While children under 18 can't collect Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits unless a parent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits, children can receive other benefits from the federal government, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
There are four different ways children can collect Social Security or SSI disability benefits. All of the benefits discussed here are cash benefits paid to disabled children or to the children of disabled or retired workers.
Low-income children with disabilities. Disabled children whose families have low income can collect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) until they're 18, at which point they might be eligible to start collecting adult SSI benefits. Children who are approved for SSI disability can also receive health coverage through the Medicaid program.
Children who don't qualify for SSI. Children who are younger than 18 (or 19 if still in high school) and have a parent who is currently receiving Social Security disability or Social Security retirement benefits may be able to collect dependents benefits based on their parents' records, whether they're disabled or not.
Children who have a parent who died. If a child's parent died but had earned enough Social Security credits to qualify for one of these benefits before they died, the child could also be eligible for survivors benefits, whether they're disabled or not.
Adults disabled since childhood. People who are older than 18 but became disabled before they turn 22 can collect disability benefits if they have a parent collecting SSDI or Social Security retirement income (or a deceased parent who was entitled to one of these benefits before their death).
Let's look at these categories in more detail.
SSI is available to children (and adults) who meet the medical disability requirements of the Social Security Administration (SSA) but have little income or resources. Part of the parent's income is attributed to the child in determining whether the child is financially eligible for SSI.
After turning 18, the disabled child will need to qualify for SSI as an adult. Social Security will evaluate whether their medical condition fits the adult definition of disability. While the family's income will no longer be considered as part of the eligibility determination for SSI, if the child still receives food and shelter from the parents, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will lower the child's disability payment.
For more information, read our article on SSI disability for children.
Children, disabled or not, can qualify for Social Security benefits if their parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI). When a child collects benefits based on the Social Security record of the parent, they are known as "auxiliary benefits," or "dependents benefits." In some cases, a grandchild or stepgrandchild can also be eligible for dependents benefits (if there is no living parent).
A child is eligible for up to 50% of the parent's monthly benefit, subject to a family maximum. A child can receive these dependents benefits until turning 18 (or 19, for full-time high school students). If a child marries, however, the dependents benefits will stop.
Note: There are no regular SSDI disability benefits for a disabled child who is under 18. A disabled child under 18 may collect either SSI or, if a parent is collecting Social Security benefits, dependents benefits.
For more information, read our article on Social Security dependent benefits for children.
Children, disabled or not, can receive survivors benefits if their parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent was receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits—or was entitled to one of these benefits—before they died.
A child is eligible for up to 75% of the parent's monthly benefit, subject to a family maximum. A child can receive these survivors benefits until turning 18 (or 19, for full-time high school students). If a child gets married, their dependents benefits will end.
This category of benefits, often called "adult child" benefits, is really an extension of the dependents benefits discussed above; the extension past age 18 is for disabled children only. This dependent benefit is called a "child's" benefit because it's based on the parent's earning record, not because the person needs to be young.
For a child who is already disabled when he or she turns 18, or for a young adult who becomes disabled before turning 22, the Social Security dependents benefits discussed above can be continued for as long as the person is disabled. That is, the disabled child can collect SSDI if a parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI)—or was entitled to one of these benefits before they died.
A disabled adult grandchild or stepgrandchild can sometimes be eligible for these benefits (if there is no living parent).
The SSA usually refers to this benefit as SSDI for "adults disabled since childhood," even though the disability needs only to have started before age 22. Sometimes these benefits can start when the "child" is much older than 18 or 22. When a disabled person's parent starts collecting Social Security benefits at retirement age, they suddenly become eligible for the child's disability benefit at that point.
See our article on disability benefits for disabled adult children for more information.
Adults who become disabled after age 22 must either have low enough income and assets to qualify for SSI or must rely on their own earnings record to collect SSDI. While a young adult does have to have some work history to be eligible for SSDI, young adults require fewer "credits" to qualify for SSDI benefits. For more information, see our article on SSDI work credits.
In some circumstances, Social Security will pay a monthly benefit to someone who is caring for a disabled child, after a parent of the child has become disabled or has died. Social Security will pay the benefit to a spouse (or sometimes an ex-spouse) who is taking care of a disabled child who:
The SSA calls these benefits "mother's or father's benefits." (Parents can also get benefits for taking care of any child under 16, whether they have a disability or not.)
The mother's or father's benefit is 75% of the amount that:
Here are the rules for who can qualify as a parent taking care of a disabled child:
The person taking care of the disabled child doesn't have to be the legal mother or father of the child if they were married to the deceased parent at the time of death. But if the person taking care of the disabled child was divorced from the deceased parent at the time of death, they do need to be the biological or legally adoptive parent of the child to receive the benefit.
You must have a "child in care" to qualify for parents' benefits. To have a "child in care," you must be taking care of a child under 16, or a disabled child of any age. Specifically, you must:
To have "parental control and responsibility," you must:
You provide personal service for a child when, on a regular basis, you:
Once you no longer meet the "in-care" requirements discussed above, you'll lose the mother's or father's benefits. This can happen when a child turns 16 or because you stop living with the child (and you lose custody of the child or you have a mental disability).
If your child attends school away from your home, you may still meet the "in-care" requirements if:
If you and the child's other parent are separated, you can still meet the "in-care" requirements if the child usually stays with you during vacations, and you are the school's contact person if there are issues or questions about the child's well-being.
How you can apply for benefits depends on the type of child's benefit you're applying for.
To start the process of filing for SSI, you can let Social Security know that you want to complete an application for SSI at www.ssa.gov/benefits/ssi/start.html. This site asks for some basic information to get started, such as:
After you submit some basic information online, Social Security will contact you to set up an appointment to finish the process. If you start the process online, please be aware that this basic information is not the complete application! But, completing the basic information online can be useful, because Social Security will use the date you submitted this information as the date of your application, which could help you get more back pay.
You can also fill out the Child Disability Report online. The report asks for information about the child's disabling condition and how it affects their ability to function. It usually takes about an hour to complete.
If computers aren't your thing, you can also contact Social Security at 800-772-1213 to start the application over the phone or to schedule an in-person interview at your local Social Security office. For more detailed information, please see our article about applying for SSI.
You can't apply online for benefits based on a parent's record or deceased parent's record. This includes survivors benefits, a child's dependent benefits, or disabled adult child benefits. Instead, call 800-772-1213 to start the application or visit your local Social Security field office.
When caring for a disabled child, you might be able to qualify for several other programs that provide cash assistance and medical assistance. These additional benefits include:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Under TANF, the federal government provides states with funding to be used to temporarily help low-income parents provide care services to their children in their own home. The program also promotes job preparation for parents, work, and two-parent households.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Previously known as "food stamps," the SNAP program helps supplement the household food budget for low-income people. The goal of the program is to help provide nutritious and well-balanced meals.
VA Pensions. There are many types of benefits available to veterans. Notably, unmarried dependent children might be eligible to receive a VA Survivor's Pension, as well as Veteran's Aid and Attendance or Housebound benefits.
Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This program provides health insurance to children of parents who are working and whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to afford private health insurance.
Medicaid. Medicaid is a program funded by the federal and state governments to provide health care to people with limited income and resources. The program varies from state to state, but in most states, if your child receives SSI, they will automatically qualify for Medicaid. In some states, though, you may have to apply for Medicaid separately.
Medicaid Waiver. This program provides medical coverage for a child who is cared for at home rather than in an institution. The program also covers the cost of durable medical equipment, and in some states, in-home support and other community-based services.
Eligibility for these programs isn't limited to people with disabilities. Program eligibility is generally based on income. If you or your child receive SSI, you would probably be eligible for these programs.
Updated September 19, 2023