The Family Legal Health Program at SickKids is a unique initiative that links health care and legal care to improve child health.

Created by Pro Bono Law Ontario, the Family Legal Health Program delivers free legal services to low-income families whose children receive treatment at SickKids Hospital. Program partners are The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and law firms McMillan and Torkin Manes. The Family Legal Health Program currently receives funding from The Law Foundation of Ontario.

The FHLP helps low-income patients and families meet their basic needs by incorporating legal advocacy into clinical practice. The program enables clinicians to see the link between social conditions and the law and to use legal advocacy to improve family stability and prevent illness. Some legal issues adversely affect a child’s health; others can impact a family’s capacity to manage their child’s care. When a family’s basic needs are met, clinical interventions are also more likely to be effective and sustainable.

The program involves a unique partnership that links The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) with the private bar through Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO). Partner law firms McMillan and Torkin Manes provide pro bono legal services to eligible families referred by a Triage Lawyer on-site at the hospital. Based on a program from the United States called Medical-Legal Partnerships, the Family Legal Health Program is the first of its kind in Canada and the first international application of this highly regarded American model.

The program is based on the following premises:

–Social ‘determinants’ impact the health and wellbeing of children, and poverty is a determinant of poor health;
–Most social issues associated with poverty have legal implications and legal remedies;
–Lawyers are beneficial partners for health care practitioners treating low-income patients and families whose health may be impacted by complex, socio-economic issues.

Core Program Activities

1. Training clinicians to spot legal issues

SickKids clinical staff learn to spot legal issues that impact patient health or a family’s capacity to manage their child’s care. The goal of training is to encourage early identification and resolution of legal issues.

2. Direct legal assistance to low-income patients/families

When clinicians identify legal issues, they refer eligible patients and families for free, on-site legal services. A Triage Lawyer provides brief legal services and coordinates case referrals to appropriate legal services (both pro bono and Legal Aid.) Pressing legal issues get the attention they require so families can focus their attention on their child’s health.

3. Systemic advocacy

Through the Family Legal Health Program, legal advocacy becomes a tool to effect change on systemic issues that impact the health and wellbeing of present and future patient populations. Policy work and test cases are two effective ways that lawyers can help pediatric clinicians address the social determinants of child health.