Sometimes it takes more than the assistance of doctors, nurses and social workers to help parents cope with the challenges of caring for an extremely sick child.
So, in a unique program - believed to be the first of its kind in Canada - Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children is now adding lawyers to its family support team.
"Some solutions need the expertise of a lawyer," said Ted McNeill, SickKids' director of social work.
For instance, a family of an asthmatic child may require legal help to prod a landlord into removing mould from a building. Or a parent may be unjustly fired after taking time away from work to care for an ailing child.
Dr. McNeill noted a host of non-medical problems, requiring expert legal knowledge to address, can impede a family's ability to focus on the health of their children.
"But not everyone can afford a lawyer," he said. "This service is really targeted at those families who face financial challenges and who might otherwise not be able to access a lawyer."
The hospital has joined forces with Pro Bono Law Ontario and two local law firms - McMillan as well as Torkin Manes Barristers and Solicitors - to provide free legal care to those in need.
One lawyer has already set up shop at SickKids. Cases requiring very specific legal training - such as immigration and tax issues - can be referred to other lawyers.
In many respects, the program springs from a field of study known as the "determinants of health," which has shown that poverty, discrimination and related stressors can have a profound influence on a person's physical well-being.
"If we only understand health in the narrow terms of the biology of disease, we are going to miss addressing those very important determinants that shape our health," said Dr. McNeill.