Majesta-Doré’s (she/her/hers) project will partner Legal Aid Justice Center with VCU Health System’s Emergency Department and nearby low-fee community clinics to combat health-harming legal needs that perpetuate health disparities in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia.
Healthcare access is fraught for patients with low-income, non-citizen status, and other marginalized identities. Health Justice requires removing discriminatory barriers and providing broader access to legal tools before health-harming legal needs reach crisis level.
Despite VCU Health System consistently ranking in the top 100 medical centers in the country, Richmond and Petersburg County rank at the bottom in the 2021 health rankings. Social determinants of health, such as the high eviction rate, barriers in stable access to care, and access to lifeline benefits such as TANF and SNAP all contribute to these outcomes. Medical-legal partnerships improve patient outcomes, overall wellness, and reduce health disparities.
Majesta-Doré’s experience living with chronic illnesses and navigating the complicated U.S. healthcare system strengthens her resolve to combat barriers to stable access to care.
During her Fellowship, Majesta-Doré will establish a medical-legal partnership with VCU Health System to provide wrap-around legal services to patients in the Emergency Department. In the MLP, Majesta-Doré will counsel patients on health insurance appeals, appeal improper denials of public benefits, and train medical providers to spot legal needs warranting referral. Majesta-Doré will also work with community partners to provide community education about access to care.
Social determinants of health can change the trajectory of someone’s entire life. No one should have to choose between two life essentials because they need healthcare.
Majesta-Doré Legnini /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Maura provides trauma-informed immigration legal representation to immigrant youth who are survivors of gender-based violence in a setting that specializes in holistic youth development services in New York City.
Thousands of immigrant youth arrive in New York City after experiencing violence, poverty, and abuse. Almost half of the unaccompanied children in the City do not have lawyers to represent them in removal proceedings. Many of these young people are girls and LGBTQ+ youth fleeing sexual and gender-based violence in Central America, or from other countries around the world. Furthermore, immigrant youth often continue to experience gender-based violence after they flee their home countries. As a result, young immigrant survivors in New York City have complex legal and social service needs. Now, through Maura’s Fellowship project, The Door is the only organization in New York City providing immigration legal services for young people who are survivors of gender-based violence in a setting that is youth-focused and offers wraparound social services.
Maura’s experience in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after college sparked her passion for working with immigrants. She is dedicated to accompanying immigrant youth on their journeys to safety and better futures in the U.S.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Maura has:
- Represented 25 youth survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in affirmative and defensive immigration cases, including asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, U Visa, and T Visa cases.
- Worked collaboratively with social workers to connect young people with social services at The Door.
- Partnered with Restore NYC, The Legal Aid Society, and Day One to present three trainings for The Door’s Legal Services Center staff on recognizing the signs of trafficking, representing immigrants in T Visa cases, and working with young people experiencing dating violence.
- Conducted outreach to the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts in New York City and other legal service providers to introduce the fellowship project and create a referral system for new cases.
In the next six months, Maura plans to:
- Continue representing immigrant youth survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, U Visa, and T Visa cases.
- Develop and implement a culturally competent and trauma-informed screening tool to assess immigration relief and social service needs for survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence.
I am dedicated to the idea of holistic legal representation for young people and I am inspired by this type of advocacy practiced at The Door’s Legal Services Center.
Maura Tracy /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Seth catalyzed systemic change by providing direct transactional and civil legal services and by leveraging community advocacy strategies. Additionally, Seth developed intake and referral systems to represent individuals on health care access and provide transactional legal assistance for community-based organizations. Ultimately, Seth worked to successfully implement health care access campaigns through community development and seek to reform the way that health care allocation decisions are made at the city and state levels.
Jessica provided legal services, outreach, and advocacy in the areas of housing, education, and access to healthcare to low-income families in Washington, D.C. (DC) who are confronting health-harming legal barriers to managing their children’s asthma. This fellowship extends Children’s Law Center’s (CLC) existing medical-legal partnership (MLP) with Children’s National Health System’s IMPACT DC, Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Health Care and Unity Health Care Minnesota Avenue Clinic by focusing on asthma.
Need Addressed By Project
One in five children living in DC has asthma, a rate substantially higher than any state in the nation. Additionally, children living in poverty are at greater risk of acute and severe asthma attacks that lead to more emergency room (ER) visits, hospitalizations and death. In large part this risk is due to substandard housing, lack of access to critical preventive health care, and schools who are not providing adequate supports. Health providers are the first responders for children with asthma, and as such are best positioned to screen for non-medical issues that are impacting a child’s health. Ensuring that a lawyer is part of the treatment team for low-income families strengthens the team’s capacity to impact a child’s health. Embedding legal services within the clinical intervention team helps to ensure children are not denied access to necessary medications, healthy housing and accommodations in school.
In the past two years, Jessica has:
- Represented and advocated for families of children with severe asthma to ensure that the children can access their education, live in a safe home and to help eliminate other barriers to health
- Successfully negotiated for repairs and for clients to move to new homes with no housing code violations
- Developed training materials and conducted training for medical and community partners and families
- Participated in a working group which successfully advocated for ground-breaking mold legislation in DC
- Began development of an asthma advocacy toolkit that will provide useful information for families in DC to navigate legal barriers to managing their children’s asthma
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Jessica plans to:
- Continue to provide legal services, outreach and advocacy for families of children with asthma seeking legal assistance as a Staff Attorney at CLC
- Finalize and disseminate an asthma advocacy toolkit
- Work on-site at a medical partner clinic, conduct trainings and provide 1:1 consultation with clinicians
Being adopted should be a child’s happy ending. Unfortunately, adoption does not always result in a forever family for children. Adopted children who do not remain with their adopted families may revolve back to family court, sometimes back into foster care a second time and many even become homeless. These children are children of broken adoptions and they are primarily from poor communities of color. Many of these youth were put out on the street or the adoptive parents voluntarily placed them back into foster care due to behavior when the child became a teenager, yet the adoptive parent continues to receive the financial adoption subsidy for the child with no plans to allow the child back into their home. While the magnitude of the needs of this community are difficult to fully assess, the Broken Adoptions Project will continue to address the legal, policy, and service gaps that these children face.
In the past two years, Dana has:
- Developed BAP presentations, training materials, resource guides, and advocacy documents that educate staff, pro bono volunteers, partner organizations, agencies, legislators, and the community;
- Presented on broken adoptions at local and national conferences;
- Worked with various city and state agencies, organizations, and educational institutions to improve policies affecting BA youth;
- Educated New York State Senators and Assembly Members on adoption subsidy misuse, which led to the introduction of bill S6518/A8313 to amend the New York State Social Services Law;
- Fielded BAP helpline questions from children and professionals;
- Advocated for BAP clients in child support, neglect, guardianship, custody, visitation, and family offense cases in New York City; and
- Shaped the substantive body of case law concerning adoption subsidy inclusion in child support cases in New York City Family Courts and the New York Appellate Division, First Department.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Dana plans to represent children in abuse, neglect, delinquency, and PINS proceedings as a staff attorney at the Juvenile Rights Practice of The Legal Aid Society in Staten Island, NY.
Gillian used strategic legal representation and social science research to coordinate between child welfare courts, behavioral health services, and school systems with the goal of keeping young people with behavioral health and education needs at home in their communities instead of in congregate care facilities.
In 2018, 2,183 youth in Philadelphia spent time in a congregate care placement. Seventy-five percent of those youth are Black (while only 47% of youth under 18 in Philadelphia are Black). For decades, research has been conclusive about the harmful effects of congregate care facilities on young people’s therapeutic needs, education, connectedness to family and community, and overall success. Yet, Philadelphia still sends youth to these facilities as a solution for youth who need extra support.
During the two-year Fellowship period, Gillian:
- Provided legal information and referrals to 276 clients and provided full representation to another 202 clients on behavioral health, education and congregate care
- Gave four presentations on education and congregate care to attorneys, school district employees, case managers, behavioral health service providers, probation officers, and victim advocates, reaching a total of 190 individuals
- Kept a 17 year-old client from being sent to a Residential Treatment Facility, a setting more restrictive than her needs require, which was also unable to provide her with an appropriate education
- Advocated for clients in detention facilities and other congregate care institutions to return to or remain in their communities, instead of being exposed to COVID outbreaks and health risks in institutional settings
- Advocated for community-based services to strengthen family relationships, build youth resilience, and improve educational outcomes, highlighting how youth with behavioral health and education needs are best served in their communities and in family settings
Gillian remains at the Support Center for Child Advocates as a staff attorney, where she is a member of the Racial Justice and Social Equity Committee, a co-founder of the Congregate Care Task Force, and a trainer on trauma-informed lawyering and congregate care.