Does your autistic child have behavioral difficulties and needs psychological treatment? Has your teen with learning disabilities who struggles with academics started acting out in school? Does your child suffer from emotional distress as a result of trauma or early life before adoption? Mental health needs affect many children with disabilities who are currently receiving special education services. This article will discuss the things you need to know as a parent to advocate for these important services.

Here are 5 things you need to know:

1. Mental health services including psychotherapy and counseling are covered by related services in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). What this means is that a child with a disability can get any service needed to help the child with a disability receive the benefit of special education.

2. The related services shall be provided at no cost to the parents. Many school districts refuse to pay for child psychotherapy or require parents to use their own insurance benefits.

In a document issued by the Office of Special Education Programs titled: Questions and Answers About IEP, Assessments, and Re-evaluation, the OSEP states: Mental health services provided must be provided as a related service at no cost to parents. In other words, if your child needs psychotherapy or counseling in order to receive an appropriate education, the school district is required to pay for the service; You cannot be required to use your insurance benefits.

3. If the school district does not have qualified personnel to conduct psychotherapy or counseling, they are responsible for paying an outside person to provide services. A lack of money or staff is not allowed to be used as an excuse for not providing the relevant or special education service requested.

4. You have the right to be an equal participant in the decision about who will provide this service to your child. If your child has had a therapist for several years with whom they have been associated, you have the right to ask the school district to reimburse you for the therapy that person provided.

5. If the school district offers an employee who does not have the appropriate qualifications, you have the right to ask for a qualified person. For example, psychotherapy is provided by a licensed psychologist. A trained social worker may be able to provide counseling for your child, but they are not trained as a licensed psychologist, so they will not be able to give your child psychotherapy. Lack of training of school staff is a major problem when children need specialized mental health services.

Several years ago I was a member of the states commission when OSEP came to monitor Illinois’ compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One area they found of noncompliance was that many children across my state needed mental health services, which were not provided by school districts. OSEP required Illinois to send a document stating that school districts are required to pay for mental health services, even if they do not have trained personnel. Check with your state’s Department of Education and see if they have any documentation regarding the provision of mental health services to children with disabilities in your state who receive and need special education services.

You may have to fight for this service, but your child’s education will benefit! It will be worth the fight in the end!


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