Health Law Advocates, Inc.
One Federal Street
Boston, MA 02110

Ph: 617-338-5241
Fax: 617-338-5242

Priority Areas

Children's Mental Health Access Project

HLA is devoting more resources to helping children access mental health and addiction services than ever before. We advocate for children in juvenile court unable to access behavioral health care, fight for children whose insurance companies deny coverage for mental health and substance use treatment and advocate for public policies that will help children in recovery. We are grateful to the hundreds of individual and corporate contributors to HLA’s children’s mental health access fund which supports the various components of our Children’s Mental Health Access Project.     

Juvenile Court Mental Health Advocacy Project 

Our Juvenile Court Mental Health Advocacy Project (J-MHAP) is one of HLA’s most ambitious efforts yet. The ultimate goal of J-MHAP is to bring mental health advocates to juvenile courts throughout Massachusetts. The sad truth is many children are in juvenile court because they haven’t received the mental health treatment they need. Kids who can’t attend school or leave home struggling with a mental illness are often brought to juvenile court for truancy or as a runaway as a last resort to help them. We want to see these children living healthy and happy lives instead of spending time in a courtroom.   

J-MHAP builds on HLA’s work since 2006 as court-appointed mental health advocates for children in select juvenile courts. Between 2006 and 2011, HLA attorneys investigated and advocated for the mental health needs of 230 children in juvenile court. In 2012, we launched J-MHAP to begin the process of expanding these services statewide. We advocated for access to mental health care for 92 children in the Lowell, Lynn and Salem juvenile courts between 2012 and 2013. We will continue to demonstrate the importance and measure the effectiveness of our mental health advocacy on behalf of children in juvenile court in 2014 and 2015. At the same time, we will build support for public investment to expand mental health advocacy in juvenile courts throughout Massachusetts. 

In 2013, J-MHAP was supported by generous grants from the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, the Klarman Family Foundation, the C.F. Adams Charitable Trust, the Ludcke Foundation, the Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation, the Eastern Bank Foundation, the John W. Alden Trust and the Bennett Family Foundation.

Mental Health Parity for Children

Securing insurance coverage for children’s mental health and addiction services poses unique challenges because children use different behavioral health services and see different providers than adults. HLA’s Children’s Mental Health Access Project and Mental Health Parity Initiative combine to help children unfairly denied insurance coverage for mental health and addiction services. 

In 2013, HLA opened 23 new cases involving children denied insurance coverage for behavioral health services. One case involved twin five-year-old boys with autism spectrum disorders. Their condition makes it hard for them to communicate and interact with others so their doctors recommended applied behavior analysis (ABA) to address their challenges. Unfortunately, the family’s health plan had an extra requirement for coverage of this service – the boys’ parents had to participate in the boys’ 20 hours per week of ABA therapy. The boys’ parents both work and simply could not participate in the therapy so their health insurer denied coverage. HLA successfully appealed the denial by showing that parental participation in ABA therapy is not generally accepted medical practice. Not only did HLA help the boys in this case get the care they needed, the health insurer involved voluntarily dropped its policy of requiring parental participation in ABA therapy. Boston Children’s Hospital and the Nord Family Foundation provide generous financial support for HLA’s work on mental health parity for children.  


Public Policies to help Children Access Mental Health Care

HLA is a founding and executive committee member of the Children’s Mental Health Campaign, a statewide coalition of families, providers, advocates and educators dedicated to advancing public policies that improve behavioral health care for children. The Campaign’s 2013 highlights included successful advocacy for a $3.1 million state appropriation for a cutting-edge program to provide consultations with mental health clinicians for children’s primary care providers and $200,000 in state funding for a pilot program to enable school systems to develop an action plan to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students.