Legal Update: When Can a Minor Receive Treatment Without Parental Consent?      

Pamela H. Harmell, Ph.D.



Prior to the passage of SB 543 in 2010, a minor between the ages of 12 and 17 could only give consent to mental health treatment under certain specified conditions (Family Code 6924).  Senate Bill 543, effective January 2011 was added to FC 2460 and Health and Safety Code 124260, making it easier to treat a minor without parental consent to further protect minors' safety.


The original and the updated Family Code continues to require the minor be: (a) 12 years old or older, and (b) mature enough to participate intelligently in the treatment.  The prior law also required the minor to have one of the following issues in order to be considered for such treatment: (1) drug or alcohol abuse, (2) pregnancy, (c) incest or child abuse, and/or (d) danger to self or others.  As with the previous law, a minor can only consent to outpatient mental health treatment and cannot consent to inpatient treatment, psychotropic drugs, convulsive therapy, or psychosurgery.


Parental consent can create a barrier to needed treatment, especially in prevention and early intervention programs where the minor is not experiencing one of the four previously mentioned situations.  Stakeholders and legislators recognize that these barriers are especially harmful to minors who are homeless, from immigrant families fearful of exposure, where mental health treatment is shameful, and especially where LGBTQ youth are newly coming out to family.

Many youth do not seek prevention or early intervention because, in the past, unless they met one of the four requirements, agencies and clinicians were unable to provide help without parental consent. Senate Bill 543 was created to help ensure “minors need not wait until their mental health situations becomes dire and his or her safety is compromised by suicide, substance abuse or violence” in order to receive mental health treatment and support.

The clinician treating any minor without parental consent must either attempt to contact the parent or legal guardian, or document the clinical reason why the parent was not contacted (example: Not in best interest of minor).  Treatment is still considered short term crisis intervention when done without parental consent.  Additionally, the minor is holder of privilege until or unless an adult becomes involved in the treatment. If this occurs, the clinician must follow applicable confidentiality and HIPAA laws related to treatment of minors in general.



1. New CA Minor Consent Law Increases Teens’ Access to Mental Health Care

2. NASW Fact Sheet  Senate Bill 543 Mental Health Services for At-Risk Youth

3. Minor Consent Mental Health: What is SB 543