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CCHR Calls Involuntary Psychiatric Examination of Children in Florida a Human Rights Abuse

by | Feb 18, 2020

Over the past two weeks there has been a viral reporting of the tragic involuntary psychiatric examination of a 6-year-old girl in Jacksonville, Florida. Called a Baker Act, involuntary psychiatric examination is part of the Florida mental health law and it applies to anyone no matter their age. This media storm has focused the attention of the entire country on Florida and the fact that the current mental health law is being abused and used inappropriately.

According to the Florida chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a watchdog organization that investigates and exposes abuse in the mental health industry, the Baker Acting of this child is a human rights abuse and could have been avoided by simply calling the mother and giving her an opportunity to help her child. As quoted on CBS This Morning, Martina Falk wants to know why her daughter was Baker Acted instead of being given the love and attention she needed. [1]

“The law as it is currently written allows for family or friends to help a person in crisis, including a child, yet parents are not being contacted prior to a Baker Act,” said Diane Stein, President CCHR Florida. “This is why the law needs to be amended to clearly state the role a parent, guardian or caregiver should have in the process.”

That the Baker Acting of children is a major situation is known and has been known for decades which is why legislation has been filed year after year to amend the law to bring the parents into the process before a child has been taken into custody. This is also why a task force was created in 2017 and why over a 15 years ago the Florida Senate published an Interim Project Report clarifying the Baker Act requirements as they relate to children. [2] The project in 2005 was created due to concern of how the Baker Act was being applied to children and the perception that the involuntary examination procedures were being used inappropriately for minors. At that time a main concern was that children were being held in receiving facilities for extended periods of time without sufficient exploration of less intrusive alternatives. It took another 12 years before the mental health act was amended to ensure that receiving facilities expedite the examination of children when during the 2017 legislative session the examination period for minors was reduced from 72 hours to 12 hours. Tragically, during those 12 years over 295,000 children were sent for involuntary examination – many without parental knowledge of the initiation.

Currently there is an involuntary examination of a child every 15 minutes of every day and it is known that a significant percentage of these children do not meet the criteria. This was made clear during the 2017 Task Force when it was made known that an estimated 30% of the children being Baker Acted in Pinellas County did not meet the criteria. [3]

Once a child is Baker Acted, they are at risk of being forcibly treated with psychiatric drugs. This is done through what is called an emergency treatment order. In watching the body cam footage of the little girl in Jacksonville, who was so calm and polite while being transported to the psychiatric ward, Diane Stein said that the question must be asked “why was she injected with psychiatric drugs?” and “what could a 6-year-old child do that would warrant this and why was the mother kept out of the decision to give this child whatever she was injected with?”

While the overall issue of children in crisis is complicated, the simple fact remains that if parents were being brought into the process before the initiation of a Baker Act a large percentage of these situations would be resolved. The vast majority of parents in Florida are good willing people who would do anything to help their child but the fundamental right they have to decide what is in the best interest of their child is being taken away from them.

Sources:

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-baker-act-6-year-old-girl-sent-to-mental-health-facility-by-school/

[2] http://archive.flsenate.gov/data/Publications/2006/Senate/reports/interim_reports/pdf/2006-103cf.pdf

[3] https://myflfamilies.com/service-programs/samh/involuntary-examination-minors/docs/20170720/20170720-minutes.pdf

1 Comment

  1. Alan Graham

    If parents were consulted before their children were locked up, these psychiatric facilities would have far fewer patients. They can’t allow that.

    Reply

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