Evaluation of the Medical Legal Partnership Program

Low-income youth with special needs, including those disabilities and serious emotional disturbance, are at a higher risk for criminal justice involvement and poor life outcomes. This is, in part, a result of unmet special education needs and the resulting inability for youth to complete high school due to dropping out, suspensions, and expulsions (New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force, 2013).

In 2019, AIR was contracted to design and conduct both a process evaluation and a return-on-investment study of the Medical Legal Partnership (MLP), an initiative funded by the New York County District Attorney’s (DANY) Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (CJII).

Process Evaluation and Return-on-Investment Study

The goal of the process evaluation was to understand how the partnership was working from multiple perspectives, including those of legal advocates, clinicians, and families. The process evaluation responded to research questions about how families were referred, how many youth and families were served, facilitators of and barriers to implementation, and indicators of program success. The ROI analysis measured the dollar value of the MLP’s activities with families, compared with the value of subsequent services provided to these families and youth.

What are we learning?

At the midpoint of the four-year evaluation, findings from the process evaluation suggest:
  • Youth with special needs, specifically those with disabilities, often require legal advocacy to pursue educational services that they would not otherwise receive.
  • Collaboration between staff and the integration of services into programming are integral to the success of the MLP.
  • Training that the Legal Aid Society provides to Child and Family Institute staff is essential, as it helps clinicians understand how the partnership works, and provides a better sense of when, how, and why to refer clients to the MLP.
  • The co-location of legal services within the clinic is essential, and respondents believe that expanding the MLP’s working hours could allow them to better serve families.
  • Social workers play an important role in implementation of the MLP. The findings from the return-on-investment study indicate that the benefits of the MLP outweighed the costs for 11 of the 12 educational milestones. Except for the milestone “Obtained advice on educational issue,” the return on investment for MLP’s work was positive, with some benefits measuring just under 30 times the costs.

About the Medical Legal Partnership

The MLP is a partnership between the Legal Aid Society (LAS) and Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Child and Family Institute (CFI), which serves children with psychiatric conditions and developmental or learning disabilities.

Through the MLP, LAS provides training to CFI clinicians about how to identify youth in need of education advocacy (e.g., youth facing superintendent suspension hearings, in restrictive settings, and/or with frequent classroom removals). CFI clinicians use this knowledge to identify and refer patients to LAS for civil and educational legal advocacy and services. LAS then matches each family with an attorney who advocates for them to pursue special education and other supportive educational services.

The MLP aims to positively affect the community by (a) improving functioning among families of youth at high risk for criminal justice involvement, and (b) improving coordination between mental health services and legal services for youth at high risk for criminal justice involvement.

Image of Leah Brown
Senior Researcher
Kimberly Kendziora headshot
Managing Researcher