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Trauma-informed legal care

A young mother with a 4-month-old baby, Shania had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and marijuana abuse when her treating psychiatrist at an outreach partner, Fantus Clinic, referred her to the Homeless Outreach Project of the Legal Council for Health Justice. Like many of our clients, Shania suffered severe neglect and abuse as a young child, which triggered her entry into the child welfare system. She left the system as a teenager after her foster father punched her in the face.

Although a victim of significant childhood trauma, Shania succeeded in getting her GED and obtaining a job. Unfortunately, she was often agitated at work, and was observed responding to the voices in her head, which led to her dismissal and, ultimately, homelessness. Shania applied for disability benefits, but her previous educational and job success blocked her case and she was denied.

Homeless and suffering, Shania began self-medicating with marijuana as a way to quiet the voices in her head. She was living in a residential substance abuse treatment program for mothers when our legal staff met her. Using their trauma-informed training, our staff got to work to help Shania connect or stay connected with substance abuse treatment, psychiatric care, individual therapy and housing resources.

Legal Council staff obtained records from Shania’s closed DCFS file and documentation from Shania’s clinicians at Fantus, uncovering a history of child abuse and neglect, and severe psychological symptoms that persisted even when she was abstinent from marijuana use. We filed an appeal on Shania’s behalf, requested an expedited hearing, and worked with the partner clinicians to document the extent of her symptoms.

Shania’s application was approved on appeal. With our intervention and support, Shania was able to stay linked with mental health care, and progressed from requiring residential inpatient to intensive outpatient services. She recently moved to her own apartment. She remains linked with vital mental health, substance abuse, and parenting support resources and is anxiously awaiting her first check so that she can furnish the apartment for herself and her baby.