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Traumatic childhood events and the stress they cause can negatively affect health over a lifetime. For children with Medicaid coverage, visits to the doctor’s office present an opportunity to improve this trajectory. Medicaid’s Early Periodic Screening Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) mandate requires that children receive more than a basic physical when they see a doctor for regular “well-child checks.” As part of a comprehensive look at their development, they should receive mental health check-ups that could identify childhood trauma, its impacts, and the interventions that could help improve health and mental health. Data suggests that many children do not receive these mandatory comprehensive screenings. Significant barriers to screening include lack of transportation for patients, low reimbursement rates for physicians that limit their ability to devote enough attention to screenings, and lack of access to mental health screening tools.

Medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) provide a framework for addressing these challenges. MLPs bring together civil legal services lawyers with health providers to address social determinants of health. This article argues that the MLP movement provides a three-tiered paradigm for change for physicians and attorneys to improve the trajectory for children who have suffered trauma and address the gaps in Medicaid EPSDT mental health screening: (1) collaborative advocacy to improve patient health, (2) transformation of health and legal institutions, and (3) policy change.

Publication Citation

Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics, Vol. 17, Issue 2, 253.