While children under 18 can't collect Social Security disability insurance unless a parent is receiving disability benefits, there are benefits children can receive from the federal government, including SSI.
There are three 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 disabled children. Disabled children whose families have low income can collect Supplemental Security Income (SSI) until they are 18, at which point they might be eligible to start collecting adult SSI benefits. Children who are approved for SSI disability can also receive Medicaid.
Children who don't qualify for SSI. Children who are younger than 18 (or 19 if a full-time student) and have a parent who is currently receiving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Social Security retirement benefits (or who had earned enough Social Security credits to earn one of these benefits before dying) may be able to collect dependents benefits based on their parents' records, whether they are disabled or not.
Adults disabled since childhood. Disabled children who are older than 18 but who became disabled before they turn 22 can collect disability benefits if they have a parent collecting Social Security Disability Income (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 disability requirements of the Social Security Administration (SSA) but have little income or resources. Part of the parents' 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; that is, he or she will have to fit the adult definition of disability. The family's income will no longer be considered as part of the eligibility determination for SSI, although if the child still receives food and shelter from the parents, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may 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) – or was entitled to one of these benefits before they died. 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 benefits until turning 18, or if the child is a full-time secondary school student, he or she can receive benefits until turning 19. 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 (or collected them before dying), auxiliary benefits.
For more information, read our article on Social Security dependent benefits for children.
This category of benefits, often called "adult child" benefits, is really an extension of the dependents benefits discussed above; the extension is for disabled children only. For a child who is 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. In some cases, a grandchild or step grandchild can be eligible for these benefits (if there is no living parent).
The young adult must meet Social Security's adult definition of disability. This dependent benefit is called a "child's benefit" because it is using the parent's earning record, not because the person needs to be young. Sometimes these benefits can start when the "child" is much older than 18 or 22. This happens when the disabled child's parent doesn't start collecting Social Security benefits until retirement; the disabled child is suddenly eligible for the child's disability benefit at that point.
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.
See our article on disability benefits for disabled adult children for more information.
A young adult or adult who becomes disabled after age 22 must either have low enough income and assets to qualify for SSI or must rely on his or her 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.