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Learn More About Medical Legal Partnership for Children In Hawaii (MLPC)

Direct Legal Services

The Medical-Legal Partnership for Children in Hawai‘i (MLPC) runs twice-weekly, free Legal Advocacy Clinics for low-income families on-site at the Kōkua Kalihi Valley health center (KKV).  The Legal Advocacy Clinics coincide with the KKV Pediatrics Clinics every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  MLPC attorneys and law students often meet with families right in exam rooms while children wait for their vaccinations and booster shots.  We also run Legal Advocacy Clinics at the Towers at Kuhio Park, formerly Kuhio Park Terrace, housing.  This allows for seamless legal services for families, and it also provides practical training for law students alongside pediatric residents.  

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, MLPC began meeting with families virtually.  MLPC has found this practice increases access to legal services for families and, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, continues to meet with families virtually.  In addition to meeting one-on-one with families, MLPC also hosts "Know Your Rights" outreach and educational workshops. To date, MLPC has assisted over 450 families through Legal Advocacy Clinics and hundreds more through outreach and workshops.

Professional Education and Training

In addition to direct legal services, MLPC hosts numerous professional trainings and educational workshops each year for health professionals (including doctors, nurses, dentists, behavior health social workers, psychologists, maternal and child health outreach workers, etc.), law students and medical students, and community partners.  These educational and outreach efforts are carefully organized and selected to train our community partners and build relationships, key elements of our collaborative, interdisciplinary vision.  Enacting this vision, MLPC collaborated with the schools and departments of the University of Hawai‘i (UH) to develop a robust curriculum to train UH law and other graduate students in the model of direct service and public health policy issues.

Systemic Advocacy

Lastly, MLPC engages in systemic advocacy alongside the communities we serve, focusing on advocacy and policy solutions that emerge from the “ground” up.  This entails listening to the needs of the families we serve, our community partners, fellow professionals, and policymakers themselves.  For example, MLPC has worked closely with the Micronesian community in Hawai‘i to advocate for the community’s access to healthcare and to address discrimination, language access, civil rights, and other new-immigrant challenges.

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How It All Began

After months of planning and consulting with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, MLPC finally began to walk the walk—literally.  On two days in July of 2008, three law students and a recent graduate of UH Law School accompanied two health outreach workers from KKV to conduct a door-to-door survey of public housing residents.  In addition to learning about health needs in the Kalihi Valley community, we asked public housing residents two questions: “Have you ever used a lawyer or legal services to solve a problem?” and “If you had free access to a lawyer in Kalihi Valley, would you use one?”  Not surprisingly, only 2 out of 26 respondents had ever talked to a lawyer before, and nearly all respondents wanted access to free legal services in Kalihi Valley.  By April of 2009, MLPC began holding Legal Advocacy Clinics at the KKV health center located on North School Street, just up the road from the Towers at Kuhio Park, then called Kuhio Park Terrace, Hawaii’s largest public housing sites.

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Why It Works

Preventative Law

The medical-legal partnership model is effective because it co-locates legal services with community health centers that serve traditionally underserved populations.  Families benefit from accessing immediate help for medical, social, and legal services in a one-stop site.  By engaging in “preventive law” alongside “preventive medicine,” MLPC attorneys can engage in simple legal advocacy before an issue becomes a more serious problem.  Co-location of services also creates a unique relationship between participating doctors and lawyers, which naturally leads to better collaboration and faster interventions.

MLPC has a strong track record of bringing particular sensitivity and dedication to the needs of the families we serve.  The MLPC team of attorneys and law students has demonstrated that we care about staying with and advancing community issues, from researching politics, history, and population health to working side-by-side for policy, civil rights, and community building.  And, sometimes we simply help a family to complete a "Head Start" application so a child can attend preschool.  Where is the “law” in all this?  By working directly with the communities we serve, we have come to be embraced by low-income families in Kalihi Valley as “their lawyer.”  This is something that not many low-income people in Hawai‘i (or America) can claim.

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