How to apply for Social Security Disability SSI benefits for children

Initiating the application process for disability benefits for children (note: minor-age children actually file under title 16, which is the SSI, or supplemental security income, program) is identical to the process used to begin to claims for adults.

Claims are begun in local social security offices where adult claimants, or parents of child claimants, supply all the information that is necessary to process the claim. After the disability application has been taken, it is transferred to a separate agency where it is assigned to a disability examiner. This individual will usually begin the process by requesting the claimants medical records.

In the case of minor-age children, the records requests may involve medical records only, particularly if the child's alleged impairments are only physical in nature. However, in cases where emotional, cognitive, or learning difficulties are alleged, the disability examiner will typically attempt to gather additional records from the child's school.

Children's cases are evaluated differently from adult cases in one basic sense: for adults to qualify for disability benefits, it must be proven that the claimant possesses a severe impairment that renders them unable to engage in substantial gainful work activity, including work they have done in the past and work they might otherwise be considered capable to switching to, for at least one full year; children, on the other hand, may be considered if they have a severe impairment which prevents their ability to engage in age-appropriate activities.

Age appropriate activities for children

Age-appropriate activities for children, of course, will differ substantially from the normal daily activities of adults. However, because attendance in school--and all the things that correlate with school attendance such as academic performance and social interactions--is such a prominent factor in the life of a child, the social security administration tends to focus heavily on records obtained from a child's school or schools.

Those records include the results of achievement testing, intelligence testing, grade reports, individual education plans. Important records can even include questionaires from a child's teachers since teachers are the chief evaluators and observers of school-age children.

Note: While teacher questionaires provide strong and relevant information regarding a child's abilities to engage in age-appropriate activities, the social security administration, through its disability examiners, does not typically send such questionaires to teachers when cases are processed.

This is similar to the position taken by SSA on residual functional capacity forms for adults which are used internally by SSA-employed physicians but which, oddly enough, are never sent to the actual doctors of a claimant.

Both child and adult claims obviously suffer due to such practices and one can argue that the social security administration does not send such forms to teachers and treating physicians because doing so would tip the scales in the favor of claimants, resulting in more benefits being paid out.

Attorneys send forms that SSA will not

Residual functional capacity forms for adults and teacher questionaires for child claimants are often sent out by disability attorneys and representatives, usually in cases in which the claimant has been denied at the disability application level, again denied at the reconsideration appeal level, and the claimant's case is now positioned for a hearing before a federal disability judge (administrative law judge).

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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