Leading Organizations Announce Ambitious Initiative to Strengthen Public Health Legal and Policy Infrastructure

The Network for Public Health Law, ChangeLab Solutions, the Public Health Law Center, and the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research partner on an ambitious initiative to strengthen the public health legal and policy infrastructure needed to build a Culture of Health. The initiative, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and launched on October 1, 2016, tests an innovative new framework of Five Essential Public Health Law Services, applying it to three focus areas: early care and education (ECE) settings, preemption, and enforcement.

This initiative is the result of a year-long groundbreaking effort by the leading public health law entities to collaborate on a framework to evaluate and strengthen the public health legal infrastructure to support the development and implementation of laws and policies.

The three focus areas offer significant opportunities to advance both understanding and action across sectors and public health entities, making legal and policy strategies more accessible to practitioners, advocates, and researchers. For example, family child care provider settings are sought after by low-income families due to greater affordability, availability, and familiarity, compared to center-based care. Despite their prevalence and potential impact on health and wellbeing in early childhood, comparatively little has been studied or published about quality measures in these settings, and how the policy domain could influence the quality of care provided in these settings.

Similarly, certain advocacy groups have pushed for federal or state laws that restrict the ability of local governments to enact health- and equity-promoting laws. This practice—preemption—can be hard to spot, costly to fight, and tough to overcome once a preemptive law is enacted. Decades of tobacco control efforts offer a potential playbook for public health entities to share strategies on how to address preemption tactics that limit innovations.

Finally, even the most elegant and well-designed legal and policy strategy is bound to falter if there are no provisions for accountability or enforcement. Yet too often the enforcement of a new law is overlooked or underfunded. Without enforcement, the intended effects of public health laws are undermined and evaluation results to determine the laws’ effectiveness are skewed.

The project partners expect the Five Essential Public Health Law Services framework to serve as a strategic lens to assess the effectiveness of legal and policy strategies to address public health problems, explore cross-sector collaboration, and inform the development of three successful social norm change campaigns in communities across the country.

More information about the framework can be found in a new article published in Public Health Reports, “Better Health Faster: The Five Essential Public Health Law Services.” The framework was developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program. The article is available online at Public Health Reports and the Social Science Research Network.

About the Partners

The Network for Public Health Law helps local, tribal, state and federal public health officials and practitioners, as well as attorneys, policymakers, and advocates use law as a tool to improve public health. With five Regional Centers at Arizona State University, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina, the Network provides assistance, resources and training to those who must grapple with the many legal complexities that exist in modern public health. Visit networkforphl.org.

ChangeLab Solutions creates innovative laws and policies to ensure everyday health for all, whether that’s providing access to affordable, healthy food and beverages, creating safe opportunities for physical activity, or ensuring the freedom to enjoy smokefree air and clean water. ‪We specialize in researching and drafting model laws and policies, providing analysis and recommendations on environmental change strategies, developing educational toolkits and fact sheets, and providing on-demand training and technical assistance to support stakeholders in their policy reform efforts. Visit changelabsolutions.org.

The Public Health Law Center is a national nonprofit law and policy organization that helps health leaders, officials, and advocates use the law to advance public health. Founded in 2000, our organization is a leader in U.S. public health policy, and a respected legal resource for dozens of local, state, national and international health organizations. Visit publichealthlawcenter.org.

The Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University supports the widespread adoption of scientific tools and methods for mapping and evaluating the impact of law on health. Visit publichealthlawresearch.org.

About the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Law Program
A CDC program launched in 2000 that works to improve the health of the public by developing law-related tools and providing legal technical assistance to public health practitioners and policy makers in state, tribal, local, and territorial jurisdictions. Visit https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. RWJF strives to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. Visit www.rwjf.org.

Leslie Zellers, Project Director
lkzellers@gmail.com; 510-601-1608