Foster Youth Mental Health & Education

Right to Mental Health Treatment – FAQs for Youth in Foster Care

As a youth in DCFS foster care, you have the right to receive mental health services that you need. The Office of the Cook County Public Guardian is committed to assisting our clients with questions or concerns about mental health treatment, services, or privacy. Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions are below. If these FAQs do not answer all of your questions, please contact your attorney and guardian ad litem (GAL) for more assistance.

Q. Does DCFS have to pay for therapy?

As a child or youth in DCFS care, you have a right to receive counseling, psychiatric care or other mental health treatment. DCFS must provide these services for you.

Q. How do I get therapy?

If you would like to speak to a counselor or think that you may need mental health services, the first step is to tell your caseworker and attorney/GAL. Your caseworker will try to locate a therapist that is close to your home or school. Your caseworker or foster parent might drive you, or you may receive a bus card to get to therapy.

Q. My caseworker says I need therapy, but I don’t agree. Why should I go?

A therapist might help you understand your problems or find ways to better deal with your problems. Sometimes youth feel like their parents don’t understand them and a therapist could help your parents, foster parents or caseworker understand where you are coming from.

Q. What is family therapy?

DCFS may ask you and your family to attend therapy together. Family therapy is a time for you and your family members to discuss any issues or problems you have with each other.

Q. Can my therapist talk to DCFS or my parents?

When you have questions about your right to privacy, your attorney/GAL is a good person to contact for information. If you are worried about what your therapist may be sharing with others, you may want to speak to your therapist about this as well. Generally, if you are younger than 12, your parents and DCFS can talk to your therapist without your permission. If you are between 12 and 18 years old, before your therapist talks to DCFS (or your parents) your therapist must let you know and ask if you agree to share the information. If you don’t want to share the information, the only way DCFS can get the therapist’s information is with a court order. If you are 18 or older, your therapist can only talk to DCFS or your parents if you agree and sign a written consent or if there is a court order. Sometimes therapists will ask you to sign a written consent to release information to DCFS or your parents when you start therapy. If you change your mind about sharing this information with DCFS or your parents, contact your attorney/GAL to discuss your legal rights.

Q. My therapist wants me to be in therapy once a week. Why do I have to go that often?

If you think you don’t need to go every week, the best option is to talk to your therapist about this. The two of you may be able to create a schedule that works for both of you. The most important thing is not to skip therapy without talking to your therapist or caseworker about it first. Your attorney/GAL may also be able to assist you in sorting this out.

Other Resources:

Bay Therapy
Center for Young Women's Health
Teen Mental Health


Right to an education
Children and young adults in foster care have a right to an education that is appropriate for their needs. Children in foster care have historically experienced multiple placements, which in turn disrupts their schooling. They may need advocacy at school staffings and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings to ensure that they receive the services they need. Below is an outline of policies and procedures that have proven helpful to advocates in this field.

DCFS Policy Rule 314, Section 314.30 Education Policy

DCFS is to make reasonable efforts to enroll a child within 2 days of temporary custody or a change in placement that results in a school change. After temporary custody, DCFS has no more than 60 days to meet and provide an educational assessment of a child. They are to reevaluate this assessment every 6 months. DCFS is to determine what is in the best interests of the child in deciding whether a change in schools is appropriate. If it is determined that a child is to remain at the current school, DCFS is to advocate with the school to provide transportation. If a change is warranted, DCFS is to transfer school records to the new school and request an IEP conference when applicable.

504 Plan

A 504 Plan is developed based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is put in place to protect a child with a disability from discrimination. If a child has a physical or mental impairment and needs certain accommodations throughout the day, a 504 plan is appropriate. The goal is to allow children with disabilities to participate in classroom and school activities without being left out.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

An advocate, teacher, foster parent or surrogate parent can make a written referral for a case study evaluation of a child. Once a request is made, the school district has 60 calendar days to complete the evaluation and hold a conference to determine eligibility for special education services. The school must develop an IEP within 30 days if the child is found eligible to receive special education services. An IEP consists of a statement of the child’s current level and how the child’s disability affects involvement and progress in the curriculum. It also states annual academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs. The IEP lists the special education, related services, and supplemental aids and services needed for the child to attain these goals. It also states the beginning date, frequency, location and duration of those services.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

There are six basic principles behind IDEA:

  1. Free and appropriate public education. Children with disabilities are to be provided with free individualized specialized services at preschools, elementary and secondary schools.
  2. Appropriate evaluation of student needs. Students that have or are suspected to have a disability must be evaluated by a team of professionals including: a licensed certified school psychologist, certified social worker, nurse, special education teacher, regular education teacher, speech and language pathologist, hearing specialist and others depending upon the disability. If a student is determined to be eligible for special education services, an IEP is implemented. As described in the above section, an IEP is a blueprint that lists the services that a student will receive.
  3. Least restrictive environment consideration. The presumption behind this principle is that children with disabilities should be taught in the same class with non-disabled children through the use of supplementary aids and services. If this can not be achieved, the next option is to have the student pulled out for some classes and mainstreamed for other classes. The third option is placing the child in a self-contained classroom with other special education students. After all previous options are attempted, the last resort is to place the child in a therapeutic day school.
  4. Parent and/or student participation in decision making. The parent is afforded the opportunity to participate in decisions on how their child is educated. Parental consent is mandatory before an evaluation can begin. This is important for implementation of services.
  5. Procedural safeguards (due process hearings and school disciplinary proceedings). If a parent feels that their child’s rights are being violated, they can request mediation or a due process hearing to voice their concern.
  6. With regard to disciplinary proceedings, a special education student cannot be suspended for more than 10 consecutive or 10 cumulative school days in one school year. The only exceptions are for possession of a weapon, possession, use or sale of an illegal drug or findings by a hearing officer that current placement in school is substantially likely to result in injury to the child or others.

For full text of IDEA click here

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