Who Speaks for the Child?The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) of Florida, a non-profit mental health watchdog that exposes human rights violations and is dedicated to the protection of children, applauds the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department for taking action following the handcuffing of a 7-year-old Miami boy who was taken from his school, in a police car, to a psychiatric facility under the Baker Act just 11 days ago.

On January 25th, a 7-year-old had a temper tantrum at his school, the Coral Way Bilingual K-8 Center in Miami, after being told to stop playing with his food. In response to his behavior, which included striking a teacher, the school’s administrators called the Miami-Dade police department to come arrest the boy and transport him to a psychiatric facility for involuntary evaluation citing the Baker Act as their process. Devastated, Mercy Alvarez — the boy’s mother — filmed her son being transported in handcuffs using her cell phone’s camera and shared it across social media.

The resultant public outcry prompted Chief Moffett of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department to direct officers to first seek the approval of “a lieutenant or a higher-ranking official before deciding to remove and detain a disruptive student for a psychiatric evaluation at a hospital.” However, Chief Moffett was not the first member of law enforcement to take action to prevent the inappropriate Baker Acting of children in Florida. In September of 2017, Sheriff Jerry L. Demings of Orange County issued a General Order that specifically instructs the deputies in that county to make reasonable efforts to notify a child’s parents before initiating or executing a Baker Act.

“While we applaud Chief Moffett and Sheriff Demings for their actions to protect Florida’s children the only real solution is to amend the law so that parents are brought into the process,” said Diane Stein, President of CCHR Florida. “There is a bill in Tallahassee right now that would make this a reality and it is our hope that our lawmakers see fit to make this change.”

The Baker Acting of children for simple disciplinary problems is an all too common occurrence in Florida. The Baker Act is Florida’s mental health law, named after Maxine Baker — the former State Representative from Miami who sponsored the Act. Its main and original intent was to ensure patient rights and prevent abuse, but tens of thousands of Floridians, including children, are being victimized through inappropriate use of the Baker Act sending people to psychiatric facilities who may not even meet the criteria for involuntary examination. In fact, according to the Annual Report of Baker Act Data, revealed in March of 2017, 32,475 minors were sent for examination during the fiscal year 2015 to 2016.

In fact, on the very same day of the 7-year-old being handcuffed, a 10-year-old boy — just 15 miles away at Gulfstream Elementary in Miami — was begging his teachers not to call the Baker Act number when he became agitated for not wanting to do schoolwork at recess time. Having been nearly Baker Acted just 2 years prior, Kevin knew that “Baker Act” was synonymous with punishment. Thankfully, Kevin’s parents had rushed to the school just in time and effectively prevented him from being hand-cuffed and transported to a psychiatric facility.

Unfortunately, many parents are unaware that their children have been transported to a psychiatric facility until it’s too late for them to intervene. Once at a psychiatric facility the child can be held for up to 72 hours. During this examination period, children can be administered psychiatric medications with side effects including depression, suicidal ideation, heart problems, and violence if an emergency treatment order is issued.

Senate Bill 270, titled, “Involuntary Examination and Involuntary Admission of Minors”, if passed, would amend the Baker Act to “provide that a designated law enforcement agency may decline to transport a minor 14 years of age or younger to a receiving facility for involuntary examination if current law requirements for declining transport are met and the minor’s parent or guardian agrees to transport the minor to the receiving facility; provide specific criteria for taking a minor 14 years of age or younger to a receiving facility for involuntary examination, including consent of the minor’s parent or guardian; change the law so that the involuntary examination of a child must be initiated within 8 hours after the patient’s arrival at the facility and require that a receiving facility release a minor 14 years of age or younger without delay to the minor’s parent or guardian upon request of the parent or guardian.”

Any persons living in Florida who are interested in protecting children from abusive Baker Acting are encouraged to sign this petition to stop the involuntary examination of children without parental knowledge at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/protect-children-from-baker-act.