Can I Counsel a Child Without Permission From Both Parents?
Counselors hold a unique position in society, entrusted with the mental health care of some of our most vulnerable individuals. In the eyes of the law, counselors aren’t like other workers. They are held to standards of care. This is especially true in the case of providing counseling treatment for minor children.
Professional counselors need to obtain from both parents, consent for the child’s treatment. It is not enough to accept assurances from one parent that the other parent has been informed of the treatment or is no longer involved in decision-making. Counselors should verify they have proper consent before beginning treatment.
Ideal youth counseling situations include both parents fully investing in their child’s success in treatment. Perhaps both parents will not attend every session, but most likely both will be available and interested in meeting their child’s counselor before sessions commence. At that time, a counselor has the opportunity to confirm parental consent from both parties using basic reporting means.
Many counseling patients, however, come from family situations in which parental rights may be more complex to determine. Counselors encounter a number of dynamics, including:
- One parent engages in counseling for their child, insisting the other parent is absent.
- One parent engages in counseling for their child, insisting the other parent is unable or unwilling to make parenting decisions.
- Two parents engage in counseling for their child. One is not the natural birth parent, but verbally declares parental rights to the counselor.
- Two unmarried female parents engage in counseling for their mutual child. Under Illinois law, the non-birthing parent is not automatically assumed to hold parental rights.
When placed in any of these or similar situations, counselors must push the issue further to determine appropriate parental consent. They must request that parents produce documents confirming the identity of those who have the right to parentage and whose consent must be earned before treatment commences.
While it may feel confrontational and inappropriate to question a client’s parental rights, it’s a critical step to ensure proper care for the child. It’s for protection of the child that a counselor has a responsibility to confirm parental consent in advance of treatment. Explaining it this way, counselors can gain understanding from those who may be resistant or offended, but also have the child’s best interest at heart.
Parents have the responsibility to produce appropriate documentation that establishes their rights to parentage and their right to consent to their child’s counseling treatment. In some instances, parents may be aware of what documents they need and readily provide them to counselors.
Other parents might not realize the complexity of their situation and need some direction in following up on a counselor’s request. They likely will need to present this documentation in future situations, so tracking it down now will save them time later.
There are two legal documents counselors could review to prove rights of parentage:
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
Also sometimes called a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage, a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) establishes the parental standing and rights of a single individual who was not the person who actually birthed the child.
People have various reasons for filing a VAP, including being parents who are not in an ongoing relationship and those who are unmarried same-sex couples and in which one party may have carried and gave birth to the child.
Often, the person filing a VAP is the child’s natural parent and seeks to formalize that relationship to prevent future questions. There are instances in which a person who is not the natural parent of a child decides to take on the responsibilities of a natural parent by filing a VAP.
Though it is not a counselor’s role or responsibility to advise a client about legal matters, understanding a VAP might help resolve issues related to clarifying consent for care.
What signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity does…
- Creates a legal presumption of parentage
- Acknowledges acceptance of paternity and having one’s name listed on a birth certificate
- Makes it possible that the father who signs the VAP could be liable for child support
What signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity doesn’t do…
- Does not create a claim of or agreement for custody
- Does not create an agreement of child support
- Does not create an agreement for visitation
Court Order Establishing Parentage
If a VAP has not been signed, a court order can establish paternity and the rights of each party may be controlled by the court order.
Asking for the court order and ensuring you have the most recent court order by following up with the parents is a clear way to keep your records current.
Modern family structures and relationships require that counselors take charge to ensure consents are obtained. Take the steps to ensure that you have a path of information that provides safety and coverage for your practice.
For More Information
If you would like additional information, contact the Family Law Attorneys at Sterk Family Law to get started. Please contact our office at 815-600-8950 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
This article does not constitute individual legal advice and is to not to be construed as such. This article contains general information and constitutes legal advertising.
Sterk, Gwendolyn J. “Parental Consent for Treatment of Minors.” Illinois Counseling Association Contact 2018 | Vol. 87: 8-9. Digital.
This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.