Mid-Shore Pro Bono has identified the top three civil legal issues facing young people and families of the Eastern Shore based on their work with clients during the first quarter of 2019. These issues involve advocating for children, caring for elderly loved ones, and student loan debt.
“While not unique to the Eastern Shore, these civil legal issues are dominating our caseloads so far in 2019,” said Sandy Brown, Mid-Shore Pro Bono Executive Director. “Demand for services in these areas is on the rise, and our team is working hard to develop and expand programs and services to meet these specific needs in our community.”
The rise of incarceration and deaths of parents associated with the opioid crisis has resulted in an 82% increase in third-party custody cases brought to Mid-Shore Pro Bono. When a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or other family member seeks to gain custody of a minor child whose parents are unable to care for them, they need legal support. In response, The Child Advocacy Project was created to provide the legal services needed to give these vulnerable children a safe and stable environment so that they can thrive while their parents, if still living, can receive the help they need.
The Eastern Shore has a large aging population and adult guardianship cases have increased, especially in situations where an individual does not have the proper estate planning, powers of attorney and advance medical directives in place. When aging adults become unable to make sound financial and health decisions, they need a trusted person to become their legal guardian to make those decisions on their behalf. Adult guardianship cases are particularly complex as they can threaten an older adult’s dignity and agency. Many of these cases are preventable by ensuring that all adults have the proper documents in place while they are still of sound mind. Through its Elder Law Project, Mid-Shore Pro Bono works with clients through clinics and one-on-one sessions with a volunteer attorney to develop these documents, and also assists with those more serious situations that have escalated to an adult guardianship case.
Student loan debt is another growing challenge to many on the Eastern Shore. Even when young adults are employed post-college, large student loan payments are damaging their financial health and making it hard to cover rent and medical expenses. Unfortunately, the Eastern Shore’s challenging job market further exacerbates this issue in our communities. Many in this situation do not understand that student loan debt is a civil legal matter and that there are remedies. Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s Economic Stability Project works with these young adults through clinics and individualized legal assistance to help them delay or restructure their student loans payments into an amount that is more manageable. In the most severe cases, Mid-Shore Pro Bono will also connect clients with a volunteer attorney that will seek remedies through the courts.
“The key to many of these issues is early intervention,” said Brown. “We aim to reach potential clients before a situation escalates to the most extreme scenario. Thanks to the work of our project teams and volunteer attorneys, we have been largely successful, but we do still see cases that require intensive assistance. We encourage anyone who may be facing one of these issues to contact us so we can connect them with the help they need.”