When children find themselves in a crisis, they may look to adults for guidance and counseling -- though those adults may not always be their parents. In some cases, they may be in crisis because of a situation that involves their parents. Unfortunately, in most cases, children cannot seek the aid of a professional counselor without obtaining their parents' consent, though there are some exceptions.
In most states, children who are under 18 years old must receive parental consent before they can begin seeing a counselor. These laws give parents the duty of providing medical care, as well as the right to consent to treatment. Laws in Texas and Maryland, for example, require children under 18 to obtain written consent from their parents before they can begin a course of counseling or treatment.
There are many exceptions to these laws requiring parent consent for counseling. For example, in Michigan, children who are at least 14 years old can get up to 12 weeks of counseling without parental consent, but they must obtain permission if the counseling continues beyond that. School counselors may also see children without parental consent since the service falls under the realm of educational services. As long as parents don't explicitly forbid their children talking to school counselors, counseling can take place without consent. In California, children who are between 12 and 18 can consent to their own treatment if a therapist determines that they are competent to engage in therapy and that it would be inappropriate to try to obtain consent from a parent.
The law requires that information discussed in counseling sessions be kept confidential. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If information is revealed in counseling that indicates a child may be a harm to himself or others, a therapist has an obligation to report this. If children are being abused or threatened, a counselor may need to report this to the parents or to legal authorities. Any illegal acts must also be reported.
Children who are younger than 18 can be considered legal adults in some cases. The laws vary by state, but the most common ways that a minor can become emancipated are to get married or to go into active military duty. Children who have become completely self-supporting are also considered emancipated, though they will have to provide evidence of their self-sufficiency to obtain this status.
- Feminist Therapy Associates: Consent to Treat Minors
- School Counseling Zone: Confidentiality Guidelines for School Counselors
- Maryland Law Review: Counseling the Counselors: Legal Implications of Counseling Minors without Parental Consent
- State Bar of Michigan: The Law for Minors Parents Counselors
- Texas Medical Association: Consent for Treatment of Minors
- American Psychological Association: Confidentiality in the Treatment of Adolescents
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