5 Things to Know If Your Child in Special Education Needs Mental Health Services!

Does your child with autism have behavioral difficulties and need psychotherapy? Has your teenager with Learning Disabilities who struggles with academics begun to act up at school? Does your child have emotional disorders from trauma or early life before adoption? Mental Heath Needs affect a lot of children with disabilities who are currently receiving special education services. This article will discuss things that you as there parent need to know to advocate for these important services.

Below are 5 things that you need to know:

1. Mental Health services including psychotherapy and counseling are covered under Related Services in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004). What this means is that a child with a disability can receive any service that is required to assist the child with a disability from receiving benefit from special education.

2. Related Services must be provided at no cost to the parent. Many school districts refuse to pay for psychotherapy for children or tell the parent to use their insurance benefits.

In a document by the Office of Special Education Programs entitled: Questions and Answers on IEP’s, Evaluations, and Reevaluations, OSEP states that: Mental Health services provided as a related service must be provided at no cost to the parent. 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; and cannot require you to use your insurance benefits.

3. If the school district does not have qualified staff to perform the psychotherapy or counseling they are responsible for paying for an outside person to give the services. Lack of money or staff is not allowed to be used as an excuse to not provide a needed related or special education service.

4. You have the right to be an equal participant in making the decision of who will provide this service to your child. If your child has had a therapist for many years that they have bonded with it is within your right to ask that the school district reimburse you for the therapy provided by this person.

5. If the school district offers a staff person that does not have the appropriate qualifications it is within your right to ask for a qualified person. For example psychotherapy is given by a licensed psychologist. A trained social worker may be able to counsel your child, but is not trained as a licensed psychologist, so will not be able to give your child psychotherapy. Lack of training for school staff is a huge problem when children require specialized mental health services.

Many years ago I was on my states committee when OSEP came to monitor Illinois compliance with IDEA. One of the areas that they found in non compliance was that many children throughout my state needed mental health services, that were not being provided by school districts. OSEP required Illinois to send out a document stating that school districts were required to pay for mental health services, even if they did not have trained staff. Check your state’s Department of Education and see if they have any documents on providing mental health services to children with disabilities in your state who receive special education services, and need them.