Checking up on legal health

legalhealthMost of us have faced or will face issues at some point which, if ignored, could result in a legal problem. For example, losing one’s job today can quickly lead to debt, repossession of a car or eviction. It’s easy to become overwhelmed – especially for people who may feel powerless for any number of reasons. So, how to help people identify and address a legal problem before the problem gets too large to solve?

Halton Community Legal Services, a community legal clinic in Southwestern Ontario, hopes to answer that question by collaborating on the Southwest Legal Health Project with three other community legal clinics. This project aims to help intermediaries detect and untangle legal problems before the point of crisis.

This early intervention initiative has three main elements:

  • Engagement: partner with community based services to enhance access to legal services
  • Triage/Assessment: train intermediaries to recognize legal components to everyday problems and make referrals before the problems escalate
  • Support: train intermediaries to help clients avoid denial, navigate the system and advocate for services

A core tool of the project is a checklist in print and online format for use by front line service providers and peers of people with low incomes. The checklist has two goals:

  • raising early awareness of the possibility of legal problems in a person’s situation
  • encouraging people with legal problems to get help from the community legal clinic and support from agencies or trusted members of their community to help them act quickly

The success of the Legal Health Project will depend on recruiting and training of intermediaries such as community workers. Follow-up assessments will then identify trends and inform changes to the project tools as appropriate.

Halton Community Legal Services will be testing and piloting the checklist through the end of 2014. The project is one of four foundational initiatives underway in Southwestern Ontario – after the pilot, similar checklists will be rolled out in Brant County, Guelph and Hamilton.

For more information, visit the Legal Health Check-up website.

Have you had any experience with legal health initiatives? Please share them here!

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