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When Your Child Has Problems At College

Sending a child off to college is a wonderful and stressful time all at once. A child leaving home can be a difficult transition for both the adult child and the parents. Alcohol and drug abuse, mood disorders and anxiety disorders are all common among college students today. A full 25% of college students, or one-fourth, experience issues with alcohol and drug abuse, 11% struggle with mood disorders and 12% suffer from anxiety disorders. While only 5% of students seek help for alcohol or drug abuse, an astonishing 50% of students get treatment for mood and anxiety disorders.

What if you suspect your child is struggling with one of these issues? How can you determine if your child needs help?

FERPA and HIPPA

The Family Educational Rights Privacy Act, or FERPA, was passed in 1974. It prevents disclosure of personally identifiable information, or PII, in a student's education record without the consent of the student once he or she is 18 or older. The exception to this rule is if the student is claimed as a dependent on a parent's tax return. FERPA also has a health and safety exception that allows disclosure of PII if a student is a threat to him or herself or others. FERPA allows but does not require higher education institutions to provide notice to parents when students violate federal, state or local laws regarding alcohol or drugs.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, passed in 1996, prohibits covered entities from disclosing protected health information (PHI) to any third parties unless the person who is the subject of the PHI authorizes the disclosure in writing or the disclosure falls within an exception to the rule. One such exception is the disclosure of PHI for emergencies, and another exception is for public health.

FERPA'S BROAD USE

FERPA's protection against disclosure of students' academic and medical records has been interpreted broadly in the years since its passage. In general, parents do not have access to their children's records unless the child signs a waiver, provides the records, or an exception to FERPA applies. Former Senator James Buckley, the co-author of the Act (sometimes referred to as the Buckley Amendment), now advocates updating the law to allow more access to student information. Buckley indicates that the broad use of the Act by many colleges to keep so much information confidential is not what was intended by the Act when it was passed.

HOW TO HELP WITHOUT ACCESS TO RECORDS

If a student remains on their parents' medical insurance, then any services on the parents' plan accessed by the student will be identifiable. However, students may choose to utilize school health services for just this reason.

Experts emphasize that the best way to discover whether an adult child is experiencing problems is through communication and observation. Establishing health as a priority is vital to an adult child being willing to disclose health issues; academics should only be one of the priorities of a college student. Parents can and should initiate contact with the school when they suspect problems, keeping in mind that FERPA allows school officials to share information regarding a student based on personal observation or knowledge. Therefore, contacting an RA or Dean of Students who personally knows your child is perhaps more valuable than access to records.

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