September 7, 2023
file image of window guards

Anyone with a young child knows they can be inquisitive and daring, and that it only takes one moment for an accident to happen. But a new Newark, New Jersey amendment is protecting families from one significant safety hazard, thanks to help from multiple teams of students across Rutgers Law School, Rutgers Medical School, and their community partners.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that, every year, 3,300 children under age 5 require emergency treatment after falling from a window. In the summer of 2018 alone, two children died and more were injured in Newark, requiring treatment at the University Hospital Emergency Department.

While a Newark city ordinance enabled tenants to request window guards, many were unaware of this right. Experts believed that more could be done to prevent window fall tragedies, and that a more proactive approach would be to require landlords to ask tenants if children reside or spend significant time in the home and install window guards if they do.

In response to what they were seeing in their emergency room, residents from University Hospital reached out to the HEAL Collaborative, a medical-legal-social work partnership housed in the Education and Health Law Clinic (EHLC) at Rutgers Law School in Newark. In addition to its work with the HEAL Collaborative, EHLC provides free legal representation to low-income parents of children with disabilities in special education matters.

For the nearly five years that followed, cohorts of law students and pediatric medical residents worked with the Greater Newark Healthcare Coalition’s Legal and Advocacy Subcommittee (GNHCC) and the Newark Department of Health to advocate for a change to the ordinance that would require landlords to proactively inquire about and install window guards where needed. They researched the data, reviewed and compared existing laws, educated community partners, drafted and negotiated the language for an amended ordinance, and advocated for its passage.

“Being a part of the EHLC was easily the highlight of my law school experience,” says Hannah Argul ‘22. “Not only did I get the chance to represent parents of children with special needs, but I was lucky enough to work with a team on a critical public health project. It was an experience I would have never had if I had not joined the clinic.”

On August 2, 2023, the Newark City Council voted unanimously to pass an amendment to the city’s window guard ordinance that now places the onus on landlords to ask tenants if they have children under age 10 living or spending substantial time in the home. If so, the law requires that the landlord purchase and install window guards to prevent falls. The amendment also says that tenants can ask their landlords to install window guards for any reason (for example, if there are children with disabilities over age 10 at risk of falls in the home), and that their request must be granted. To spread the word, the EHLC plans to collaborate with the Newark Department of Health and GNHCC on a public awareness and community education campaign this fall.

“The success of the initiative demonstrates the benefits of interprofessional education and collaboration as well as community engagement in addressing health and social problems,” says Professor Jennifer N. Rosen Valverde, legal director of the HEAL Collaborative. “The law students and medical residents learned quickly that collaboration across disciplines is challenging and can be frustrating, but the positive results here—potentially saving children’s lives—are without a doubt worth the time and effort.”

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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