Caring for a physically and/or mentally disabled child can be both emotionally demanding and financially draining. Fortunately, financial help is available for disabled children from families with limited income and resources. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal benefit program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that pays a monthly cash benefit to disabled children in need.
For a disabled child to be eligible for SSI, Social Security must find all of the following to be true:
You can get assistance applying for disability benefits for your child by talking with a field representative at your local Social Security office. Or you can call the agency at 800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
But there are certain situations where getting legal help with your child's claim is advisable. For one, if Social Security denies your child SSI benefits, you should consider contacting an experienced disability attorney or disability advocate for help in appealing the SSA's decision. In addition, there are other, often overlooked reasons to hire an attorney or advocate when you're applying for SSI disability benefits for your child.
There's a lot of work involved in applying for SSI for a child with a disability. First, getting disability benefits for a child requires a substantial amount of evidence, including medical records and school records. Sometimes additional or specialized testing will be needed as well.
Getting this information ready can be time-consuming and overwhelming for a parent who's already caring for a disabled child. When you hire a children's disability attorney or advocate, it's the firm's staff who will handle most of these tasks, so you can focus on taking care of your family and yourself.
If you're unsure whether your child has a condition that could qualify for disability, an attorney or advocate can review the case and determine if your child is likely to be eligible for SSI. (Learn more about qualifying for disability based on your child's specific medical conditions.)
The primary job of a children's disability lawyer is to gather evidence and help you build the strongest case you can for SSI benefits. Your representative will know how to present a child's SSI claim (which has different rules than an adult SSI claim). How your representative proceeds will depend on the type of disability your child has.
Children with significant learning disabilities, low IQs, or other disorders that the SSA categorizes as mental impairments (such as depression, autism, and ADHD) can qualify for disability. But the tests, reports, and medical opinions needed to prove that a child's mental disability meets Social Security's standards for approval are complicated. And what you'll need will vary depending on your child's age.
A disability lawyer will know which records Social Security will need to see based on your child's age and condition. And your lawyer (or their staff) will contact school officials and medical providers to obtain the necessary records.
The attorney will also review the records to see if they're complete and compelling. Your disability lawyer will look for:
To measure cognitive abilities, Social Security will accept only tests that are "standardized measures of academic achievement." A disability attorney or advocate will review your child's file to determine whether any additional testing is needed to satisfy the SSA's requirements. Your lawyer might also convince Social Security to administer (and pay for) any additional tests the child needs (like IQ tests).
If there are any "bad facts" (information that harms your child's case), a lawyer who specializes in children's SSI cases will know how to address the information ethically and minimize the damage.
Children can receive SSI benefits for many physical disabilities. Here are just a few examples:
Each condition has specific, and usually complicated, criteria that must be met in order to qualify for disability. And Social Security will only accept certain types of medical evidence, depending on your child's condition. The legal representative you hire for your child's claim will review the specific details of the medical evidence Social Security needs to approve the claim.
Your representative will communicate with any hospitals, doctors' offices, or other testing or treatment facilities to gather any additional records that might be needed. Then your representative will review those records and submit them to Social Security for you. Your representative can also tell you if your child needs any further testing.
Supporting opinions from your child's doctor(s) are vital to winning the claim. If your child's doctor is unwilling to provide you with a supporting statement or doesn't know how, your representative can contact the doctor to discuss the matter. Sometimes an attorney or advocate is better able to understand and address a doctor's reluctance to help a patient with a disability claim. An experienced child disability lawyer can often make a doctor more willing to help.
Getting Social Security to approve a disability claim can be a long process. Anything you can do to speed up the process means your child can get SSI benefits sooner.
Hiring a legal representative doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a faster decision in your child's SSI disability case. But a children's disability lawyer knows how to avoid the kinds of issues that can delay your child's claim. For instance, it's common for Social Security to initially deny a child's SSI disability claim because there isn't enough evidence to prove the disability. Your attorney will understand how to apply for disability for a child—including all of the necessary evidence you'll need to prove your child's condition is a disability. This can increase the chance that your child's claim will be approved without having to go to a hearing, which can add many months to the claims process.
It's not uncommon for Social Security to initially deny a child's application for SSI disability. But an initial denial isn't generally the end of the SSI claims process. You have the right to appeal the denial. And it's during the appeal process that most disability claims are won (specifically, at the hearing level).
If your child's disability claim is denied, you'll receive a letter from Social Security that explains the reasons for the denial. The letter will also provide instructions for appeal. You'll have 60 days (from the day you receive the letter) to file your child's appeal.
Having a successful hearing requires all of the following:
An experienced children's disability lawyer is familiar and comfortable with the process and can prepare you and your child for the hearing.
Having an experienced disability attorney represent your child at the appeal hearing will significantly increase your child's chances of winning an SSI claim. (A recent government study showed that disability applicants who were represented by lawyers were approved for benefits at hearings twice as often as those without.)
Getting disability benefits for your child can be difficult because the evidence needed to support a child's claim is frequently complex. An experienced legal expert can review your child's claim and advise you on how to get the best outcome possible.
And children's disability lawyers work on contingency, so you don't pay the attorney upfront. In fact, your child's Social Security disability lawyer will only be paid if your child's claim is approved. The lawyer's fees will come from the SSI back pay your child should get once that happens.
You can find a children's disability lawyer near you using our attorney locator tool here.
Updated November 4, 2022