Legal Partnering is a Dose of Prevention

We are thrilled to be part of DULCE (Developmental Understanding and Legal Collaboration for Everyone), especially given the findings from a recent Chapin Hall research brief examining how legal partnering within DULCE strengthens the health care system’s ability to support families with infants. Those findings include that:

  • DULCE families were connected to scarce and valuable legal information, support, and representation;
  • Staff employed at participating DULCE pediatrics clinics were educated about the role of legal support in promoting health; and
  • Legal expertise was leveraged to improve population health.1

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened material hardship for families across the country. But there are innovations—like DULCE—that are making a difference for families during this unprecedented crisis. These innovations should inform future relationship-building at the local and regional level, including with the public interest law community. 

Pioneered by MLPB in the DULCE randomized controlled trial, the preventive approach to legal partnering elevates proactive risk detection as a priority. While it is critical to respond to families’ acute legal needs, there are important opportunities to identify and eliminate risks before they become active needs—which often can be harder to resolve. Here’s how prevention-infused legal partnering efforts have taken shape in high-impact ways in several DULCE communities (Vermont and Los Angeles) over the last few years:

  • Access to Legal Information and Supports
    • Message matters in a pandemic: “Legal Aid is working hard to maintain updated information as legal processes and benefits changed during the coronavirus crisis. Because I was able to participate in case reviews and email communications, I could help disseminate that information to DULCE families.” (Vermont Legal Aid, or VLA)
    • Preparation, preparation, preparation to help families avoid overpayment ‘quicksand’: “I could identify an area where families often get trapped in benefits overpayments. Families with fluctuating income may not remember to report those changes to the welfare agency; in what was presented as a recounting of the family’s employment situation, I could help the social worker preemptively remind the family to timely report income changes.” (VLA)
  • Provider Education
    • Updating clinicians and staff on legal developments so they can be more effective partners to families: “When immigration officials announced several significant changes around public charge, we were able to coordinate both provider-facing and community-facing presentations on the proposed public charge rule changes which has caused a lot of fear in our immigrant populations around utilizing much-needed public benefits…[We] were able to respond to both providers and patients’ various questions around the proposed rule changes and help dispel misconceptions around the rules.” (Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, or NLSLA)
  • Population Health Advancement
    • Tackling one family’s barrier can lead to a solution for many families in the same boat: “The DULCE Family Specialist identified an issue with the county’s recently-established hotline for newborn Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Thanks to the Family Specialist’s on-the-ground experience with families utilizing the hotline, we were able to reach out to our county contacts and fix the issue with the hotline within the next few days so that other families throughout LA County could once again utilize the hotline.” (NLSLA) 

These examples from DULCE propel us—public interest law leaders in our communities—to want to continue building bridges to with the early childhood sector and other systems in ways that accelerate child and family health improvement. We also celebrate that Access to Justice for All is increasingly understood to be an antiracist strategy, and legal partnering is an important tool in the quest to expand access to justice and, therefore, advance equity and anti-racism. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously noted in 1966, health equity and civil rights are two sides of the same coin: 

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman….”

Want to dive deeper on DULCE, legal partnering, and prevention? Learn more here. Excited by how DULCE might strengthen the health of your community? Contact Azieb Ermias, CSSP Senior Program Analyst, at

DULCE is led by the Center for the Study of Social Policy with support from The JPB Foundation.

1 Brown, A., Spain, A. K., Garza, A.M., Rathore, K., & McCrae, J.S. (2020). Before Crisis Hits: Embedding Legal Supports in Preventive Pediatric Care for Families with Young Children. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.