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Pima County Offering Mental Health Services To Minors Without Parental Consent

March 19, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

This past week, Pima County began offering mental health services for minors without parental consent required, through a new program called “Not Alone.” Arizona law requires written or oral consent of a parent or legal guardian prior to a minor receiving mental health screenings or treatments. 

Children under 13 years old must have their parents reach out to join the program. However, the program states that children 13 years old and older may obtain services without parental consent. 

The program also will withhold information from parents. Clinicians won’t disclose information about a minor’s sexuality or gender identity, or any “consensual” sexual activity for minors aged 14 through 17, and will only inform parents if their child engages in a new form of self-harm.

Only in cases of suicidal intent, sexual or physical abuse, or expressed intent and planning to harm another then the program disclosed that a clinician will break confidentiality — but the program’s confidentiality protocols didn’t explicitly state that clinicians would inform parents.

According to the Parents’ Bill of Rights, the “liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children is a fundamental right” (emphasis added). Statute also dictates that attempts to “encourage or coerce a minor child to withhold information from the child’s parent shall be grounds for discipline[.]” Pima County’s webpage for the new program encourages those 13 years old or older to independently contact the program partner, COPE Community Services, for help, information, or “just to talk.” The program also offers to come meet minors wherever they’re located to assist them, or to work with them virtually.

The Pima County Health Department announced the program, “Not Alone,” last Thursday. The program receives existing Epidemiology Laboratory Capacity (ELC) K-12 Schools Reopening Grant funding provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). 

The program specifically offers mental health services for both students and teachers diagnosed with COVID-19 after May 2021. Initial public statements on the program implied that the threat and experience of disease itself, and not the mitigation strategies such as forced school closures and distance learning, caused mental duress. 

Theresa Cullen, the department director recently rejected by the Arizona legislature in her nomination by Gov. Katie Hobbs to lead the Department of Health Services, described the program in a letter as necessary to not only combat suicidal ideation in students but “compassion fatigue” for teachers.

“According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide remains the third leading cause of death for adolescents and 1 in 3 high school students reported that their mental health was not good. Teachers and staff often experience compassion fatigue, stress, and anxiety,” stated Cullen. “The ‘Not Alone’ campaign is designed to provide brief intervention treatment services for K-12 students and school faculty who have tested positive for COVID-19 since May 1, 2021,” stated Cullen.

Cullen was first appointed to the Pima County Health Department in June 2020. Senate Republicans called Cullen’s administration “repressive,” citing the curfew she imposed as one example, and noting that her policies to mitigate COVID-19 weren’t supported by science.

Overseeing the program is Matthew Schmidgall and Michael Webb, part of the department’s Youth and School Communities program. The program will also partner with several school districts to deploy an advertising campaign through social media, movie theaters, billboards, and radio.

The program also receives partnership assistance through pop star Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. The nonprofit offers a free mental health course online that awards a certificate upon completion, the “Be There Certificate,” which asks an individual which gender they “identify with,” with the option to select multiple genders and identities and if they’re transgender.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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