University of California - Hastings
College of the Law
EJA Fellowship recipient, Summer 2002
Staff Attorney, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County
gave me the opportunity to launch my public
Raising a young child with disabilities is no easy task,
especially for parents with limited incomes. Connecting
a child with the services he needs is never as simple,
or as quick, as it should be. Fortunately for families
in San Mateo County, California, Brooke Heymach is there
to guide them.
Take one little boy named Jose. Jose was born prematurely
and soon began showing signs of developmental delays.
His pediatrician referred him to Early Intervention Services.
Often called “Early Start,” these federally
required services are supposed to start within 45
days of a referral. But Jose's mandatory eligibility assessment
was delayed 6 critical months.
At two-and-a-half years old, Jose's mother took him
for a check-up and the clinic diagnosed Jose with autism.
The clinic recommended that Early Start provide autism-related
services. But the county's Early Start provider failed
to assess, diagnose or provide services to Jose.
That's when Heymach got involved. Desperate for some
kind of help, Jose’s mother came to her at the Legal
Aid Society of San Mateo County when she heard about Heymach
in a parent group. “As any mother would be in her
situation, she was completely overwhelmed,” the 2002
EJA fellowship recipient says. “Her little boy, who
was almost three, was non-verbal and barely made
eye contact with her.”
Heymach immediately contacted the county's Early
Start provider, advocated and negotiated for Jose
and prepared for the possibility of an administrative hearing.
In the end, Jose obtained all the recommended services
and his mother became a strong advocate for Jose and for
has done so well since then,” Heymach says. “Recently,
for the first time ever, Jose was able to tell his
mother that his favorite snack was a graham cracker.”
A delay of four or five months seems like nothing
to a large bureaucracy, Heymach points out, but felt like
ages to Jose and his family. Each month is developmentally
significant for these little ones, she says, and the whole
purpose of early intervention is to get an infant or toddler
service as soon as possible. Through her work at Legal
Aid, Heymach is able to enforce this right.
Heymach didn't originally intend to become an attorney.
After receiving her master's degree in social work, she
worked for a nonprofit that dealt with health care policy
in Missouri. There, Heymach says, she realized how families
could be devastated by illness, and the resulting stress,
worry and debilitating debt, when they lacked access to
She then resolved to become a legal aid attorney
to fight for health care rights, and entered the
University of California – Hastings College of the Law. “I
was fortunate enough my second year to apply for the Equal
Justice America fellowship and get it,” she says, “and
start working in this field at Legal Aid. EJA gave
me the opportunity to launch my public interest career.”
Because of her work at Legal Aid as an EJA Fellow,
Heymach developed the idea for the Children's H.E.R.O.
Project (Health, Education, Representation and Outreach),
which helps children get access to health care and health
services. The program places special emphasis on assisting
infants and children under three who show signs of developmental
Heymach believes firmly that access to health care “is
not a privilege, it's a right.” And in San Mateo
County, the word has spread that she can help families
claim that right. “People in the community talk,
and they know what I do now,” Heymach says. “Whenever
there's a problem, they call me immediately.”
Heymach, now in the second year of her post-graduate
fellowship, hopes to continue her work as a staff
attorney at the Legal Aid Society. She credits Equal Justice
America with enabling her to do so much for families and
for children like Jose. “Honestly,” she says, “without
the fellowship I wouldn't be where I am now.”
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