"I was on the phone with a facility and they didn't even know the name of the law. The person I was speaking with called it 'Gabby's Clause'. I informed them 'No, it can be referred to as Gabby's Law but it is Act 65 of 2020.' I think some providers don't even know what the law is, what it says, or what it protects." said Parent Alliance Family Support Partner, Tracy Palazzotto. Tracy is one of our incredible staff members who shared with us that well over half of her current caseload of families are experiencing challenges with the misinterpretation of PA's Mental Health Consent Law; Act 65 of 2020. "This isn't just one facility that's misinterpreting or even just one part of the state. It's happening everywhere."
"I have worked with families who physically drive their child to the hospital and then call for an update later on and they are being told that the hospital cannot confirm that their child is even there. The parents are so confused, like; 'What do you mean you can't say they are there? Where did they go? They were just admitted!'" said Tracy. "All of this is just pitting parents and children against each other during an already very stressful time. When you are dealing with a mental health crisis you do not need someone in a position of authority (doctor, administration at a facility) giving inaccurate information to your child. Parents do not need anything else that holds up an admission process that has already been endlessly held up." said Tracy.
One of the very first things that we, as an organization, created was our Mental Health Consent tip sheet (in both English and Spanish) to help make then Act 147 now Act 65 of 2020, Pennsylvania's Mental Health Consent Law, easier to read and understand for both families and providers. Before establishing a presence on social media, connecting with families, and even before we had the name and logo you see on our website today; we knew this needed to be addressed. It was clear that this was a tricky issue as the document has been shared over 150,000 times by families, providers, and agencies all across the state of Pennsylvania.
Want to learn more? Check out our recorded webinar on PA's Mental Health Consent Law here!
Since then we have continued to expand our resources for parents who are seeking inpatient and outpatient treatment for their children. We have added two additional tip sheets on; how to select a treatment facility for your child, and things to keep in mind while your child is in an RTF. This and the corresponding blogs (how to select, while they are there) both feature tips and suggestions that come straight from parents who have navigated the inpatient admission process in the hope that it saves other parents time and heartache, as well as letting them know they are not alone.
One of the main takeaways from sitting down with the parents who helped us create these resources was how many providers did not interpret the mental health consent law correctly. One mother in particular even mentioned that she emailed our tip sheet to her child's therapist to show them that their child was not in fact allowed to opt-out of services once mom agreed.
If you are unfamiliar with Act 65 of 2020 it breaks down who can consent to mental health treatment for a child between the ages of 14-17. Children this age are still minors so before this law, they had no way to obtain mental health services if their parents didn't want them to. An ugly stigma still surrounds mental health and mental health treatment and some parents and or families may not be open and understanding if their child wants help.
This groundbreaking law is supposed to give children in those situations the ability to get help in spite of their parent's refusal. Unfortunately, somehow understanding of this law has been misinterpreted that if a child can consent once they turn 14, they can also refuse. This is absolutely incorrect. This law only allows children to consent, it does NOT take away a parent's right or obligation to provide consent to mental health treatment when needed. In Act 65 of 2020 they use the word abrogate which is a legal term for 'override.' The law doesn't allow anyone to abrogate or override consent once it's given. This means a child 14 and older cannot abrogate the consent a parent provides. This also means parents between themselves cannot abrogate consent given by another parent or the child.
We spoke with Bonnie, an experienced Licensed Social Worker, and asked why incorrect information continues to be followed. She shared her experience, "I believe that the mental health community, me included, practice without clarifying the law ourselves. When you start your first job in the mental health field you are "trained" on consent. You never look up the law specifically for yourself. No one has that time or legal expertise. Until you question the validity of a specific case or are challenged by a parent with accurate information, you will continue doing what you have been taught. That is what happened to me years ago. Once I learned what the actual law said I brought it to my supervisor's attention. She would not even look at it. 'This is how it has always been done' was her response and the agency policy."