RD530 - Report on Issues Relating to Mental Health Services to a Minor; Access to Records
Pursuant to Rule 20(0) of the Rules of the Senate of Virginia, the Senate Committee on Education and Health referred the subject matters contained in Senate Bill 431 (see attached bill) to the Department of Health Professions for study.
In response to this request, the Department of Health Professions (DHP) established a workgroup consisting of physicians and other mental health professionals. All of the representatives have experience working with children and families, as well as navigating the family court system. Specifically, the workgroup members included:
Roger C. Burket, MD, DFAPA, DFAACAP
The Workgroup held a meeting on September 17, 2020 to discuss the perceived problem that more and more therapists throughout the Commonwealth who counsel children require provisions in their contract prohibiting themselves from testifying in court proceedings. Family law attorneys think that therapists often have the best and impartial information about what is going on with a child. This knowledge can often alleviate the need for a child to testify, which all agree is detrimental to a child. The reality is that it is becoming difficult for parents to find therapists who do not have these provisions in their contracts. Even when they do not have these provisions, they often charge exorbitant fees for a court appearance or a deposition. The goal of the legislation is to ensure children receive needed mental health services and ensure courts have complete information to make the best decision for the child.
After much discussion, the Workgroup agreed on the following:
1. All want to serve the best interests of the child;
2. The issues are complex;
3. This type of information is necessary to be made available to the legal system.
Further, the Workgroup made the following recommendations:
1. Include an immunity provision against civil action in the Code for clinicians who act in good faith; and
2. Continue the study for an additional year to try to reach a compromise satisfactory to all stakeholders. If the study continues for an additional year, it should include representation on the Workgroup from Voices for Virginia's Children and a person who has been through the system. With continued study, the Workgroup believes there is hope of a pathway forward where the courts could obtain necessary information without a child perceiving the sharing of that information as a violation of trust and confidentiality.