Bill Would Let Teens in NJ Get Counseling Without Parental Knowledge

Andrew Kitchenman | October 14, 2014 | Health Care
Legislation's supporter says, ‘. . . the youth’s right to care outweighs the parents’ right to know.’

suicide teen
Hudson County teenager Tevin Anthony said the constant fighting between his parents — and the fact that nothing changed when he tried to talk with them about it – – led him to attempt suicide at age 13.

“I thought all of the fighting and all the drama would go away if I wasn’t around,” Anthony said. “I tried to hang myself out of a two-story window, but the reason I’m here today is because I believe that God didn’t want me to leave the world yet.”

“The bar in the window broke,” Anthony said. “Now I am here to help others who are going through the same problems I went through.”

Anthony is now part of a group of teenagers who are asking that New Jersey join a growing number of states in allowing minors to receive behavioral counseling without the consent of their parents.

The Legislature has introduced a bill, A-3435, that would allow children with mental illnesses and emotional disorders to join those with sexually transmitted diseases and HIV or AIDS; who had been sexually assaulted; or who have alcohol and drug-use disorders to seek treatment without parental consent.

The measure would allow minors to be treated under the supervision of doctors by licensed counselors, including psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, and advanced practice nurses.

Bill supporter Steven G. Liga, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Middlesex County, said there’s a significant need for the change.

He said some children are too afraid of their parents’ reaction to talk with them about behavioral health issues. Other parents deny children access to needed care because they don’t believe it would benefit them or don’t want family issues to be discussed with others.

“Any counselor would try to involve a minor’s family whenever appropriate, and it’s almost always appropriate,” Liga said in a legislative hearing. “However, in cases where care would be compromised or denied, the youth’s right to care outweighs the parents’ right to know.”

He described the family situation of a child his organization is working with whose father is in prison, whose mother is using drugs, and whose cousin — his guardian — kicked him out after he fought with the cousin’s boyfriend. The organization is still working through the complicated consent issues in order to provide counseling, Liga said.

He said counselors frequently speak with children “who have been traumatized by a parent, yet it is those same parents who we must rely upon to consent for care.”

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Carmelo G. Garcia (D-Hudson) said he was inspired to introduce the bill by the members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hudson County, particularly those involved in the organization’s Keystone Griffins Club, which is for teenagers. He said the measure, named the Boys & Girls Clubs Keystone Law, builds on the anti-bullying measure enacted after the 2010 suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.

“Too often teenagers may feel they can’t open up either to parents or friends,” Garcia said.

Keystone Griffins Club President Jordan Thomas said that he was physically and verbally abused and spoke with adults at the club about his need for counseling. However, his mother denied her consent, saying that he didn’t have anything to be “stressed about” and didn’t need counseling. He entered foster care shortly after this and received counseling.

“Every teen should be able to get help when they need it,” Thomas said, adding that he “could have been another statistic for teen suicide.”

The bill was released by the Assembly Women and Children Committee on October 9 by unanimous vote. No one testified against the measure.