Roughly 1 million children receive disability benefits under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) programs. This article is written for the parents and caregivers of children who suffer from medical impairments that affect their growth, development, social interactions, and performance at school. We’ve served as the Richmond, Virginia Social Security Disability attorney for children with disabilities and their caregivers. Call or e-mail us today and we’ll see talk about we can help your child get Social Security benefits for their disabilities.

Social Security Benefit Programs for Children

There are three programs under which a child may receive Social Security benefits. Not all of them require a finding that the child is disabled.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Auxiliary Benefits for Dependent Children under 18

Under the SSDI program a child may receive disability benefits if she is a dependent of an adult receiving SSDI benefits or the surviving child of a person who died while receiving SSDI benefits. These benefits have many different names – child dependents’ benefits, survivors’ benefits, and auxiliary benefits – but all three terms mean the same thing.

Child dependents’ benefits are available to children who are (1) unmarried, (2) under the age of 18, and (3) financially dependent on the parent whose record they are claiming Social Security benefits through. A parent can be either a biological parent, an adoptive parent, or a stepparent. These benefits are available because a disabled parent is likely to need more money to take care of a dependent child.

A child can continue to receive these benefits until she turns 18 – or 19 if she is a full-time student. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will send forms to the child’s parent or caregiver asking for confirmation that the child is still in school. If you fail to return the completed form, the SSA may terminate benefits.

SSDI Benefits for Adults Who Have Been Disabled Since Childhood

When a child reaches 18, or 19 if she is a full-time student, Social Security dependents’ benefits usually end. There are exceptions though.

A young adult can receive SSDI benefits, even though she has never worked, if she can prove the following:

  • That she became disabled before turning 22 years of age.
  • That she is the child of someone who is either receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

If a young adult satisfies these two criteria she is considered an “adult child” who is eligible for disability benefits. Though most “adult children” receive benefits in their 20s and 30s, these are still considered childrens’ disability benefits.

This is easier to understand through an example. Let’s say that Bob is approved for SSDI benefits when he turns 55. He has a 30-year old daughter, Jill, who was born with an intellectual disability. Jill could not receive Social Security benefits before Bob was approved for SSDI. When Bob was awarded SSDI, Jill became eligible for disabled child’s benefits based on Bob’s earnings record. If Jill had become disabled at age 25 because of a serious motor vehicle accident, she would not have been eligible for SSDI. Instead she would have to try to qualify for SSI benefits.

Virginia SSI Benefits for Children

When people talk about disability benefits for children, they are usually referring to SSI benefits. SSI is a disability program that pays monthly benefits to disabled people with low or no income and limited assets and resources, as well as children under the age of 18 who prove they are disabled. To receive children’s SSI benefits, the child’s family must satisfy the income and resource eligibility requirements. Many disabled children are denied SSI benefits because their family has too much income or assets. We don’t think this is fair since a child’s disability impacts the family’s quality of living – but it is the law.

Applying for Disability Benefits for Your Child

The tips we give in How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits in Virginia can be put to use when applying for disability benefits for a child. Because claims for childhood disability benefits are usually brought under the SSI program make sure that you bring records showing your income and assets. You must satisfy the income and asset requirements for your child to receive SSI benefits.

If your child meets the nonmedical eligibility requirements (i.e., the financial requirements) then your child’s file is forwarded to Disability Determination Services (DDS) for evaluation. The disability evaluation team, which includes a claims examiner and a medical consultant, will request and review your child’s medical records.

Disability Evaluation for Social Security Claims for Children

The SSA’s most recent childhood disability rules went into effect in 2001. The SSA’s policy is to consider all relevant evidence and factors in child disability cases and to view the evidence as a whole, not in isolation. So, for example, low test scores alone are not sufficient to win SSI disability benefits for a child.Your childrens’ disability attorney, therefore, must build a comprehensive and complete case to get your child the SSI benefits he or she deserves. Development of all physical and mental health impairments is important to win the SSI claim.

The SSA will consider not only medical sources in determining whether a child is eligible for SSI benefits, but also evidence received from non-medical sources like parents, teachers, counselors, and school principals. This includes statements made by non-medical sources to acceptable medical sources like psychiatrists, psychologists, and physicians. Often statements made by children to their parents, friends, and teachers are important since young children may not be as open to sharing their thoughts and problems with strangers and health care providers.

When determining whether a child has functional limitations because of his or her physical and mental impairments, the SSA will evaluate the child’s functional abilities based on his or her age. The SSA will evaluate the child’s ability compared to other children of the same age. This is unique to childhood disability cases. Adult disability cases do not involve as much comparisons.

Childhood Listings and Disability Domains of Functioning

The SSA’s most recent childhood disability rules went into effect in 2001. The SSA’s policy is to consider all relevant evidence and factors in child disability cases and to view the evidence as a whole, not in isolation. So, for example, low test scores alone are not sufficient to win SSI disability benefits for a child.Your childrens’ disability attorney, therefore, must build a comprehensive and complete case to get your child the SSI benefits he or she deserves. Development of all physical and mental health impairments is important to win the SSI claim.

The SSA will consider not only medical sources in determining whether a child is eligible for SSI benefits, but also evidence received from non-medical sources like parents, teachers, counselors, and school principals. This includes statements made by non-medical sources to acceptable medical sources like psychiatrists, psychologists, and physicians. Often statements made by children to their parents, friends, and teachers are important since young children may not be as open to sharing their thoughts and problems with strangers and health care providers.

When determining whether a child has functional limitations because of his or her physical and mental impairments, the SSA will evaluate the child’s functional abilities based on his or her age. The SSA will evaluate the child’s ability compared to other children of the same age. This is unique to childhood disability cases. Adult disability cases do not involve as much comparisons.

There are two routes for a child to be found disabled:

  • by meeting a listing in the Child Listing of Impairments and
  • by satisfying the requirements under the childhood domains of functioning.

The SSA has a Listing of Impairments for children. This is found in the Social Security regulations. When determining whether your child meets a listing, the SSA will review the alleged symptoms, diagnostic tests, and laboratory findings. If your child meets a listing then he or she will be found disabled automatically.

If your child does not meet a listing then the SSA will use the six functional domains to decide whether your child is disabled and entitled to SSI benefits. To receive SSI benefits, a child must have “marked” limitation in two domains or an “extreme” limitation in one domain.

Marked means the limitation is more than moderate but less than extreme. A child has a marked limitation if the limitation “interferes seriously” with the child’s ability to independently begin, sustain, or finish activities.

A child has an extreme limitation if the limitation “very seriously” interferes with the child’s ability to independently begin, sustain, or finish activities. An extreme limitation does not mean that the child is completely unable to perform tasks within the functional domain.

The six childhood disability functional domains are:

  • Acquiring and using information;
  • Attending and completing tasks;
  • Interacting and relating with others;
  • Moving about and manipulating objects;
  • Caring for yourself; and
  • Health and physical well-being.

Answers to Common Questions about Social Security Disability Benefits for Children

The SSA may conduct a continuing disability review (CDR) if your child is receiving disability benefits. The CDR will take place on the following schedule:

  • Every three years if your disabled child is under 18 an has conditions that are likely to improve
  • 12 months after birth for babies who are receiving childrens’ disability benefits based on low birth weight
  • During the 18th year
  • At the SSA’s discretion if your child’s physical or mental disability is not expected to improve

Keep in mind that the above schedule is the suggested schedule for CDRs. The SSA may not conduct continuing disability reviews on these intervals if it is understaffed or running low on money.

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A child’s disability impacts not just the child but your whole family. We’re here to help you through this trying time. Call or e-mail us for a free consultation so that we can help your child get approved for every disability benefit available through Social Security.