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Bill Introduced by NC Republicans Would Restrict Minors’ Mental Health Privacy Rights

Source: WRAL

North Carolina Republicans have introduced legislation that continues their campaign bolstering parental control over children, according to WRAL

Through a proposed committee substitute, House Republicans altered Senate Bill 90. The bill originally dealt with procedures around student searches in schools, but would now deal with a variety of education-related issues and has been renamed the “Children’s Law Omnibus.” 

Much of the proposed changes would be terrible for education and for students, such as the intense review process for books in schools, the requirement for school personnel to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents, and the “clarification” included in the bill that charter schools are not “state actors,” meaning that they are not required to honor the civil rights of their students. 

However, the bill also changes the requirements around parental consent for medical treatment. Under current law, anyone under 18 needs parental consent for most medical treatment, but exceptions include drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and “emotional disturbance.” Doctors providing treatment for emotional disturbance can’t notify the underage patient’s parents without permission unless it’s essential to the life or health of the patient. 

Senate Bill 90 removes the exception for “emotional disturbance,” which means that parental consent would be required in order for minors to receive mental health counseling – unless the minor believes they’re a danger to themselves or others. Otherwise, their parents would have to be notified unless there are grounds to suspect abuse or neglect, in which case the counselor would be required to report the case to social services.

Child welfare advocates worry that the bill would make children who need mental health care less likely to seek it out and less likely to believe they can trust their counselor. 

“We see mental health counseling as favorable to the student,” said Ginny Fogg, an attorney with Disability Rights NC. “Any barriers that are put up for that are generally, in the long run, going to be prohibitive of the child getting what they need.”

Additionally, critics of the bill have warned that the change could increase the overall risk of harm. For example, if a student seeks mental health counseling at school regarding abuse at home, and the counselor reports that abuse to social services for investigation, the child could then be at risk of retribution by angry parents. 

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