On June 20, Fordham Law’s Family Advocacy Clinic partnered with the Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation & Rehabilitation Center (CERC)—a branch of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine—to run a one-day clinic for families with special-needs children.
At the CERC, located in the Bronx, children complete various psychiatric, psychological, speech, and language evaluations in order to determine what types of programming would be most effective for them. Oftentimes the parents of these children require legal assistance to get them in the right school programs. The one-day Fordham Law clinic helped fill this need.
The parents of an autistic child, for example, might find out through the CERC that their child needs more individualized services, such as speech or occupational therapy. The parents would next be referred to the Family Advocacy Clinic—which involves students from Fordham’s law school as well as its graduate school of social work—who would screen them before taking or referring their case. Fordham Law students would then conduct an analysis to determine if they could achieve the results the parents are seeking.
After three days of intake and client screening from the Family Advocacy Clinic, several of the CERC’s clients came to the Law School for a full day of interviews and counseling and advice, provided by attorney Andrew Weisfeld ’15 as well as Deborah Levine and Sloane Lewis, Fordham Law students who are summer legal interns with the clinic.
Leah Hill, who directs the Family Advocacy Clinic and serves as associate dean for experiential education, notes that, without the clinic, this type of advocacy would be hard to come by for most of these families.
“The parents who come to us cannot afford to hire attorneys,” Hill says. “They are usually low-income and lack access to legal services. While many of them are eligible for the free legal services programs that exist outside of the clinic, those programs sometimes have such long waiting lists or limited capacity.”
For Weisfeld, it was both a return to, and a continuation of, years of dedicated work in this field. A graduate of Fordham Law and a former student in the Family Advocacy Clinic, Weisfeld went on to establish his own law firm where he advocates for a variety of clients, including special-needs children, low-income families, and immigrants.
At the clinic, Weisfeld, Levine, and Lewis were able to provide advice and limited-scope legal services to several families, many of whom spoke only Spanish, and thus had faced linguistic as well as economic barriers in their search for assistance.
Hill hopes to build on the success of the one-day clinic in the future.
“We plan to continue our partnerships with CERC and perhaps create a full medical-legal partnership and share our resources to advocate for families of children with special needs,” she says.
Hill notes how effective these interdisciplinary partnerships can be, stressing how families in need can solve multiple problems at once thanks to these efficient teams of lawyers, doctors, and social workers.