As you might have found out in this section (or known already), a mental health condition is a type of disability that is protected under the law just like any other disability. This means that your child has rights to quality mental health treatment and care, should be treated with respect in any program they’re in, and should not face discrimination in school or other places. You and your child might be working with a lot of different people, services, and systems. And if you are, knowing what your child deserves and how to ask for what your child needs is especially important.
Other parents have said that it helps them to be better advocates if they (and their children) know what rights they have with mental health services as well as what quality care looks like. We have collected some facts and tips to help you learn more.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual.” This includes protections for people with mental health conditions in education, employment, and government services. See our Education and Schools section to learn about education rights, and our State Agencies and Services pages for more about state services.
With the Affordable Care Act, insurance benefits cover more services for children with mental health risks and conditions. As of 2014, new health insurance plans must cover behavioral assessments for children at no extra cost and cannot deny health insurance benefits to anyone because of a mental health condition.
Beyond legal protections and rights, you want to be sure that your child has quality mental health care that fits their needs. Here are some things to look at and ask for in your child’s programs and services:
To learn more about the signs and symptoms to watch for, see our page on When to Get Mental Health Help for Children.
When your child starts to use mental health services they will probably get involved in more than one system and program. Your child might see a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas on what should happen next. As always, you are your child’s best advocate. And you and your child are the bridge between these different places to make sure they all work together to give the best care possible.
Mental and behavioral health system and services:
Other systems with mental health services and supports:
Some of these might be services you go looking for, and sometimes these systems come to you unexpectedly. For example, your child is having an angry outburst and ends up being arrested by the school police. Or your child is struggling with cutting, and a teacher sees the marks and calls the child abuse hotline. Your child has rights, protections, and treatment choices for mental health needs in these types of situations and in all of the places listed above.
If or when your child has a mental health diagnosis that is impacting their learning and school success, they might be able to connect to special education services and get the support of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Learn more about how all of this works in our Education and Schools section.
If your child’s mental health condition has led them to the juvenile justice system, see our Navigating the Juvenile Justice System Process page to learn more about what to expect and what you can do.
With so many systems and professionals involved, things might be complicated or confusing. There will probably be snags or roadblocks along the way. Not everyone will understand mental health needs – or see them for what they are – but there are things you can do to help make your child’s needs known.
Here are some tips from other parents:
Your child might not have a mental health diagnosis yet – or it might change over time. No matter what the case, you can still be your child’s advocate if you think they are having mental health symptoms and need help. Your child has the right to good mental health care, and you can help make sure they get it.