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Surge in Child Baker Acts Prompts Watchdog to Call for Greater Protection of Children

by | Nov 19, 2019

The mental health law in Florida, commonly called a Baker Act, allows for a person of any age to be taken into custody and transported to a psychiatric facility for examination. During 2018 there were over 200,000 Baker Acts with more than 36,000 of them initiated on children. Some of these children are very young, including those between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. [1]

According to the Baker Act Reporting Center, involuntary examinations more than doubled in the past 17 years prompting the Florida chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) to call for amendments to existing state law to protect children from abuse. CCHR is concerned over the large number of individuals being sent annually for involuntary psychiatric examinations in light of the fact that it is known that a percentage of these Baker Acts are illegal due to a failure to meet the criteria for taking a person into custody.

In order to take a person into custody under a Baker Act there are three criteria that must be legally met yet it is common knowledge that this is not always done and it was disclosed during a meeting of the Baker Act Task Force in 2017 that 30 percent of the Baker Acts initiated on children in Pinellas County did not meet the criteria. This alarming fact is one reason CCHR believes the Baker Act needs to be reformed so that parents and guardians are brought into the process before a child is put through the trauma of a Baker Act in an effort to reduce illegal Baker Acting of minors. [2]

In the example of minors, parents and legal guardians are being left out of the process only finding out that their child has been Baker Acted after initiation and usually after the child has been transported by law enforcement to a psychiatric facility. CCHR believes that this is a rights violation, a belief that is shared by Sheriffs, Police Chiefs and even School Districts across Florida.

“The involuntary psychiatric examination of children is a gross violation of human and parental rights,” stated Diane Stein, President CCHR Florida.
Over the past several years, CCHR has worked to educate those granted the power to initiate a Baker Act on a child on why a parent or guardian should be brought into the process before initiation resulting in county and city level policy changes that requires parents to be contacted prior to initiating a Baker Act.
However, greater protection of children is needed according to CCHR who is calling for lawmakers to change how the mental health law is applied to children and teens to help prevent unjust involuntary psychiatric examinations.

Those interested in learning more about CCHR’s campaign to protect children from abusive Baker Acting are encouraged to call 800-782-2878.

Sources:
[1] Baker Act Reporting Center https://www.usf.edu/cbcs/baker-act/documents/ba_usf_annual_report_2017_2018.pdf
[2] CHILDREN’S BAKER ACT TASK FORCE, MINUTES for FIRST MEETING 7.20.17 http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/samh/mentalhealth/task-force-examination-minors/docs/20170720/20170720-minutes.pdf

1 Comment

  1. Tj Petri

    There are so very many problems with this critical and evaluation. Let me give just one example personally lived with experienced while I lived in a group home for 5 years with 6 teens at a time.
    One girl who was about 15 when she began her ” routine” was a girl who never in her history had made any ideations any threats of self-harm or hurting anybody else that was document at all. However only about six months after moving in to our home with five other girls it became apparent that she became depressed. However her depression with usually prevent around 2 or 3 in the morning in the form of cutting her wrist. The first five or six times just happened it was about twice a week for three weeks I took her to the ER as was Protocols of time for an evaluation. Each time she was released found to not be suicidal or homicidal. She was extremely intelligent and after we get to know each other I just asked her if there’s anything I could do to help her get through the night better or she could readers it anything and she just thought about it and she didn’t say much. Occurred to me about a week later that she came from a place where she was the only child and now she was one of six teenagers vying for the attention of two adults. I knew it was a long shot but I tried a new strategy and decided that if in fact she was doing this just to spend three hours alone with a staff member which is would happen every time we had to go to the hospital and back I was going to offer daytime trip to the store after school after homework by yourself without saying anything about her nighttime episode and see if that attention replaced the night time efforts. Within a month we had scheduled three Monday Wednesday and Friday trips to the Publix together with either another girl or another staff and she had basically full attention of two staff members for a couple hours and we never saw that behavior for her from her again. And that particular case it was a simple case of a child needing attention but not knowing how to verbalize that in a positive way or demonstrate her need in a positive way she had been taught this is the way I get attention. It’s not always that easy and there’s a there’s many scenarios in a much different but that just goes to show one example how many foster kids are how many kids have learned well negative attention is better than no attention and that is so true and families it’s so true and foster parent is so true in every home to something to keep in mind when people parents are foster parents when kids act out and out of the ordinary you might want to spend some positive time with them with no conditions and see if that acting up those away before you go any further.

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