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Youth Rights in Massachusetts

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, based on an article by the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts
Reviewed June 2023

If you are under age 18, also known as a minor, you have rights. This article has information about your rights to housing, work, public benefits like cash assistance, and medical care in Massachusetts.

Housing

What can I do if I don’t want to or can’t keep living at home?

You might be able to find a way to make your living situation better. Your parents might let you live with relatives or friends. Think about who might let you live with them. It should be someone who gives you proper adult supervision.

Families may make their own plans about a minor living away from home, but there are also more formal ways to let you live away from your family.  Your parent/guardian may be willing to sign a caregiver authorization affidavit. This lets you live with another adult who could make medical and educational decisions for you. Caregiver authorizations are good for 2 years and can be renewed.

Your parent/guardian could also appoint another adult as a temporary agent for you. A temporary agent has the same authority as a parent except for the ability to consent to marriage and adoption. This agreement only lasts for 60 days. It can also be renewed.

If you need a plan that is more permanent, you can ask for a legal guardianship. If you are over 14 years old, you can say who you want as your guardian. If your parents agree, it is pretty easy to make it legal. If your parents don’t agree, you probably need to go to court. For more information on guardianship, read "Guardianship of a Minor."

If your living situation is very bad, you can call the Department of Children and Families. If they think it’s a good idea, they may be able to go to court and help you get into foster care, a group home, or residential services. Be careful! The Department of Children and Families can look into your story and the whole family situation. They could take you away from your parents even if you decide you don’t want them to.

 

Can I get an apartment, public housing, or into emergency shelter?

Yes, but it may be hard. You can sign housing contracts like an apartment lease. But it can be hard for minors to do that. Landlords can be nervous about renting to minors because sometimes the courts won’t hold minors responsible for breaking a lease. So, if a landlord thinks you might skip out on your lease, they may not rent to you.

Public housing is the same problem. Even though you can apply for public housing, and legally have the right to sign a lease, there is no guarantee you can get this housing and they can turn you down.

But there are things you can do to show a landlord that you can be a responsible tenant. You can:

  • give the landlord proof that you have a job or a way to pay the rent.
  • give references.
  • find a co-signer over 18.
  • give proof of a good credit history.

Note:

It is very rare that a court grants emancipation to minors. But if you have a court-ordered emancipation it may be easier to find public or subsidized housing.

 

Getting into a shelter can also be hard on your own. This is because shelters have to tell your parents or the Department of Children and Families that you are there within 72 hours after you get there.

If you are a teen parent, it may be easier to get housing on your own. If you are a very young parent, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) often asks the Department of Children and Families to figure out what is the best living situation for you and your child.

Note:

Emergency Assistance (EA) is a program that provides emergency shelter and rehousing services to homeless families with children in Massachusetts.

 

Work and Public Benefits

What kinds of jobs can I get? How many hours can I work?

Until you turn 18, you can’t work in certain places or during certain hours. The rules are complicated. There are exceptions for certain jobs, but the most basic rules are as follows:

  • You can sell or deliver newspapers if you are at least 9 years old.
  • If you are under 16 you can’t work:
    • in a factory.
    • during school hours.
    • before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m. during the school year.
    • before 7:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. during the summer.
    • more than 8 hours a day.
    • more than 6 days a week.
    • with dangerous machinery or hazardous chemicals.
    • in the immediate area of alcohol being served.
  • If you are between 16 and 17 years old, you can’t work:
    • more than 9 hours a day.
    • more than 48 hours a week.
    • more than 6 days in a week.
    • before 6:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m. But if you work at a restaurant or racetrack, you can work until 12:00 midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, and during school vacations.
    • with dangerous machinery or hazardous chemicals.
    • in the immediate area of alcohol being served.

 

Can I get public benefits from the state?

Yes, but the rules are complicated. A lot depends on your situation. Check with the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts or your local legal services office to learn about your rights before you apply.

Here are some of the main rules.

If you are pregnant or a teen parent:

If you are pregnant or a teen parent, you may be able to get:

  • cash assistance (through DTA’s Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, TAFDC)
  • food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP)
  • medical care (through Medicaid)  

for you and your baby.

If you are under 18 and want TAFDC for yourself and your child, you need to live at home with your parents, relatives, or a guardian. If you claim that you can’t live at home or with adult relatives because of:

  • abuse
  • neglect
  • substance abuse/addiction, or
  • some other extraordinary circumstance

You and your child won’t be forced to move back home to get TAFDC but you may have to live in a group home for teen parents.

The Department of Children and Families looks into your claims of the situation. Sometimes, like if you graduated from an independent living program, you may be able to live on your own and still be eligible for TAFDC.

Also, if you are a teen parent under age 20, you must:

  • go to school full-time, or
  • be doing a full-time High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) program and other employment-related activities totaling 20 hours per week, or
  • be a high school graduate or
  • have your HiSET certificate.

 

You should get childcare and transportation from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). If childcare is not available, you don’t have to do the school requirement.

The amount of cash help that you can get as a teen parent depends on your income and resources. It also depends on the income of your parents if you live at home. If your parents also get TAFDC, you and the baby are added to the family's TAFDC grant. If your parents don’t get TAFDC, then their income is used to figure out your grant. If you don’t live with your parents, then their income does not count.

The DTA may want your parents to pay child support for you if you are under the age of 18.

If you are not pregnant and not a teen parent:

If you are not pregnant or not a teen parent, you may still be able to get TAFDC if your family meets the income eligibility requirements.  If you and your caretakers can’t get TAFDC because you are not related or only distantly related, you may be able to get cash assistance under a program called the Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) program. You may be able to get EAEDC if you are living on your own, have little or no income and:

  • you are in a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Program, or
  • you are disabled.

If you get EAEDC, you are automatically eligible for MassHealth health care coverage.

 

Medical Care

Can I get medical and dental care without my parents’ permission?

In general, you need to get permission from your parents unless the doctor visit is an emergency. You don’t need to get permission if you are:

  • married, widowed, or divorced.
  • a parent. And you can give permission for medical or dental care of the child.
  • in the military.
  • pregnant or think you are pregnant.
  • living away from your parents or legal guardian and taking care of your own financial affairs.
  • pretty sure that you have contracted a disease dangerous to public health, like a sexually transmitted disease. You can get treatment for that disease.

Also, Massachusetts courts have something called the "mature minor rule." This means that if a doctor believes that:

  • you are mature enough and
  • you can give “informed consent” to the medical care (this means you understand about it) and
  • it is in your best interests that they don’t tell your parents

Then the doctor can give you care without your parents’ permission.

Also, you don’t need permission for:

  • treatment for drug addiction (if you are at least 12 years old)
  • family planning services
  • treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV or AIDS)
  • inpatient mental health treatment (if you are at least 16 years old).

 

Do I need my parents’ permission to have an abortion?

Not necessarily. If you are younger than 16 years old and you are not married, divorced, or widowed, you need to get permission from either a parent or a guardian. You don’t need permission from both parents.

If you can’t get permission from a parent/guardian or if you choose not to ask either parent/guardian, you can ask the court for permission. You have the right to a lawyer during this process. A judge looks at things like your maturity level, independence and living circumstances. Then they decide about giving you permission.

Note:

The process of getting permission from a judge can be stressful but is designed to be private and as quick as possible. See Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Access and Patient Navigation Programs or contact them at 1-800-230-7526 for information about this process.

 

If you are emancipated or married, divorced, or widowed you can get an abortion or sterilization without permission from a judge or parent.

More Youth Rights Resources

The Children's Law Center of Massachusetts (CLCM) has phone help hours:

Monday - Friday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
1-888-KIDLAW8 (1-888-543-5298)

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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