Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania
County of Allegheny
Juvenile | Special Hearings



Act 53 Program

Question: What is the Act 53 Program?

Answer: The Act 53 Program addresses the involuntary commitment of minors into drug and alcohol treatment. It is a court monitored program for children between ages 12 up until age 18 who have drug and alcohol treatment needs.


Question: How do I get my child to participate in the Program?

Answer: Participation in the Program requires a referral to be made to the Act 53 Coordinator. Once the referral is received, the Act 53 coordinator will screen the case for its appropriateness and will follow up with the party making the referral to explain the next steps.


Question: How do I initiate a referral to the program?

Answer: The parent or guardian must complete a petition in the Family Division during normal times. The petitioner will meet with the Act 53 coordinator who, along with the petitioner, will present the matter to a judge to determine whether the child should undergo an assessment, appoint legal counsel for the child and set a date for the child to be present to answer the facts presented in the petition. Because of the judicial emergency petitions are not being completed in the Family Division at this time. To initiate a referral, parents/guardians can contact the Act 53 Program staff at the phone numbers listed below. They can also download and complete the Referral Form and email it to act53@hsao.org. The Act 52 Program staff will contact the parent or guardian to determine next steps.


Question: What happens once the process is initiated?

Answer: If the child agrees to the services and is willing to comply with any recommendations before the petition is filed, the parent or guardian can choose not to file the petition, but the Act 53 coordinator will follow up to ensure that the child follows through with the agreed treatment.


Question: What happens if the child does not agree to treatment?

Answer: If the petition is filed and the hearing granted, the parent/guardian and the child must attend the scheduled hearing. At the hearing, the judge will hear the recommendation of the Act 53 coordinator and the level of care recommended and if the judge determines that the child is dependent on drugs or alcohol treatment, the treatment may include outpatient counseling or inpatient treatment services.


Question: What happens if the judge decides the child is committed to the program?

Answer: If the child is committed, the child will be required to participate in the level of care determined by the judge.


Question: What happens after the child is committed?

Answer: Once the child is committed to Act 53 Program, review hearings will be scheduled approximately every 45 days to check on the progress. If the child is successfully following and completing the program, the parent/guardian can ask the judge to close the case.


If the judge does not close the case, the reviews will be scheduled until satisfactory progress is made.

Question: What are the costs involved in presentation and participation?

Answer: The parent/legal guardian may be financially responsible for finding funding for the child’s treatment. If you believe you may qualify for financial assistance, complete a “Petition for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis” and “In Forma Pauperis Verification Statement” and take them to court. A determination will be made as to your financial liability in this matter. The Act 53 staff can provide you with the forms.


Question: What help can I expect from the Act 53 coordinator?

Answer: During participation in the program, the Act 53 coordinator will provide support to the child and the family and continue to follow the case. The Act 53 coordinator will receive regular updates from the treatment provider so that compliance and progress can be checked. These updates will be provided to the judge at the review hearings.


Question: I need to make a referral to the ACT 53 Program. Is the Program open during the judicial emergency?

Answer: Yes. Currently, the ACT 53 Program is open and accepting referrals.


Question: How can I make a referral to the Act 53 Program?

Answer: You can contact Act 53 Program staff at 412-301-8232 or 412-350-3952. You can also download and complete the following Referral Form and email the form to Act53@hsao.org.


Question: What happens after I make a referral?

Answer: Act 53 Program staff will contact you within 24 hours.


Question: Are Act 53 hearings still taking place?

Answer: Yes. These hearings are currently taking place through video conferencing and teleconferencing.


For additional information about the program, click here.

To download a Referral Form, click here.

Mental Health Hearings
If a child or adolescent is determined to be both severely mentally disabled and presents danger to himself or others, he/she may be subject to involuntary emergency treatment under the Mental Health Procedures Act.

If a child has been hospitalized and is in need of extended involuntary emergency treatment AND is currently under the supervision of a Juvenile Court judge, a petition under Sec. 303 of the Mental Health Procedures Act will be filed in Juvenile Court. Under the Judges' direction, this petition allows for a mental health commitment for up to 20 days.

A petition filed under Sec. 304 of the Mental Health Procedures Act allows for a mental health commitment for up to 90 days. Because the possible length of commitment is 90 days, all 304 petitions are filed in Juvenile Court. Similarly, petitions filed under Sec. 305 which allow for a commitment of up to 180 days are also held in Juvenile Court.

To facilitate these juvenile court hearings, a mental health professional from the County Office of Behavioral Health is available to coordinate the commitment hearings, communicate with consumers and family members, as well as hospital staff.