For 18 years, Health Law Advocates (HLA), a nonprofit, public interest law firm headquartered in Boston, has used legal advocacy to help children with mental health needs overcome barriers to treatment and avoid the justice system. HLA’s Mental Health Advocacy Program for Kids (MHAP for Kids), which began in 2017, has now assisted almost 2,000 children who were in or close to entering the justice system because they were not receiving the mental health services they needed. MHAP for Kids’ work is multifaceted and includes special education and school discipline advocacy, advocacy to various state agencies responsible for providing services to young people, and ensuring access to health insurance coverage.
An independent, two-year evaluation found that MHAP for Kids’ work
- improves school attendance,
- decreases the use of emergency mental health services,
- lowers overnight hospital stays, and
- reduces the use of emergency shelters.
Over the past two years, MHAP for Kids has partnered with a new ally in our efforts to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline: the Medicaid health plan made up of mental health-care providers from Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). This health plan, created in 2018 as part of Massachusetts’s statewide Medicaid transition to accountable care organizations (ACOs), includes BCH, its primary care doctors, and its affiliated specialists, and is the only exclusively pediatric ACO in Massachusetts. BCH’s ACO covers 130,000 children across Massachusetts.
The MHAP for Kids and BCH ACO pilot supports and educates BCH’s primary care providers, behavioral health teams, and medical care coordinators through trainings and consultations by an experienced MHAP for Kids attorney, which in turn drive case referrals from BCH’s providers to MHAP for Kids. Below are some lessons learned and reasons why we believe children’s hospitals are great partners for children’s advocates.