If your child wants to visit a health service on their own, it might leave you with mixed emotions. It’s normal to feel worried or confused about them seeing a healthcare professional without you there to support them. But it’s an important step for them to take in feeling a sense of control and empowerment over their own mental health treatment.
Is it okay for my teenager to seek healthcare on their own?Seeing a health care professional without a parent or guardian present can be a great way for your child to build confidence in communicating their health needs and experiences. It also allows your child to develop trust between themselves and their healthcare professionals, which is an important factor in the effectiveness of many treatments, especially psychological therapies.
Private visits to a doctor, psychologist or even a school counsellor can also provide a great environment for your child to be completely honest and open about their experiences. This is something they may feel uncomfortable or anxious about in the presence of a family member.
By encouraging your child, when they’re ready, to access healthcare independently, they’re taking important steps in being responsible for and managing their health and wellbeing. On the most part, this should be celebrated.
Your child’s healthcare rights
In Australia, there is no minimum age a person must be before they can access medical services on their own. This can vary with mental health services, as some are specific to certain age groups, genders, or other demographics.
Can parents find out information about their child’s health record?
Confidentially prevents doctors and other healthcare professionals from sharing details about a patient, even with their parents or family members. The only circumstance where a doctor or health professional may share this information with parents or other relevant parties, such as the police or judge, is if there is reason to believe your child is at risk of serious harm or death. If there is no risk of serious harm or death and your child is above the age requirements (below) then the health professionals is unable to share your child's health information with you.
The age at which confidentiality becomes an automatic right for your child varies from state to state:
- Northern Territory: 14 and over
- New South Wales and South Australia: 16 and over
- All other states: 18 and over.
If your child sits below the age threshold for their state, in most cases a doctor or healthcare professionals will still ensure that details about their patients remain confidential. This is up to the discretion of the doctor or mental health professional.
As a parent, this may seem worrying. It’s normal to want to know what your child is experiencing, especially if they are living with a mental health disorder. However, your child needs to know that they can trust healthcare professionals with their private information.
You may want to ask your child about their appointment, but respect their privacy if they’re not open to talking about it. By building a trusting a relationship with your child, they’ll be more likely to confide in you.
What about consent to treatment?
In Australia, both parents and children have rights to decide on health treatments. The age for consent for simple healthcare treatments varies from state to state, but the average age is 14 years old. Once your child reaches 16 years old they will have the same rights as an adult to consent to medical treatments, but will not have the right to refuse live-saving medical treatment until they turn 18.