Children as young as 12 may be allowed to seek mental health care without their parents’ consent if a bill pending this year in the Colorado state Legislature is approved.
The proposed law, HB 19 1120, is intended to expand access to mental health care as younger children in the state have started to die by suicide. Currently, children 15 and older can seek mental health care without parental consent.
“This is one piece of a puzzle to help make a difference in the youth suicide in Colorado,” said Heather McLaughlin, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
The bill is one of several measures pending in the Legislature to help address youth suicide.
In 2017, 187 Coloradans under 25 died by suicide, including four young residents of La Plata County.
Children, teens and young adults are also struggling with suicidal thoughts. Durango Police Department 911 data showed 46 calls involved suicidal people under 25 in 2017. The youngest suicidal person to contact police was 9 years old.
Durangoan Kate Niles said she supports the bill because she expects it will allow school counselors or social service workers to help students who have guardians who are not providing youth with needed mental health care. Some students may be living in abusive homes or situations fraught with emotional manipulation that make it impossible to seek care, said Niles, a member of the legislative committee for the National Association of Social Workers.
However, paying for care and finding an available mental health care provider could be challenging for teens seeking care, she said.
Teens on Medicaid would not need to alert parents to their care, she said. However, if students are covered by their parents’ private insurance, parents would likely find out about the care through billing, she said.
In La Plata County, youth 15 years and older can seek care without parental consent at Axis Health System’s community-based health clinics in Southwest Colorado, said Stephanie Allred, senior clinic director with the health system. However, students must have parental consent to seek care at school-based clinics with Durango School District 9-R run by Axis, she said.
If teens come to the clinics seeking care, the staff would closely work with them to figure out the best way to involve a parent or guardian, she said. Allred supports allowing youth to seek help on their own, she said.
“Allowing youth to have more control and decision-making in this process could be very empowering and lead to more youth asking for help,” she said.