Know Your Rights

Rights are things that are guaranteed to you by law. When you have a right to receive certain services or a right to be treated fairly, a judge can make sure that you get what the law requires. It’s important to know your rights because it can hel you advocate or speak up for yourself. 

Below we have some of the rights for  youth in certain situations. If you have questions or concerns about your rights check out the advice at the bottom of each section.


Youth Placed in the Child Welfare System

Summary of Your Rights if You are Placed in the Child Welfare System 

  • To be free of discrimination based on your race, religion, disability, national origin, or gender

  • If you are in group care (i.e. a group home), to be free of discrimination based on sexual orientation

  • To be free from punishment that uses physical force, threats, or verbal abuse

  • To be free from and protected from abuse, harassment, and exploitation

  • To proper food and clothing

  • To participate regularly in extracurricular, social, cultural, and enrichment activities

  • To practice the religion or faith of your choice or to not practice any religious activity

  • To privacy that lines up with your age

Your Rights In Court

  • To attend all court hearings where your case is reviewed

  • To have the judge ask you what you think about your permanency and transition plans (your transition plan is for your life plans as you grow older)

  • To tell your judge what you think about your placement, your permanency and transition plans, and any needs or concerns that you have

  • To be represented by a lawyer

  • To be provided with the contact information of your lawyer and members of your permanency team

  • To meet with your lawyer and tell your lawyer where you want to live and what services you need to meet your goals

  • To have the judge approve your transition/discharge plan before you leave care

  • To have the information shared in court be kept private and discussed only with people who need to know about it, to provide you with care and services

  • To have your lawyer file an appeal (a formal way of disagreeing) if you do not agree with the decision the judge makes

  • To ask the judge to appoint another lawyer for you if you don’t think your lawyer is doing their job (the judge will then make the decision if a new lawyer is appointed)

Your Rights Related to Services and Contact with Youth Family

  • To services that will help you stay with or return to your family

  • To the most family-like and least restrictive placement

  • For your family members to be notified if you come in to care and for first preference for placement to be given to family

  • To each year, a search for family for you to connect with

  • For efforts to be made to place you with your siblings

  • To visit with your siblings at least once every two weeks, if you are not living together

  • To visit with your parents at least once every two weeks

  • To not have family visits used as a reward or punishment for your behavior

Your Health Care Rights

  • To see a doctor, dentist, eye doctor, therapist and have your mental and physical health needs met

  • To have health insurance while you are in care

  • To agree to mental health treatment beginning at age 14

  • To be free from unneeded medication

  • To consent on your own, at any age to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and HIV/AIDS

  • To agree on your own at any age to substance abuse treatment

  • To agree on your own at any age to birth control

  • To seek permission from a judge (“judicial bypass”) if you want an abortion and are under age 18

  • To see your records and to decide who gets to see your records for certain treatments

  • To have health insurance (Medicaid) until age 26 if you were in foster care at age 18 or older

Your Educational Rights:

  • To continue to attend the school you went to before you were in care or changed placements

  • To attend, and be quickly enrolled, in the public school near where you are living

  • To take part in school activities

  • To have an education decision maker, this is an active adult who can make sure your education needs are meet.

  • To get services that help you prepare for college and training.

  • To apply for the Education and Training Grant to get money for college or vocational training

Your Rights in Planning for Your Future and as an Older Youth (14-21 years old):

  • To a case and permanency plan that: explains your goals and needs; explains what is being done to help you and your family achieve those goals

  • To be at and take part in all the planning meetings

  • To invite 2 people to the case planning meeting who can support you

  • To services beginning at age 14 to help you grow into a successful adult

  • Beginning at age 14, to a yearly copy of your credit report, a report that shows whether any bills or credit cards have been put in your name. You also have a right to help fixing any problems found in the report until you leave care.

  • To have the chance to work and grow job skills

To stay in care until you are age 21 if you are doing at least one of the following: 

1.  Completing high school or a GED program;  

2.  Enrolled in a post secondary education or vocational program; 

3.  Participating in a program to help you get a job and/or job skills;  

4.  Employed for at least 80 hours per month;  

5.  Cannot do any of the activities listed above because of a documented behavioral health or medical condition

Your Rights as You Age Out of Care:

  • To a detailed Transition/Discharge plan at least 6 months before you leave care (at age 18 or older) that includes specific options on housing, health insurance, education, local opportunities for mentors and continuing support services, and work force supports and employment services 

  • To an official or certified copy of youth birth certificate, social security card, health insurance information, medical records, and a driver's license or state identification card before you leave care at age 18 or older. 

  • To aftercare services if you age out of care and are still under age 21

  • To request to re-enter care before turning age 21 if you discharged from care at 17 and nine months of age or older

Your Rights to Notification and Filing of Grievances/Complaints

  • To a detailed Transition/Discharge plan at least 6 months before you leave care (at age 18 or older). This plan should include specific options on housing, health insurance, education, local opportunities for mentors and continuing support services, and job services.

  • To request to re-enter care before turning age 21 if you left care at 17 and nine months of age or older

  • To an official or certified copy of your birth certificate, social security card, health insurance information, medical records, and a driver's license or state identification card before you leave care at age 18 or older.

  • To aftercare services (like help finding a place to live) if you age out of care and are still under age 21.

My Rights have not been respected! What do I do know? 

If you want more information about your rights when placed by the child welfare check out: Getting Your Voice Heard in Pennslyvannia a fact sheet prepared by the Juvenile Law Center

Note: Above is a summary of some of the rights you have if you are placed in the child welfare system. If you think your rights have been violated or you have questions about your rights, you can: call your lawyer or his or her supervisor, file a complaint/grievance with the child welfare agency, and talk to the judge or master in your case at court.  


Your Education Rights as a Youth Experencing Homelessness 

Youth who are experiencing homelessness have special rights. This includes youth who are:

Separated from parents because they ran away from home, were kicked out by their parents

“Doubled up” with other youth or families due to hardship

“Couch surfing”, moving from house to house

Living in a camping grounds or trailer park

Sleeping outdoors or in a public place

Living in a motel or hotel

Living in a shelter

Living in a car

Your rights to enroll in school

  • You have the right to attend public school in Pennsylvania for free, until you graduate or until the year in which you turn age 21.

  • Your local school district has to help you enroll in school. This includes picking a staff person called the “liaison.” who will help you.

  • You have the right to enroll even if you are missing a document required for enrollment, the school district must enroll you immediately. They can then request and get your records.

Rights about your school choice

  • If you are a homeless youth you have two options for where you attend school:

  • The school you attended when you first became homeless or the school you are currently attending. You can continue to attend this school even if you do not live in that school district or area anymore.

  • To choose to enroll in the local school that is close to where you are currently staying. If this is your choice, you have a right to be enrolled in school the day you make the request.

  • Even if you are over 18 you can attend high school. You do not have to attend a night program or alternative education program.

Rights to transportation and school supplies if you are homeless

  • You have a right to transportation to and from school .

  • You are entitled to receive a school uniform, school supplies and a free or reduced price lunch.

I read my rights. Now, what do I do?

If you want more information about your educational rights read the Education for Homeless Youth Fact Sheet

If you need more information contact the Education Law Center


Your Education Rights as a Immigrant Youth with or without Documentation 

In the State of Pennsylvania you have the right to…

The Right to Attend School

  • All children in Pennsylvania, including immigrant and migrant students, are entitled to a free public school education until age 21 regardless of how well they speak English.

    • A school cannot not ask about the immigration status of their students or their families.

  •  Students cannot be discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, or religion.

Right to Learn English

  • English Language Learners must be tested to determine their English speaking skills and placed in the appropriate English as a Second Language (ESL) program.

  • A qualified ESL /Bilingual teacher must the provide youth with a planned instruction.

Right to Equal Treatment

  • English Language Learners must have access to all services offered to other students including:

    • Special admit programs or schools

    • Counseling

    • Gifted education

    • Extracurricular activities

  • Schools must provide supports where needed so students can access all opportunities offered to other students.

  • Students cannot be held back a grade based only on lack of English language proficiency.

I understand my rights. What can I do now?

If you want more info about your education rights read Rights of English Language Learners (ELL) & Families with Limited English Proficiency.If you need more help reach out to the Education Law Center.