Health

Immigration & Health

Maternal & Child Health

By:

Jeannine Casselman, Law & Policy Director and

Samantha Morton – CEO, MLPB

May 25, 2022

While screening for health-related social needs typically focuses on goals like achieving food security and housing stability, many care team colleagues contact MLPB with questions about the role of violence in the lives of the people they serve. The violence takes many forms, such as:

  • Intimate partner violence (IPV)
  • Domestic violence
  • Violence directed at older adults
  • Child maltreatment
  • Community/neighborhood violence

Usually, these consultations with our team relate to a specific event and its impact on an individual or family. For example:

  • Under what circumstances is someone typically eligible for Massachusetts Victim of Violent Crime Compensation?
  • Is a person who was sexually assaulted in their apartment entitled to a transfer on health grounds if they receive a rental subsidy in RI?
  • Who generally is eligible to pursue a “U visa” pathway to immigration status if they witnessed a crime and have cooperated with the police and prosecution to hold the responsible person(s) accountable?

What is becoming clearer, however, to the care teams we partner with, is the inextricable connection between individual-level violence and broader structural (institutional) violence like racism. We need look no further than the May 14 racist massacre of ten people while grocery shopping in Buffalo, NY – an event that joins a staggering and painful trend of anti-Black violence across the United States. This converges with a broader spike in hate crimes against many people of color in recent years. (See the text box below for updates on federal government infrastructure relating to hate crimes.)

The screening conversation in a care setting is an important opportunity to lay foundation for building and sustaining trust. On the one hand, care teams are under unprecedented pressure to engage with social care through efficient screening, triage, and referral – efforts that increasingly are tied to payor quality assurance expectations. On the other hand, not everyone feels trust in the systems/organizations that often are the ‘destination’ of a care team member’s proposed referral (“safe hand-off”). This could be the case whether the proposed resource is a mission-based non-profit organization, a county or state office that manages access to housing or financial benefits, or a lawyer/legal group. In fact, many people have had experiences that prompt them to distrust these resources. Indeed, many care team members themselves have experienced the same institutional violence in their lives as the people they are supporting.

When our colleagues JoHanna Flacks and Renée Boynton-Jarrett wrote about an approach to strengths-based screening of families (published in 2018 by the Center for the Study of Social Policy), their sixth recommendation was that care team members “acknowledge family risks and strengths in a broader historical context.” This means getting more comfortable asking about the reality of institutional/structural violence in people’s lives – a step beyond the 5-to-10-question checklist that most social care team members have at their disposal.  

Several concrete ways to acknowledge institutional violence in the screening context could include:

  • After someone has screened positive for a health-related social need, but before offering a specific resource, identifying a potential resource and asking the person if they have interacted with it before. If they have, what was that experience like?
  • Setting aside assumptions. Even if one patient/client has had a positive experience with a particular resource, that doesn’t mean their experience is universal. Ask and listen closely.
  • Verifying with the proposed resource, based on the person’s/family’s context, that they are equipped to communicate with people whose first language is one other than English.
  • Observing trends in household-level needs/goals identified during social screening that point to system- and policy-level barriers to health, wellbeing and dignity. And then sharing these observations with social care colleagues, internally and externally.

While screening encounters themselves are not a mechanism to address the root causes of institutional/structural violence, these conversations are an important opportunity. During a social health screening conversation, care team members not only can sharpen their trust-building ‘muscles’ but also develop new kinds of problem-solving skills – like identifying household-level patterns that point to population-level barriers that may be ripe for other kinds of legal problem-solving.

*****

Justice Department Announces New Initiatives to Address and Prevent Hate Crimes []”

On May 20, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice announced several new steps to combat hate crimes nationally:

  • Releasing a new report, with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, geared to raising awareness of hate crimes and related harms in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This joint DOJ-HHS authorship is important recognition of the connections between health and justice.
  • Initiating new grant programs that will bolster hate crime prevention/reporting/tracking infrastructure at the state and local level;
  • and Hiring a first-ever Language Access Coordinator – sited within DOJ’s Office for Access to Justice.

An exit interview with Samantha Morton, CEO of MLPB, who is leaving her position after a decade of legal advocacy for better health outcomes

By Richard Asinof
Posted 5/23/22

Samantha Morton

PROVIDENCE – All too often, the focus on transitions in leadership when talking about health care delivery systems is limited to reporting on the corporate rites of passage. For example, Arthur Sampson was recently chosen to serve as the interim leader to replace outgoing President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau at Lifespan, the state’s largest health system.

Babineau is departing after his failure to secure the proposed merger with Care New England, the state’s second largest health system, when the deal to consolidate the two entities was rejected by R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Getting to no.”]

Sampson most recently had served as the president of Miriam Hospital, and before that, he had led Newport Hospital for 24 years; in total, Sampson had toiled as a top executive within Lifespan’s system for 35 years. Translated, he is a corporate insider.

“Arthur is an agile and strong leader who works well with individuals at all levels of the organization,” wrote Lifespan board Chairman Lawrence A. Aubin, Sr., in a message to Lifespan employees, as reported by The Boston Globe. In the message, Aubin promised that a national search for a new president and CEO would be launched in the coming weeks.

What got left out of the story about Sampson’s interim appointment was that Lifespan appears to be a health system in distress, in the midst of a serious workforce crisis as well as a growing lack of care delivery resources.

Last week, the Emergency Department at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, one of the member hospitals in Lifespan’s health system, was reporting the highest score possible, 200 out of 200, from the National Emergency Department Overcrowding Scale, according to The Boston Globe. On average, each day, some two dozen patients were waiting for up to seven hours in the emergency room, many of whom were waiting  for inpatient behavioral health services, according to The Boston Globe.

Symptoms of distress
The overcrowding of the emergency room and the ongoing workforce crisis are symptoms of a health system in distress, much like elevated blood pressure readings and a spike in body temperature and difficulties in breathing would be viewed as troublesome symptoms in a patient.

Treating the corporate transition at Lifespan as somehow removed from the ongoing crisis in health care delivery is a kind of cognitive dissonance; it ignores the flashing red “engine warning sign” on the dashboard about what is wrong with hospitals.

In contrast, a different kind of corporate transition is taking place at MLPB, a nonprofit agency dedicated to working on improving health outcomes through legal advocacy, focused on upstream problem-solving strategies in health care. [MLPB is the next generation evolution of Medical Legal Partnership Boston; the work has often involved building collaborative partnerships in Rhode Island and in Massachusetts.]

After a decade of leadership, MLPB’s CEO, Samantha Morton, is leaving her position, moving on to her next challenge. Among the partnerships that MLPB has developed under Morton’s leadership have been with the Care Transformation Collaborative and its ongoing initiatives with community health workers, and with the R.I. Life Index, a data survey of Rhode Islanders conducted annually with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the School of Public Health at Brown University, now gathering data for its fourth annual edition.

MLPB describes its work as follows: “At the household level, [our] capacity-building support disrupts the trajectory of a social, economic or environmental need into a legal and health crisis.” Translated, the agency’s focus is on preventing crises. At the population level, MLPB’s work “cultivates communities of care as partners in system and policy change.” Translated, the agency recognizes the importance of community participation in supporting systemic change.

The art of convergence
ConvergenceRI has covered the work being done by MLPB on a number of occasions, impressed by the organization’s ability to bring different community voices to the table to strategize about health care as a place-based enterprise.

For instance, ConvergenceRI reported on MLPB’s spring breakfast held in May of 2018 at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “In search of a common language about disruptive health innovation in RI.”]

With her announced departure, it seemed like a good time to try  to capture Morton’s perspective on the changing health landscape in the region – and the role that legal advocacy can play in changing the equation. Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Samantha Morton, CEO of MLPB:

ConvergenceRI: How has the health care landscape changed, in your opinion, in the last 10 years?
MORTON: The momentum toward value over volume – exemplified by the accountable care transformation and global payment environment – is changing the conversation about what really makes up health and well-being, and who needs to be around the table to even begin to achieve greater health equity.

It has been exciting, for instance, to see new space created for important experts like community health workers join care teams in greater numbers in recent years.

What remains unclear is whether we will see “values over volume” in our lifetime. While values remain hotly contested nationally and locally, the health care community has an important opportunity to commit not only to patient-centered care, but to human-centered care.

Just as one’s ZIP code correlates to health status and life expectancy, it also correlates to barriers to justice in our society. The care delivery lens needs to account for the law and policy environment that governs people’s day-to-day lives.

While law can feel like an invisible presence to many, that perception is a mark of privilege. For too many people, zoning laws, law enforcement abuses of power and immigration policy are key “structural drivers of health” [sometimes called “social determinants of health”] and certainly not invisible in their lives.

ConvergenceRI: What have been the greatest successes by MLPB in advocating for health through justice?
MORTON: We’ve pioneered an important strategy that can expand the pool of legal problem-solving partners available to people: what we call team-facing legal partnering.

This capacity-building strategy recognizes that while some legal problem-solving can only be performed by licensed attorneys, care team members – many of whom develop relationships of trust with the people they serve – have a powerful role to play in offering legal information and rights education to their patients.

Not only does this advance prevention as opposed to crisis management, but it also helps to democratize access to justice by inviting more stakeholders to bridge the access-to-justice gap.

This is particularly critical in Rhode Island, which ranks 51st nationally on “self-representation” infrastructure – meaning the tools that people can lean on when trying to navigate court processes successfully without a lawyer.

Refining this strategy has had important ripple effects over the last decade.

• Nationally, MLPB has participated in a number of research studies [DULCE (Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone), Housing Rx] that are growing the evidence base for legal problem-solving as an important element of care. In DULCE’s case, that approach is now in various stages of planning/implementation in 9 states, including Rhode Island,

• Regionally, MLPB expanded team-facing legal partnering operations to the Ocean State in 2017, thanks to a thoughtful planning process with colleagues from RIMLP and the R.I. Center for Law & Public Policy.

• And finally, within Rhode Island specifically, our partnership with the Care Transformation Collaborative-RI and its Community Health Teams was so impactful that MLPB is now supporting statewide training of community health workers [CHWs] as part of the R.I. Department of Health’s recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant award [“CHWs for COVID Response and Resilient Communities”].

This is a real honor for us, and it speaks volumes about the centrality of law and policy to community health work.

ConvergenceRI: What have been the shortcomings – or perhaps a better way to phrase the question – the places where more work is required?
MORTONGood grief, there is so much work to do! The health justice chasm is oceanic. And I think about this question a lot because new organizational leadership may bring exciting new vision.

I see three significant challenges – opportunities – in this work over the next few years:

• Challenging the health care ecosystem to expand their government relations lenses to include priorities like affordable housing expansionthat are fundamental to human health, well being, and dignity.

We don’t need more data demonstrating the links between unstable, unhealthy housing and poor health outcomes; rather, systems with tremendous political and strategic capital could consider energetically supporting broader policy change efforts that are consistent with population health improvement imperatives – a significant step beyond the current “screen and refer” framework. This is starting to happen around the country in promising ways.

• Challenging the public interest law community to (a) welcome allied colleagues – like community health workers – more intentionally as collaborators in the march toward health justice in our society; and (b) embracing role differentiation among different legal community actors as a key transparency and trust-building step with people and communities.

Conflicts of interest can and do arise when the same organization/lawyer that provides direct legal representation to a patient delivers other kinds of funded services to the clinic/system that treats that patient.

Errors and bad acts do happen, and these conflicts of interest will only grow as health care teams take on greater responsibility for promoting people’s social, economic and environmental health.

We are gratified to see Integra Community Care Network modeling this kind of “legal partnering village” by engaging both MLPB and the R.I. Center for Justice to play distinct but complementary roles in a partnership with them.

• Challenging ourselves – organizationally and individually – to make sure we are grounding the work in specific, data-driven and community-driven health equity and race equity goals. Integrating law and policy expertise within care planning is path-breaking innovation, but the integration itself is not the ultimate goal – it’s a strategy that should catalyze health justice reforms at both the household level and the population level.

ConvergenceRI: How do you think that the “leaked” opinion about the U.S. Supreme Court has changed the legal advocacy landscape moving forward?
MORTON: One of the barriers to justice in the U.S. is the density and complexity of law itself. Most of us can’t confidently explain how a bill becomes a law. And most laws and policies are not written for regular people — yet it shouldn’t require a law degree to decipher the principles and rules that govern our society.

Over the last several years, there has been some exciting momentum around deeper civic education – citizens and neighbors learning more about how their federal, state, and local governments work. The release of the draft Supreme Court opinion ‘lifted the hood’ a bit on a process that has been somewhat mysterious – what these deliberations are like.

This event may prompt more people to ask important questions about how power is stewarded, exercised, and checked in our country’s judicial system.

ConvergenceRI: What are the best, most effective methods to advocate on behalf of patients, using legal tools?
MORTON: In MLPB’s experience, it takes a combination of capacity-building tools to meaningfully fill a team’s social care “toolbox.” Training is an important foundation, but team members need the opportunity to reinforce and apply that learning in their problem-solving partnerships with the people they serve.

One way we reinforce that learning is to integrate our staff into standing interdisciplinary team meetings [care planning settings] so that we can contribute continuous law and policy education to that setting.

We’ve seen this be particularly valued over the last 5+ years, given whiplash-inducing changes to immigration policy [like the chilling effect of the threatened public charge rule modification] and the evolving eviction moratoria at state and national levels.

Ultimately, though, advocacy is most effective when our learning from capacity-building partnerships is translated into recommendations for system-level and policy-level change.

ConvergenceRI: Can you place the work of health equity zones in the context of how they are changing the conversation around health outcomes?
MORTON: Circling back to ZIP code as a structural driver of health, we need look no further than the April 2022 HEZ Update to see that the conversation is changing in exciting ways.

This update spotlights, among other things, men as allies in combating domestic violence; anti-racism and reproductive health; reducing youth homelessness; and public parks as community wellness hubs. Now this is a community health- and health justice- oriented dialogue.

ConvergenceRI: Moving forward, what are the most important lessons from the efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, when it comes to racial justice?
MORTON: This question is tied to lessons from the pandemic, but on reflection – and thanks to recent conversations with First 5 Orange County collaborators Ana Page and Andrew Montejo – I think the answer is universal: trust is fundamental and in short supply.

Many systems have caused harm to, and therefore generated understandable distrust among, many people they ostensibly exist to serve. This means that pursuit of racial justice is happening amid a landscape of deep, long-standing and frankly earned distrust.

A reminder from my colleague Rosanna Batista of East Boston Social Centers is ringing in my ears: “Change happens at the speed of trust.” To grow both trust and trusted messengers in racial justice contexts, I think we must deeply invest in truth, justice and reconciliation processes locally, regionally and nationally..

Preparing for a Leadership Transition

Changes ahead 3

Samantha Morton is stepping down as MLPB’s CEO this year, a decision she has made in connection with new elder caregiving responsibilities. During her tenure, MLPB’s capacity-building reach in Massachusetts and Rhode Island has broadened and deepened through its team-facing legal partnering innovation – equipping medically- and community-based care teams with legal information and tools that promote more effective problem-solving with the people they serve. “Samantha’s human-centeredness and astute read of the evolving healthcare ecosystem have been transformative for the organization, our partners and collaborators, and the social health field,” says Kirsten Meisinger, former Medical Staff President and Regional Medical Director at Cambridge Health Alliance and MLPB Advisory Board member. “Our partnership with MLPB, under Samantha’s visionary and enthusiastic leadership, has helped us to expand our social health strategy and programming,” notes Kim Prendergast, Senior Director, Social Health – Community Care Cooperative.


Newsletter headlines (4)-1

It’s time for the 4th annual RI Life Index Survey

RI Life Index

MLPB is proud to be a part of the RI Life Index Coalition.

The RI Life Index, led in partnership by Blue Cross Blue Shield Rhode Island and Brown University School of Public Health, compiles information from confidential phone surveys across Rhode Island to help the coalition learn how to build healthier communities across the state.

Learn more about the survey and view findings from the 2021 RI Life Index here: www.rilifeindex.org 


Connect with us3

Are you attending the 2022 Virtual Social Work Symposium?
Join us for: Strengthening the Social Care Toolbox With Legal Education

Over the past two years, new evidence bolstering the link between rights education and quality of care has been generated through the Housing Prescriptions as Health Care pilot and the DULCE (Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone) national learning network. 

On April 29, join us and key collaborators at the Symposium to explore how legal information and rights education is animating care redesign in communities across the country. This panel will feature: 

Thank you for hosting this important conversation, NASW-MA!


Welcome3

. . . to our 2022 spring interns!

Anita A

Anita Aimufia

I am a Senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston, majoring in Criminal Justice, with a minor in Biology. As an upcoming graduate, I plan to attend school for my Masters in the Public Health, Concentration specifically in Biostatistics. My time at MLPB will be spent learning and understanding the problems that affect the community and what resources are available and accessible to them, helping to strengthen my passion for helping people.

Chloe Lo

I’m a senior at Boston University, majoring in Health Science. At Boston University, I am involved with the Badminton Club and Wizards, a club aimed at promoting STEM education to students in Boston public schools. Last summer, I interned at a law firm in Hong Kong which finalized my decision to apply to law school. Since my interests also lie within the health sciences, I am extremely excited to learn more about how law and public health are interconnected.

L Safa

Liana Safa

I’m a senior at Boston University, majoring in Health Science. At Boston University, I am I’m a junior at Boston University majoring in Health Sciences with a minor in Public Health. I’m a strong advocate for health equity and accessibility and I’m planning on pursuing a future career in law. In addition to interning at MLPB this spring, I’m also the founder and president of INARA at BU, a network of Boston University students, faculty, & community connecting war-wounded children with life-saving medical assistance. This internship has been an extremely informative and eye-opening experience that has given me a greater understanding of how the worlds of health and law collide to fight for health justice and equity. I look forward to continuing this journey at MLPB!


On our mind

Access to Justice, Civil Rights & Health

Disparities, Equity & Social Health Integration

Employment, Income Supports & Health

Housing & Health

Immigration & Health

Maternal and Child Health

MLPB Preparing for New Leadership as CEO Samantha Morton to Step Down After a Decade of Remarkable Innovation

Samantha Morton

Samantha Morton is stepping down as MLPB’s CEO this year, a decision she has made in connection with new elder caregiving responsibilities. During her tenure, MLPB’s capacity-building reach in Massachusetts and Rhode Island has broadened and deepened through its team-facing legal partnering innovation – equipping medically- and community-based care teams with legal information and tools that promote more effective problem-solving with the people they serve.

“Samantha’s human-centeredness and astute read of the evolving healthcare ecosystem have been transformative for the organization, our partners and collaborators, and the social health field,” says Kirsten Meisinger, former Medical Staff President and Regional Medical Director at Cambridge Health Alliance and MLPB Advisory Board member. “Our partnership with MLPB, under Samantha’s visionary and enthusiastic leadership, has helped us to expand our social health strategy and programming,” notes Kim Prendergast, Senior Director, Social Health – Community Care Cooperative.

April-26-2022-MLPB-Press-Release

What some families committed to healthier communities really want.

On the Move

“. . . Legal information and rights education [is] an important factor in creating healthy communities. . . . These resources can save families from being illegally separated, evicted, jailed or even deported.” 

Part 3 of 3 in our Rights, Resources & the Next Generation blog interview series, this new blog features insights from Dounia Belmir and Erin Connors, each a parent-leader with Smart from the Start. Smart is one of MLPB’s three partner communities invested in Building Legal Problem-Solving in the Early Childhood Sector, a planning process made possible with support from The JPB Foundation

Thank you so much, Dounia and Erin, for sharing your critical perspectives!


Connect with us3

2022 Virtual Social Work Symposium
Strengthening the Social Care Toolbox With Legal Education

Over the past two years, new evidence bolstering the link between rights education and quality of care has been generated through the Housing Prescriptions as Health Care pilot and the DULCE (Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone) national learning network. 

On April 29, join us and key collaborators at the Symposium to explore how legal information and rights education is animating care redesign in communities across the country. This panel will feature: 

Thank you for hosting this important conversation, NASW-MA! Registration details are available here.


Digital Digest Spotlight



Designed for teams committed to human-centered social care, MLPB’s Digital Digest distills key law and policy updates across many domains of health-related social need that impact individuals, families, and communities. 

While April is around the corner, winter is not quite over for New Englanders!

MA

In Massachusetts, the annual moratorium protecting eligible customers from utility terminations ends on March 31, 2022. Limited utility assistance remains available.

RI

In Rhode Island, the moratorium expires on April 15, 2022, although it is not unusual to see an extension through May 1, 2022 if the weather is particularly cold. 


On our mind

COVID-19, Health-Related Social Needs, & Structural Drivers of Health 

Disparities, Inequity & Care (Re)Design

Early Education & Care

Immigration Status & Health

Measuring What Matters

Nondiscrimination in the 21st Century

Transportation & Health

Utilities & Digital Equity

Edited by Samantha Morton – CEO, MLPB

March 29, 2022



Erin Connors (left) with her son Daniel, and Dounia Belmir (right) with her son JJ

Background

MLPB has convened a planning process with 3 partner communities invested in Building Legal Problem-Solving in the Early Childhood Sector, thanks to support from The JPB Foundation. One of these partner communities is Smart from the Start – a trauma-informed, multi-generational family support and community engagement organization with a mission to promote the healthy development of young children and families living in the most underserved communities of Boston and Washington D.C.

This blog interview series elevates perspectives on legal information and rights education from our partners. Our first interview was with First 5 Orange County stakeholders, and the second interview was with colleagues from the RIDOH Office of Family Visiting.

Here’s our interview with Smart from the Start parent-leaders Dounia Belmir and Erin Connors – alongside “echoes” of their valuable thinking from CA and RI stakeholders interviewed earlier in this series:

Question 1: Smart is not your typical “early childhood program.” What makes its work in communities in Boston and Washington, D.C. so unique? 

  • “The staff at Smart are unique because they genuinely care about the families they work with. Whether it be because they have lived similar lives[,] or they see the potential in us that we have yet to discover. Not only do they see our potential, but they help us set goals and reach to attain, said potential.
    • Dounia Belmir, Smart from the Start parent-leader
  • “Smart is definitely not your typical program. They are the type of people who stick by you when things are tough. Smart doesn’t just give you a resource and say ‘here you go’, they see the process through. They are always there to support their families, whether it’s help with IEPs  or . . . mental health [support] or more.” 
    • Erin Connors, Smart from the Start parent-leader

An “echo” from Orange County, CA of these reflections on the importance of a relationship of caring and trust:

“Per conversations and experiences, one of the first challenges faced by many is language and lack of empathy from service providers, especially those of their own race. Although entities hire bilingual staff, written information is not in native language, and bilingual staff is limited. When they connect with someone in their own language, some feel a lack of understanding or support. . . .  “

Benjamin Juarez (Parent, Garden Grove Early Learning Taskforce)

Question 2: Do you see legal information and rights education as an important ingredient in healthy and flourishing communities? If so, why? If not, what other tools are on your mind right now? 

  • “I do see legal information and rights education as an important factor in creating healthy communities. As a community we should be able to have access to legal information for [day-to-day] situations. Not everyone is aware of their rights, [and] some families . . . are not aware of resources for legal information. These resources can save families from being illegally separated, evicted, jailed or even deported.” 
    • Dounia Belmir, Smart from the Start parent-leader

  • “Families need to know what can be done to prevent uncomfortable situations, such as eviction, [child welfare authority] involvement, family separation and more. Not every family is aware of their rights and resources in every community.”
    • Erin Connors, Smart from the Start parent-leader

An “echo” from Orange County, CA about the very high stakes people are navigating with without sufficient information

“Some of the barriers . . . families face stem from: (1) Not being aware of the community resources within their communities; (2) If they do hear of resources, they do not know who to contact and solely rely on the information from friends, family, neighbors; (3) General understanding of programs and services and how the service is beneficial.  Whether it’s the client not understanding the information or the program’s communication regarding the services, some families may need additional support navigating resources; and (4) Depending on the area . . . , language is a barrier when trying to advocate for their children.

Yolanda Alvarado (Early Childhood Coordinator, Garden Grove Early Learning Taskforce)

Question 3: One aspect of civil rights work is holding systems accountable for the commitments they’ve made to individuals, families and communities. Another aspect is raising the bar on what those commitments to people are. And there are many more dimensions of course. What barrier to family health and flourishing in our country are you most concerned about right now? 

  • “The barrier to family health and flourishing that I am concerned with is rights and equality. Every family deserves to be treated with care and respect. There are families being ripped apart because of racial injustice, immigration status, wealth [gaps] and so much more unfairness. The only way to create flourishing communities is by having families . . . create said communities. We can’t have families if we tear them apart.” 
    • Dounia Belmir, Smart from the Start parent-leader

  • ”The barriers I am most concerned about are special education . . ., housing, [child welfare authorities] and their involvement in families, and the racial barriers in schools. All of these factors are impacting my family and families . . . in my community.” 
    • Erin Connors, Smart from the Start parent-leader

An “echo” from Rhode Island regarding fundamental challenges to family unity and thriving communities

“The pandemic has continued to shine the light on inequities for families. State-level policies need to break [down] barriers to allow better access to basic needs, [such as] quality higher education at affordable prices for all. In addition, workforce opportunities and [the] ability to expand leadership roles to individuals across SES [socio-economic status], race, and education levels, to be more inclusive of leaders that represent the communities where they may live, work or identify with.”

Sidra Scharff (Implementation Specialist, RIDOH Office of Family Visiting)

Can care teams serve people effectively without legal information and rights education in their toolbox?

February 2022

On the Move

Legal Problem-Solving & Family Flourishing:
Learning from Early Childhood System-Builders

MLPB has convened a planning process with three partner communities invested in Building Legal Problem-Solving in the Early Childhood Sector, thanks to support from The JPB Foundation. Our newest blog post is an interview with leaders from one of these partner communities, the Rhode Island Department of Health Office of Family Visiting. Our colleagues share important local perspectives on legal information and rights education as a tool for advancing healthy child development and family thriving. 

Stay tuned for a blog interview with our third partner community — Smart from the Start — in March! 


Connect with us3

Growing HOPE – 2022 Virtual Summit

MLPB will lead a workshop at the second annual HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) Summit on March 8, 2022. This is a terrific opportunity to explore the connections between one’s environment, positive experiences in childhood, and the power of legal information and rights education

Registration details are available here.


Digital Digest Spotlight



Designed for teams committed to human-centered social care, MLPB’s Digital Digest distills key law and policy updates across many domains of health-related social need that impact individuals, families, and communities. 

Free Tax Preparer Services for Eligible Households!

Filing taxes can be challenging, especially when there are new requirements.  For example, recently the IRS sent “Letter 6419” to families who received the 2021 advance Child Tax Credit. This letter contains important information families need to complete their taxes. Free tax preparation services can help eligible families file their taxes successfully. 


On our mind

Criminal Legal Systems & Health

Disparities, Inequity & Care (Re)Design

Early Education & Care

Employment, Income Supports & Health

Housing & Health

Immigration Status & Health

Utility Needs, Water & Health