In school counselling we often work with children who need support due to issues in school or at home. These issues run the spectrum just as any other group would. The one major difficulty I have in working with elementary children is the need for parental consent. I do understand why we need consent from parents as not all children are developmentally prepared to understand my role as a guidance counsellor and how we can help. In those cases it is important for a parent to be able to say “Yes, I feel my child needs help in their social/ emotional development and Yes I think the guidance counsellor can help”. For those reasons parental consent is vital. However, I worry about the group of young children who deal with serious issues at home and parents/guardians are not willing to allow their child the support they need through counselling. Parental arguments, alcoholism, neglect, divorce and separation and unstable home lives can have major impacts on a child.
But what do we do when parents will not give consent, or asking parents for consent may cause even more harm? I also must have consent from both parents if the situation involves separation/divorce and there is shared custody. In many cases one or both will deny consent. Where I work, any child under the age of 12 must have parental consent for counselling after the initial session. Many of the students who are in the most desperate need are denied services due to the lack of parental consent. What do we do in these situations? How do we go about providing a service that is being turned down by parents, even when we know the service is necessary?
In the past I have used my judgement with older students whom I feel need my help and have the ability to recognize they need help. However, I only see them for short periods of time and more than likely on a quick ‘one time only’ situation. I always let staff know if they are worried about someone to let me know and I will see them once without consent and then determine what the next step will be after the initial contact. At this point I have been using my judgement if I believe the student is capable of making that decision, but children between the ages of 4 and 10 really are not ready for that.
I have often went into the classroom to do whole class lessons on particular topics that fit into the curriculum outcomes and that are related to issues that may be arising with students in that classroom. That has often led to one time meetings with students who are concerned for themselves and are willing to talk to me about it. Of course, the discussion about the counselling process, confidentiality and such is handled beforehand but at least then I can get an idea if something serious is going on and then I can determine my next plan of action.
The point is the all children need support from family, yet the support is not always there. I would love some suggestions on this matter. How do you deal with this issues, what do you see as the ethical implications of seeing a student without parental permission when you know the support is desperately needed?
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA