Gillick Competency – Parental consent for counselling and the law.
Good practice involves working in partnership with parents. In most cases, children and young people are willing to agree for a parent to be asked for written/verbal consent for them to receiving counselling that will take place in school time.
When is parental consent needed?
According to Lord Scarman in the case Gillick v West Norfolk AHA, a child under 16 may consent to treatment on their own behalf only if, and when, they achieve sufficient maturity and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed and the potential consequences.
Many, but not all, secondary phase pupils may be deemed “competent” under the Gillick ruling to give consent. However, young people should be offered one or two initial exploratory sessions with the counsellor to outline what is involved, to allow the counsellor and the link professional in school to assess their “competence” before they commit themselves and to encourage the young person to agree to their parents being approached for them to have ongoing counselling.
Schools are advised that where a parent withholds consent or the young person may be very distressed and unwilling for the school to approach the parents, counselling can go ahead if the counsellor assesses the young person as Gillick competent to consent in their own right.
If a young person is unwilling to involve their parents and is assessed competent, the young person may give their own written consent for counselling. No specific age is stated in legal
guidance – it depends on their capacity to understand the issues involved and to give an informed consent.
“As a general principle it is legal and acceptable for a young person to ask for confidential counselling without parental consent providing they are of sufficient understanding and intelligence.” (Gillick v West Norfolk AHA, House of Lords 1985)
Assessment of competence based on the Gillick principle depends on:
•The maturity of the young person
•The young person having sufficient intelligence and understanding to enable them to understand what is being proposed, i.e. counselling
•The young person having sufficient intelligence and understanding of the consequences of his or her actions.
The school counsellor, with the link member of staff for counselling or head teacher, should make this assessment.
“…. In cases where the child is not Gillick competent and parental consent is not forthcoming, schools should continue efforts to engage the parents (e.g. offering an opportunity to meet the Counsellor) and may wish to discuss the issue with a relevant member of the support services.