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SeniorLAW Center

MEDICAL CONSENT: An Important Tool for Grandparents and Others Caring for Children

Grandparents and other elders are playing a larger and larger role in the care of young children in our community.  In Philadelphia alone, advocates estimate that more than 60,000 children are being raised by relative caregivers, primarily grandparents and other elderly family members.  This accounts for 1 in 6 children in our community.

These elders — known as kinship caregivers — have assumed the role of parent to ensure that these children receive medical care, an education, and the stability, affection, and sense of family they need to survive.    Many other grandparents also care for children while parents are at work, for a few hours when needed, or during a difficult period such as a divorce.

In all such instances, older adults may need to take a child to a doctor for either routine medical care, such as check-ups, or for emergency treatment.  If the caregiver is not the legal guardian or custodian, they are not able to give consent for medical, dental or mental health treatment.  Pennsylvania’s Medical Consent Act provides a tool that can help resolve these problems.

The Medical Consent Act allows a parent or legal custodian to authorize another person to consent to medical, dental or mental health care for children by completing and signing a simple document.  The relative or family friend that is named may consent to a child’s medical, dental, surgical, developmental, and/or mental health examination or treatment, and may have access to any and all records, including insurance records regarding such services.

The Medical Consent Act creates a procedure where children can get the necessary medical care without affecting the rights of the full-time caregiver, whether it be the child’s parent or a grandparent who has legal custody.  The Act also protects physicians and insurance providers.  Any person, facility or insurer who in good faith relies on a medical consent from will not be subject to civil or criminal liability for treating a minor.

What is the Importance of Medical Consent?

A grandparent or anyone raising a child who has already obtained legal custody through the court system already has the right to consent to that child’s medical care.
Many grandparents raising grandchildren or other caregivers have only informal custody, not legal custody, or assist the parents in raising the child at certain times of the day.  For example, a grandmother may serve as caregiver during the day while a child’s mother is on the welfare-to-work program.  In addition, a parent with substance abuse or other problems may ask an elderly relative to care for a child temporarily, but fails to return for a lengthy period of time — or never at all.  In these instances, the medical consent document allows the caregiver to consent to medical treatment and medical care for children designated in the document.  Designating authorization for medical consent to a caregiver does not revoke the birth parents’ rights.

It is important to obtain a medical consent from the birth parent before a medical issue or emergency arises.  It can take time to find a birth parent if the caregiver has limited contact with the parent.  Having a medical consent prevents the hassles of going to court and requesting emergency legal custody.  When a grandparent or other elder becomes a primary caregiver, the medical consent should be completed immediately.

How Do Caregivers Get Medical Consent?

The parent or legal caregiver giving the authorization may complete a medical consent form, available from many local organizations, or simply write a statement.  The form or statement must contain the following:

  • identity of the caregiver
  • the names and dates of birth of the children at issue
  • a description of the medical treatments for which authorization is given
  • a statement that there are no court orders in effect which would prohibit the authorization
  • the signatures of the parent, legal guardian, or custodian, in the presence of two witnesses.  (The caregiver receiving the consent cannot be one of the witnesses signing.)

The Medical Consent or written statement is not a permanent document.  It can be revoked at anytime.  The parent can revoke consent by notifying the caregiver, health care and insurance providers in writing.  Parents, caregivers, heath care and insurance providers can put a time limit on the consent; however, this is not required by law.

The medical consent form may not be used if a child is in the custody of the county children and youth agency.

SeniorLAW Center assists older adults raising young children in many ways, including providing legal advice, counsel, and information, direct legal representation in custody and support matters, and referral to other available resources and services.

Seniors in Pennsylvania can discuss concerns about kinship care, raising grandchildren or other minor children by calling our Pennsylvania SeniorLAW HelpLine at 1-877 PA SR LAW (1-877 727-7529).  Seniors in Philadelphia can also call SeniorLAW Center’s telephone intake line 215-988-1242.  Click here to view how to access our services.

Seniors who are involved with or want to care for children at risk of abuse or neglect or in the DHS system Philadelphia can contact our FOSTERING CONNECTIONS TO KINSHIP CARE PROJECT COORDINATOR

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