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New Law Helps Homeless Youth Get Medical Care

Tue, Oct 14, 2014

IL health lawUnaccompanied minors age 14 to 18 can consent to their own routine medical care under a new Illinois law that went into effect October 1.

The law ends a significant barrier to accessing medical care for more than 7,000 homeless Illinois minors who are deemed “unaccompanied” because they live separate from a parent or legal guardian. They include almost 2,000 students identified as unaccompanied by Chicago Public Schools last year.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless authored and advocated for the law, after school and health clinic officials told CCH staff of being required to turn away teens for easily treatable ailments – such as asthma, a fever, minor cuts and sprains – because the teens lacked a parent or guardian to sign a medical care consent form.

The amendment to the Minors Consent to Medical Procedures Act brings Illinois in line with 16 other states that have similar laws, including California, Indiana and Texas. It does not apply to youth already in custody of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Although clinics could treat emergency health issues in homeless youth, what really spurred physicians at clinics to seek such a law were issues like asthma – which could eventually become an emergency, said Graham Bowman, an Equal Justice Works fellow working as a youth health attorney at CCH, who drafted the bill to amend the minor consent act. Strep throat was another health issue that concerned the doctors, because without parental consent, too often students had to endure an illness that antibiotics could have treated, Bowman said.

Under Public Act 098-0671, schools and health clinics can create their own procedures for securing written consent from an unaccompanied minor. CCH is working with CPS to finalize a form that will be used in the city’s school-based clinics. Bowman said homeless students will need to be identified in writing by an adult relative, a representative of a homeless service agency, a school social worker or a homeless liaison in their public school.

CCH Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman led the effort in Springfield to build support for the bill and to work with potential opposition on agreed-upon language. More than 20 organizations endorsed the law and a nurse practitioner at Teen Living Programs testified before legislators.

Sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris and state Sen. Heather Steans (both Chicago Democrats) House Bill 4501 was unanimously approved by both branches of the Illinois General Assembly. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill June 27.

Since its passage, CCH has trained homeless youth providers and the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has educated its members.

­— By Suzanne Hanney, with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

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