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Baker Act Abuse

by | Dec 1, 2020

The fundamental right of a parent to help their child is being ignored despite the fact that there is an existing provision for the parent to be given an opportunity to help their child as part of the Baker Act law.

Florida’s Baker Act in the News

The Baker Acting of children in Florida is not “new” news.
In fact, the abusive use of this law has been making headlines for years.
Some of these stories go viral and reach national and international audiences.
Below are 28 examples of such stories just since 2018.

“The parent is not called,” Siegel says. “If you look at the Baker Act statute, there’s a provision in there where you’re supposed to see if family intervention is a possibility.”

— Ann Siegel, an attorney with Disability Rights Florida

A 6-year-old was held without parental consent under a law that allows
for involuntary examination of minors

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN

WSVN 7News Miami
Body cam video shows Fort Lauderdale Police officer’s use of force involving ‘intellectually disabled’ 10-year-old student
Posted: July 3, 2020
By: Kevin Ozebek | Daniel Cohen
A Fort Lauderdale Police officer was charged with battery this week, a month after being caught on camera pushing a protester, and while his past cases are suddenly under the microscope, one incident from an elementary school has not gotten attention until now. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek investigates. On May 31, Officer Steven Pohorence shoved a kneeling woman during a Black Lives Matter protest. Since then, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has looked into the numerous times Officer Pohorence has used force. According to a police report obtained by 7News, Officer Pohorence was working an off-duty detail last October at Bennett Elementary School. In the video, Pohorence is trying to bring the 10-year-old girl back inside the building. During the incident Steven Pohorence says, “Listen to me, if you pinch my hand and dig your nails into me, I’m going to one, break your wrist, and then, you’re going in handcuffs.” The child was handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric facility.
https://wsvn.com/news/investigations/body-cam-video-shows-fort-lauderdale-police-officers-use-of-force-involving-intellectually-disabled-10-year-old-student/

Reason
Florida’s Schools Have Become a High-Stakes Experiment in Classroom Policing
Posted: 6.8.2020 8:31 AM
By: C.J. CIARAMELLA
“We noticed that we’re getting a lot more calls from families of children who’ve been Baker Acted at school,” says Ann Siegel, an attorney with Disability Rights Florida. Siegel and other advocates also say that, crucially, parents aren’t being given the opportunity to intervene before their children are removed from school. “The parent is not called,” Siegel says. “If you look at the Baker Act statute, there’s a provision in there where you’re supposed to see if family intervention is a possibility.”
https://reason.com/2020/06/08/floridas-school-resource-officers-police-reform-protests/

WFTS ABC Action News
Clearwater mother wants answers after she says school resource officer handcuffed her 7-year-old son
Posted: 2:47 PM, Mar 05, 2020 and last updated 6:53 PM, Mar 06, 2020
By: Isabel Rosales
Harmon insists it never should have gotten to this point and believes a child as young as hers shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place. She believes his behavior did not warrant a Baker Act. “To handcuff him and put him in the backseat — not only did you handcuff him but you did it so tightly that it left marks on his hands and he’s seven. What’s he going to do? He’s seven and in the backseat,” said Harmon.
https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-pinellas/clearwater-mother-wants-answers-after-she-says-school-resource-officer-handcuffed-her-7-year-old-son

CBS 12 News
11-year-old with Autism transported under Baker Act at local middle school
Posted: Tuesday, February 25th 2020
By: Lexi Nahl, WPEC Staff
A local family is speaking out after they say a School District Police Officer unfairly invoked the Baker Act and took their child away from school in handcuffs. Leander and Ayme rushed to JFK medical center where they say Erik was stripped naked and evaluated. And though the visit only lasted a few short minutes, Leander says that the entire experience still haunts him today. “He’s traumatized, he’s withdrawn, he’s always under his hoodie, having nightmares,” Leander said.
https://cbs12.com/news/local/11-year-old-with-autism-committed-under-baker-act-at-local-middle-school

CBS This Morning
6-year-old Florida girl “traumatized” after being involuntarily sent to mental health facility
Posted: February 13, 2020, 9:34 AM
By: Manuel Bojorquez, Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil
“I absolutely think that the Baker Act is being overused,” said state lawmaker Jennifer Webb.
Webb’s bill to reform the nearly 50-year-old law is being debated at the state House. It would require better training for school officials and resource officers and establish more consistent rules on exactly when a parent should be notified that their child might be committed.
“It should only be used as a last resort, and Baker Acting 6-year-olds just seems excessive to me,” she said.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-baker-act-6-year-old-girl-sent-to-mental-health-facility-by-school/

Florida Times Union
Mother wants answers after she says 6-year-old in Duval school ordered to mental health facility
Posted: Feb 10, 2020 at 12:15 PM
By: Emily Bloch
“As a mother I feel helpless,” she said. “I don’t see the benefit of the Baker Act. It’s not helping [children]. Locking them away, just to get rid of them.” “When I went to see her, she was so drugged up she couldn’t even recognize me. She didn’t know who I was. She had on a diaper. My daughter is fully potty trained,” Falk said. “She kept saying ‘Mommy, I want to go home.’ The hospital said she was so uncontrollable — of course, she’s 6 years old.”
https://www.jacksonville.com/news/20200210/mother-wants-answers-after-she-says-6-year-old-in-duval-school-ordered-to-mental-health-facility

CBS 47 & Fox 30 Action News Jax
Jacksonville mom upset over her 6-year-old being taken to mental facility
Updated: February 6, 2020 – 8:15 PM
By: Jamarlo Phillips, Action News Jax
“Honestly, I just want to let the school systems know that this is not OK. If you have a child with any type of disability, they deserve an education. They don’t deserve to be hauled away like an animal,” said Nadia’s mother, Martina Falk. Nadia’s mother didn’t see her daughter until Thursday afternoon when she was allowed to pick her up from River Point Behavioral Health on Beach Boulevard. “That’s not a place for children. It’s a place for no one,” Falk said.
https://www.actionnewsjax.com/news/local/jacksonville-mom-special-needs-child-put-handcuffs-taken-mental-facility/KKBSVFTZEREALNSVWJMPI5VB7E/

Tampa Bay Times
Florida’s flawed Baker Act rips thousands of kids from school
A cop car comes. A child is handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility. The scene is all too frequent at public schools across the state.
Published: Dec. 10, 2019
Updated: Dec. 11, 2019
By: Megan Reeves and Jack Evans
A Tampa Bay Times investigation points to glaring weaknesses in the system — from a lack of parental consent, to students being wrongly committed, to facilities that put students in harm’s way.
https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2019/12/10/floridas-flawed-baker-act-rips-thousands-of-kids-from-school/

Tampa Bay Times
The Baker Act set out to improve care. Now it’s ensnaring more children.
Published: Dec. 10, 2019
Updated: Dec. 10, 2019
By: Leonora LaPeter Anton, Megan Reeves and Jack Evans
When the Baker Act went into effect in 1972, it was hailed as Florida’s first bill of rights for people with mental illness. Fast-forward to 2017, when the Legislature passed a bill stipulating that hospitals could continue to take up to three days to examine adults, while children had to be seen within 12 hours. Left unchanged were provisions that largely treat children and adults the same when someone is taken into custody. However, the new law created a task force to find the “root causes” of increasing use of the Baker Act on children.
https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2019/12/10/the-baker-act-set-out-to-improve-care-now-its-ensnaring-more-children/

Tampa Bay Times
An autistic child melts down. An officer makes a decision. A family suffers the consequences.
A mental health law is being used more frequently across Florida on children who are not mentally ill.
Published: Dec. 8, 2019
Updated: Jan. 8
By: Leonora LaPeter Anton and John Pendygraft
Florida’s Baker Act directs police officers and some mental health professionals to hospitalize the mentally ill, but it was never intended to be used on children with autism or children who act out in class. The 48-year-old law even says those with developmental disabilities should not be committed unless they’re also mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others.
But more and more kids who do not meet the criteria are being taken from schools to crisis centers for up to 72 hours and more.
https://www.tampabay.com/special-reports/2019/12/08/an-autistic-child-melts-down-an-officer-makes-a-decision-a-family-suffers-the-consequences/

News-Press – USA Today Network
Florida kids are getting sent to psychiatric units under the Baker Act in record numbers
Posted: Aug 21, 2019
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
By: Frank Gluck
“They want to use (the) Baker Act for any behavioral problem — anything that they don’t like,” Hilary Caskey said. “If you have any kind of outburst, if you have any kind of emotion whatsoever and you are not just an order-following automaton, they will Baker Act you.”
https://www.news-press.com/in-depth/news/2019/08/21/florida-children-baker-act-record-numbers-mental-health/3247904002/

ABC Action News Tampa
Baker Acted kids is still on the rise, especially among younger children new state data shows
Posted: 9:25 AM, Aug 05, 2019
Updated: 11:38 PM, Aug 05, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
More than 36,000 kids under the age of 18 were sent for involuntary psychiatric evaluations under the state’s Baker Act law, according to the newly released data. The numbers represent a 10% increase from one year prior, despite a less than one percent population growth among minors during the same time.
https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local-news/i-team-investigates/baker-acted-kids-in-florida-still-on-the-rise-especially-among-younger-children-new-state-data-shows

The Boca Raton Tribune
Florida Sees Significant Increase in Baker Acted Children
Published: August 3, 2019
By: Christina Hristofordis
Many state officials acknowledge that this number is alarmingly high and something needs to be done to alleviate the issues these young children are facing. Florida Sen. Gayle Harrell, a Republican Senator who represent parts of the Treasure Coast states, “Moving forward, I would anticipate that there may be further legislation around this topic, but it has to be carefully constructed so the child’s best interest is always first.”
http://www.bocaratontribune.com/bocaratonnews/2019/08/significant-increase-florida-baker-acted-children/

NBC 5 WPTV
Baker Acted kids is still on the rise, especially among younger children new state data shows
Posted: 7:12 PM, Aug 02, 2019
Updated: 8:02 PM, Aug 02, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
According to the state report, more than 14-thousand minors Baker Acted during fiscal year 2017/2018 were children 13 and younger, a 17% increase in younger children from a year earlier. “I think those numbers are the scariest numbers of all,” said April Lott, Chief Executive Officer of Directions for Living, a Pinellas County non-profit that works with families in crisis. Lott believes the Baker Act is being overused in Florida.
https://www.wptv.com/news/local-news/investigations/baker-acted-kids-still-on-the-rise-especially-among-younger-children-new-state-data-shows

ABC 27 WXTL Tallahassee
Baker Acted kids is still on the rise, especially among younger children new state data shows
Posted: 10:36 AM, Jul 26, 2019
Updated: 10:36 AM, Jul 26, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
Her son is 8 years old, was a on an IEP plan or education plan for kids with special needs, and the Baker Act, mom believes, wasn’t necessary. When asked how the school should have handled her son’s behavior, mom replied “I think they should have called me.” The young boy’s mother also works for the school district with special needs children.
https://www.wtxl.com/features/insiders/baker-acted-kids-is-still-on-the-rise-especially-among-younger-children-new-state-data-shows

FOX 4 Now WFTX
Baker Acted kids is still on the rise, especially among younger children new state data shows
Posted: 9:10 AM, Jul 24, 2019
Updated: 11:37 AM, Jul 24, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
“I felt like it was a form of punishment. My child does have ADD, ADHD and anxiety disorder,” she explained. According to a sheriff’s report, her son was depressed and “pulled strips of paper around his neck and placed his hands on his neck.” When questioned by his teacher, the boy reportedly said he was “attempting to choke himself.”
https://www.fox4now.com/news/4-in-your-corner/baker-acted-kids-is-still-on-the-rise-especially-among-younger-children-new-state-data-shows

Spectrum News 13
Watchdog: Number of Florida Kids Held Under Baker Act on the Rise
PUBLISHED May. 29, 2019
UPDATED 2:51 PM ET Jun. 02, 2019
By Stephanie Coueignoux
Labeled a threat and held at a mental health facility against your will — a Spectrum News 13 Watchdog investigation has found this situation happening to thousands of children every year in Florida, including many who are younger than 10.
https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2019/05/29/watchdog–amount-of-kids-in-florida-being-baker-acted-skyrocketing

ABC Action News Tampa Bay
FL schools aren’t mandated to have Baker Act policies; parents still left in the dark, critics say
Posted: 8:51 AM, Jan 25, 2019
Updated: 9:57 AM, Jan 25, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
An Orlando father who we’re not identifying by name to protect his child, said the school did not contact him last year before police Baker Acted his 10-year-old son after the boy said he wanted to hurt himself. “All of this is happening without us being given the opportunity to go first to the school and speak to our kid or just get him out of school,” he told us.
https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local-news/i-team-investigates/fl-schools-arent-mandated-to-have-baker-act-policies-parents-still-left-in-the-dark-critics-say

FOX 4 NOW WFTX
FL schools aren’t mandated to have Baker Act policies; parents still left in the dark, critics say
Posted: 10:32 AM, Jan 25, 2019
Updated: 10:39 AM, Jan 25, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
“To not know that’s happening and to be told after the fact is frankly not the way to go,” he said. Representative Donalds is now considering legislation to make sure parents are contacted before their child is Baker Acted.
https://www.fox4now.com/news/4-in-your-corner/fl-schools-arent-mandated-to-have-baker-act-policies-parents-still-left-in-the-dark-critics-say

NBC 5 WPTV
FL schools aren’t mandated to have Baker Act policies; parents still left in the dark, critics say
Posted: 10:47 AM, Jan 22, 2019
Updated: 10:49 AM, Feb 1, 2019
By: Katie LaGrone
We found many school districts fail to track how many of their students have been Baker Acted and many lack independent policies on how to handle these cases including policies to contact parents before a Baker Act is initiated at school.
https://www.wptv.com/local-news/investigations/fl-schools-arent-mandated-to-have-baker-act-policies-parents-still-left-in-the-dark-critics-say

CBS News 6 WKMG
Orlando-area schools increase in Baker Acts on students after Parkland shooting
Posted: 11:01PM, Nov 5, 2018
Updated: 11:01PM, Nov 5, 2018
By: Adrianna Iwasinski
Earlier this year, 11-year-old Alondra Centeno, who has autism, was taken out of school and forced to undergo a mental health evaluation. Because it was done under Florida’s Baker Act, it was done without her or her parent’s consent. “Being separated from my mom really scared me,” Centeno said. “I had two nights where I just cried myself to sleep.”  Centeno’s mother, Windy Castro, also called the situation devastating.
https://www.clickorlando.com/news/2018/11/06/orlando-area-schools-see-increase-in-baker-acts-on-students-after-parkland-shooting/

The St. Augustine Record
BAKER ACT: How authorities walk an often thin line between caution and harm with minors
Posted Sep 23, 2018 at 7:11 AM
Updated Sep 23, 2018 at 7:11 AM
By Colleen Jones
A 7-year-old girl angry about being put in a time out tells a classmate she wishes her teacher would “drink hand sanitizer.” The classmate reports what he believes he heard to the teacher. What should the response be? A visit to the principal’s office? A conversation with a guidance counselor? A call home to parents? In this case, the comment led to a young girl in Melbourne, with no previous record of significant misbehavior, being led away in handcuffs, placed in the back of a police car and transported to a psychiatric facility.
https://www.staugustine.com/news/20180923/baker-act-how-authorities-walk-often-thin-line-between-caution-and-harm-with-minors

First Coast ABC News
Student placed under Baker Act after graphic drawings; mother outraged
Published: August 20, 2018
Updated: 7:11 PM EDT August 20, 2018
Author: Kenneth Amaro
An eighth-grader was taken from her Nassau County middle school last week in the back of a deputy’s car to a mental health facility. “I was in shock,” said Lisa, the student’s mother, “I didn’t find out until she was already off campus.” Lisa said she was never notified beforehand and that is wrong and troubling.
https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/local/student-placed-under-baker-act-after-graphic-drawings-mother-outraged/77-585919129

FOX 4 Now WFTX
Children in Crisis, Florida’s Baker Acted kids – Surge in Baker Act exams for children under 10
Posted: 11:31 PM, Feb 26, 2018
By: Katie LaGrone
“I got to see them carry my handcuffed child into a facility,” said a teary-eyed Sandy Liebl who spoke with ABC Action News after her 10-year-old autistic son was taken to a mental health facility from his school in January.
https://www.fox4now.com/longform/children-in-crisis-floridas-baker-acted-kids

ABC Action News WFTS
Children in Crisis, Florida’s Baker Acted kids – Surge in Baker Act exams for children under 10
Posted: 11:31 PM, Feb 26, 2018
By: Katie LaGrone
But first, Kathy Lovejoy wants to see the law change from requiring schools contact parents after a Baker Act is initiated to before. “Allow me to de-escalate him.  I’m the parent, I’m the one who knows him best,” she said.
https://www.abcactionnews.com/longform/children-in-crisis-floridas-baker-acted-kids

NBC 5 WPTV
Children in Crisis, Florida’s Baker Acted kids – Surge in Baker Act exams for children under 10
Posted: 11:31 PM, Feb 26, 2018
By: Katie LaGrone
“It’s very traumatizing,” said Kathy Lovejoy.  Since August, Lovejoy said her grandson was taken from school, handcuffed and transported to a mental health facility two times. In both cases, she said, doctors determined her grandson did not meet the criteria for the Baker Act.
https://www.wptv.com/longform/children-in-crisis-floridas-baker-acted-kids

The Miami Herald
Handcuffs and a psych exam for a 7-year-old? Schools do that too often, parents say.
FEBRUARY 02, 2018 06:00 AM
UPDATED FEBRUARY 03, 2018 01:33 AM
By: KYRA GURNEY
A 7-year-old at Miami’s Coral Way K-8 Center was handcuffed, put in the back of a police car and taken to a hospital for an involuntary psychiatric exam after he hit and kicked a teacher during lunch.
https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article197958454.html

CBS 12 WPEC
State report examines sharp rise in Baker Act cases
Monday, December 18th 2017
By: Andrea Marvin
The number of children taken into protective custody for mental health examinations without their parent’s knowledge is surging across the state, nearly doubling over a five-year period.
Critics says the law is being abused.
https://cbs12.com/news/local/state-report-examines-sharp-rise-in-baker-act-cases

The Baker Act and how it is applied to children needs to be amended.

  • Parents should be contacted before a Baker Act and given an opportunity to help their child as is their right.
  • Facilities need to be held accountable for Baker Act abuse instead of being given a slap on the hand.
  • Schools and Law Enforcement should have uniform policies on the initiation of a Baker Act involving a child.
  • Children should not be screened, assessed, observed or in any way evaluated without the parent being given the opportunity to refuse as is their right.

Sign the petition to protect children from Baker Act abuse – Click Here to Sign!

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