As you might already know, 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 or be treated unfairly in school or other places. You and your child might be working with many different people, services and systems. And if you are, knowing how to get the best care possible is important.
This page is about both legal rights and good mental health care. We hope it will help you understand what your child deserves and needs—so that you can ask for it. See the rest of our Mental and Behavioral Health section for more about when and how to get help, types of care, where to find it and how to pay for it.
Parents have told us that you can be an even better advocate for your child if you and your child know their rights in mental health services—and what quality care looks like for your child’s needs. We have collected some facts and tips to help you learn more.
The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA covers people with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This includes mental health conditions. And the law gives protections to people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including schools, jobs, public places and community services. To learn more, see our page on Legal Rights or this short fact sheet, An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Another major national law, the Affordable Care Act, has given more insurance benefits to cover 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. Health plans must cover mental and behavioral health services at the same level as other medical services.
Beyond legal protections and rights, you want to ensure that your child has good mental health care that fits their needs. Here are some things to look at and ask for in your child’s programs and services:
In many cases, the rights we linked to in the list above are what experts and families think a person with a mental health condition deserves. They are very important, but not all are protected by law.
Even when services are provided by telehealth (by phone or computer), they should follow quality standards.
Part of getting good care is ensuring that programs and professionals are working together. And that you know where your child can get mental health support, such as in school. Especially since finding and getting mental health care can sometimes be hard.
When your child starts to use mental health services, it will probably be in more than one system and program. Your child might see many 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 include:
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 or self-harm, and a teacher sees the marks and calls the child abuse hotline.
Your child has rights, protections and treatment choices for their mental and behavioral health needs in these types of situations. And in all of the places in the lists above.
If 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 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, 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.