Baker Acting of Minors
The Baker Act is the mental health law or the state of Florida an currently allows children to be involuntarily committed right out of their classroom at school and sent for psychiatric evaluation. This can happen if it is believed the child has a mental illness and could be a potential harm to themselves or others.
In practice the decision whether to Baker Act a particular child is somewhat arbitrary and is influenced by the opinions and beliefs of those making the judgement calls at Florida schools.
A few years ago in the Palm Beach School district the police took students straight from school and drove them in squad cars to mental health examination facilities 256 times – an average of more than one child for every day of the school year.
Here are some examples of young children who were Baker Acted:
  • A mother arrived at school to find her kindergartner huddled under a table in the school office scared to death and screaming. The mom had never seen her daughter behave like this before. Police tried to handcuff the girl whose tiny wrists were too slim for the cuffs. At the hospital she was labeled with bipolar disorder, ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder and following her drug treatment for these “disorders” got Baker Acted again from school.
  • A fourth-grader was committed right off the school bus while on his way home. His mom said that what her son told her happened on the bus and what the bus cameras showed was different than what the school police told her. She had to leave her son at the psychiatric hospital crying and begging for her to stay with him. The boy had never slept away from home before. After release the boy told about his hospital stay where he met a girl who cut patterns into her skin with a knife, a boy addicted to pills, and a boy wearing a prison jumpsuit. And he spent his first night away from his home with a roommate who punched him in the face. The boy also recalls sitting handcuffed in the hot police car while his classmates watched him from the windows of the school bus.

Baker Acting NOT Discipline?

School officials are quick to point out that such treatment under the Baker Act is not discipline.

How could a grade school or kindergartner child not feel he was being disciplined if he was forcibly handcuffed, strapped in a police car and driven away to a psychiatric facility while his peers and teachers watched the car drive away?

In Flagler County, FL in 2014 the school board discussed the rise of Baker Act incidents involving elementary school age kids and attempted to diffuse the anger parents were feeling.

The presentation was made by Katrina Townsend, the district’s director of student services who said, “I have also sat on both sides of the table at Halifax (the psychiatric ward at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach) as the parent of a patient, and as a representative of you, the school board, so I like to think I knew a little bit about it as well. And having gone through the process as a parent, I feel confident in the services that they provide to us.”

Is she biased favorably in terms of Baker Acting kids in her role of as director of student services based on her faith in the psychiatric system into which she Baker Acted her own child

Townsend went onto to say, “A Baker Act is absolutely not a discipline consequence.”

She offered this analogy between Baker Acts and an asthma attack. “Mental health, just like asthma can have a critical issue or an event that requires emergency care and in mental health, that emergency care is often a Baker Act. As with a student with asthma, we would not identify that a student was having a crisis and send them home to sort it out. We would transport them for emergency care. So once I heard that analogy it kind of helped me wrap my head a round it a little bit.”

However, School Board member Colleen Conklin did not buy this idea and sided with the outraged parents.

Conklin stated, “A Baker Acting of a child is traumatically different than what was just described in the analogy of an asthma attack. The reason that you have the media and that you have some become so outraged, if you will, is because it goes against all of our senses, at the thought of a child receiving help by being placed in either handcuffs or put in the back of a patrol car. That is not dealing in the same manner as you do with somebody who has an asthma attack… That to me exacerbates the situation and is more traumatizing to a child.”

There are known alternatives for helping kids that avoid the dangerous mental and physical harm caused by psychiatric drugs.

Parents, school administrators and police in Florida could be educated to learn the truth about the drugs currently given to children and what the workable alternatives are. Then we could end the disgraceful Baker Acting of kids from their Florida classrooms.