Equal Justice Works attorney on the state’s new minor consent to health care law

By Graham Bowman

Equal Justice Works Fellow at CCH

As a Legal Aid Committee panelist invited to discuss significant developments this past year, I talked last week about drafting a 2014 state law that allows unaccompanied Illinois minors the right to consent to their own health care.

I told the Chicago Bar Association committee of how unaccompanied minors are young people who have fallen through the cracks: They are living without a parent and the state has not intervened to declare them wards of the state and appoint a guardian. As a result, these minors are left trying to navigate systems that are not designed for children to access on their own, such as the health care and public benefits systems. 

Before House Bill 4501 was signed into law, minors needed a parent or legal guardian to consent on their behalf to the majority of primary health care services. Unaccompanied minors who lost contact with their parents would be unable to get a parent’s signed consent and therefore be unable to get treatment for simple ailments, such as strep throat.

The new law went into effect October 1. It allows minors, ages 14 to 18, to consent to their own primary care services if they are identified in writing by an agency that works with homeless youth.

I drafted a consent form approved for use by students in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Unaccompanied minors enrolled in Chicago schools can have this form signed by their homeless liaison or school social worker and bring it to their health care provider to receive treatment.

The consent form can also be used by youths elsewhere in Illinois.

Graham Bowman (second from left). Photo by Beth Cunningham
Graham Bowman (second from left) was among panelists speaking to 60 attorneys on the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Legal Aid Committee. Photo by Beth Cunningham

CCH’s Youth Futures legal aid clinic is working with youth, advocates and service providers to raise awareness of the minor consent law, which is estimated to help 7,000 minors a year. My next training will be Wednesday, Feb. 25, when I teach a webinar for CPS social workers and homeless school liaisons.

If you or your organizations would like more information on how to help unaccompanied minors access health care under the new law, please contact me at graham@chicagohomeless.org or (312) 641-4140, ext. 228.