Bill expands teens' access to professional help without parents' OK

Bill expands teens' access to professional help without parents' OK

SALEM, Ore. – Teenagers who are in trouble and don't want to ask their parents for help with addictions and mental health issues can turn to certain professionals without their parents' consent, but the list does not include counselors and therapists.

Senate Bill 491 would allow licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists to treat teens age 14 and older without their parents' consent.

Right now those teenagers can turn to a licensed doctor, psychologist, nurse practitioner or clinical social worker without their parents’ approval. Counselors and therapists in private practice right now have to turn the same teen away.

In some cases, teenagers either fear their parents or their parents are preventing them from getting help.

"In a number of cases, my teen clients struggling with addiction were being enabled in their addiction by their own parents' substance use," Wendy Curtis, a licensed professional counselor, told lawmakers during a hearing.

Other teenagers may be struggling with anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

Curtis and Larry Conner, also a licensed professional, testified before lawmakers Thursday that suicide is the leading cause of death among Oregonians ages 10 to 24.

They quoted a report from 2007 that says nearly one out of every 12 eighth-grade students and one out of 16 eleventh-graders reported attempting suicide within the previous 12 months.

"If the situation is such that they can't get permission, a teenager in crisis is not someone who is going to necessarily to be able to go out and proactively seek care," Conner said during an interview. "They are going to go and ask one person and if they get turned away they're going to say, 'Why is it that nobody cares about me?'"

Supporters say the bill is especially important to teens in rural areas where access to mental health care professionals is more limited.

After passing out of the Senate committee on Health Care and Human Services on Thursday, Senate Bill 491 will now be voted on by the entire Senate.