The legislation would amend the existing Public Health Act to empower children under the age of 18 classified as “runaway or homeless youth,” or RHY, to provide consent for medical, dental, health and hospital services, and intervenes amid a wave of legislation targeting trans children elsewhere in the country.
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New York lawmakers voted on Thursday to allow homeless teens to make their own health care decisions without parental consent, including gender-affirming care. which are denied to them in other states.
The bill would amend existing public health law to empower children under the age of 18 classified as “runaway or homeless youth,” or RHY, to provide consent for medical, dental, health and hospital services, and comes amid a wave of legislation targeting trans children elsewhere in the country. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis decided to ban minors or people on Medicaid from accessing hormone treatment or puberty blockers; in Texas, the state child services agency has begun investigating families whose children receive gender-affirming care. After a Senate vote last month, the Assembly approved the measure on Friday, sending it to Governor Kathy Hochul for signature.
“Today is a good day for runaway and homeless youth in New York State,” said Coalition for Homeless Youth (CHY) executive director Jamie Powlovich, who championed the measure. “At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws or trying to limit people’s autonomy over their own bodies, this piece of legislation is truly something to celebrate.”
However, the legislation does not only cover gender-affirming care. A document circulated by CHY and youth service providers reminded lawmakers that the bill would allow homeless youth to make routine medical decisions, such as scheduling a physical exam, undergoing therapy, having a cavity filled. to the dentist and take the prescribed medications.
“We can offer vaccines, physical exams, all the things that we’ve been limited to offering them,” said Dr. Uri Belkind, associate clinical director of adolescent care at the Callen Lorde organization. “It’s certainly very important for gender-affirming care, but it’s certainly so much more than that.”
The term “runaway and homeless youth” applies to unaccompanied young people or parents under the age of 25 who lack stable housing, many of whom are served by a network of non-profit organizations across the country. State that run housing programs and provide a range of health and social services.
Some 3,659 young people were admitted to an RHY crisis shelter or transitional living program in New York State in 2020, according to the most recent data released by the Office of Child and Family Services. About a third of them were under the age of 18. But these data do not paint a complete picture because they exclude young people who have visited drop-in centres, used other RHY-friendly services without entering a shelter or who have never entered into a relationship with a provider.
Young runaways and homeless people over the age of 18, like almost all adults, can already take care of their own health care. Current law also allows married or parented under-18s, as well as emancipated or incarcerated youth, to make their own medical decisions.
Expanding the law to cover RHY will empower “some of New York’s most vulnerable populations,” the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote in a memo to lawmakers.
“The vast majority of runaway and homeless youth are simply unable to access health care, period,” said NYCLU attorney Allie Bohm. “Runaway and homeless youth, by definition, do not have parents who can give consent.”
Many runaway and homeless teens who flee their homes or end up in New York City identify as LGBTQ+ and seek a more accepting environment with substantial support services compared to other parts of the country, Nadia Swanson said. , director of technical assistance at the Ali Forney Center (AFC). Their New York-based organization caters to LGBTQ+ youth ages 16-24 who experience homelessness.
Swanson said current health consent restrictions have been a “huge hurdle” for minors visiting the AFC Visitor Center or staying in their temporary accommodations. Teenagers under the age of 18 make up about 5% of AFC customers, they said.
Although the organization can provide mental health counselling, staff cannot prescribe psychiatric medications or perform routine medical examinations without the guardian’s consent. Still, most minors served by the AFC fled hostile home environments or were rejected by their families because of their gender or gender identity, Swanson said. About 40% of AFC’s customers come from outside of New York.
“Minors who have been rejected by their families then come to a place that is supposed to provide safety and support, but cannot provide them with the care they need,” Swanson said. “Young people fall through the cracks.”
In the Capital Region, runaway and homeless youth tend to come from upstate counties or have been trafficked from New York City, said Andy Gilpin, who runs provider CAPTAIN Community Saratoga-based Human Services. CAPTAIN provides shelter to around 100 minors a year and engages with 4,000 young people aged 21 and under through its street outreach program, he said.
“Most of the kids we come across have issues with their parents or caregivers, often with health and well-being issues — mental health, LGBTQ issues, vaccines,” Gilpin said.
The legislation comes as states across the country adopt or propose policies persecuting or even criminalizing transgender children, including bills in Kansas, Ohio and Alabama that would criminalize hormone treatment for minors.
As these tough anti-transgender laws take hold, more young people may choose to come to New York to access needed health care, House sponsor Richard Gottfried said.
“We’re only just beginning to see this kind of legal hostility towards proper medical services for transgender youth and if this continues, New York City may well become a haven and host for these young people,” Gottfried said. “If that happens, I certainly want New York law to be ready to provide proper care.”
But discrimination against transgender people is not just a phenomenon in conservative states. Transgender New Yorkers also face bigotry which contributes to a disproportionately high suicide rate.
State Senate sponsor Jabari Brisport said the measure was crucial for access to even routine health care and acknowledged the potential impact for transgender youth in New York City and beyond. .
“If you live in New York, you are a New Yorker and this bill is for you,” Brisport said. “It’s sad and also disgusting, right-wing attacks on trans people and if New York can be a beacon and an oasis, New York will be that beacon.”