by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
We often think of a legal victory as something affirmative. We’ve secured income for a low-income person too disabled to work. We’ve obtained new special education services for a child. Yet in our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP), some victories are better described as preventative.
Take guardianship, for instance. Through BeHeLP, I have been working with a group of young siblings who had moved in with a generous family friend when their parents could not care for them. This new caregiver had been treating the children as if they were her own. We recently went to probate court and secured formal guardianship for the caregiver.
Anti-climactic? Maybe. Nothing has changed now that she has guardianship status. This caregiver will continue to care for the children, just as she had before. But there is a preventative outcome: now, if the Department of Child and Family Services investigates the children’s welfare due to the absence of their parents, they will not be placed in foster care and separated. Through guardianship, we created stronger legal protections to keep this non-traditional family together.
Preventative victories are also important for mental health reasons. Because BeHeLP allows clinicians to help attorneys intervene early, we can stop triggers of mental health symptoms – separation from loved ones, hunger, homelessness – before they begin. An absence of harmful symptoms may not be as exciting as an improvement or a cure, but to a child, it’s a great start.