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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

CHAMPS awarded second million-dollar Duke Endowment grant

The Carolina Health Advocacy Medicolegal PartnerShip (CHAMPS) at the University of South Carolina was awarded a $1.48 million grant to evaluate how medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) can serve as an equitable child welfare prevention strategy.  

This grant builds on the success of funding from a previous Duke Endowment grant to establish the South Carolina MLP Collaborative, which models for MLPs how accountability and leveraging collective resources can eliminate health barriers. 


CHAMPS is a collaboration of the USC Schools of Law and Medicine and Prisma Health. CHAMPS works to address the five social determinants of health – economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context – by providing holistic, interdisciplinary public health legal services. The CHAMPS Clinic is CHAMPS’ educational component and offers law, medical, and Master of Social Work students the opportunity to work together on legal cases to address the social determinants of health for low-income children and families. 

Why it matters 

When there are no viable agencies for health care providers to refer patients to address the social determinants of health, often their only recourse is to make neglect reports to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, even if parental abuse or neglect is not a factor. Unsurprisingly, then, only one of every four parental neglect allegations to SC DSS are substantiated. Unnecessary DSS referrals can traumatize families, waste already-scarce agency resources, and overwhelm social services staff.  

The solution 

In partnership with the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School and Furman University, CHAMPS will study how MLPs can serve as an equitable child welfare prevention strategy. This project will include: 

  • A randomized control trial to evaluate the extent to which CHAMPS reduces unsubstantiated DSS reports from Prisma Health. 
  • An assessment of Medicaid cost savings to South Carolina through CHAMPS.  
  • Qualitative evidence on CHAMPS’ involvement in improving family stability overall. 
  • The development of a community advisory board for clients to provide feedback on CHAMPS’ services and DSS policies and procedures.  
  • Holistic services for families referred to DSS for reasons related to poverty from systems and agencies working with children outside of Prisma Health. 
What they’re saying 

“We hope this project becomes a model for other MLPs, in the Carolinas and beyond, to focus on reducing unsubstantiated social services referrals while also addressing the social determinants of health,” says Emily Suski, associate dean for clinics & externships and associate professor of law who started and oversees CHAMPS.  

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