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Tens of Thousands of Children Detained for Involuntary Psychiatric Examination Annually

by | Jul 29, 2020

The number of children taken into custody for an involuntary psychiatric examination has been steadily increasing in Florida for almost two decades and according to the Florida chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), this steady increase is indicative of the abusive use of the mental health law. Commonly referred to as the Baker Act, the mental health law in Florida allows for anyone, including children, to be detained under an emergency psychiatric hold and per the Baker Act Reporting Center there were more than 200,000 holds in 2018 with over 36,000 involving children. [1]

“For years the media has been covering the fact that children are being handcuffed and taken to psychiatric wards for examination without the parents even knowing what is happening,” stated the president of CCHR in Florida, Diane Stein. “This is a violation of parental rights.”

News coverage of children, some as young as 6 years old, being Baker Acted may be one reason why year after year bills have come before Florida legislators to restore parental rights and protect children from this abuse. These bills attempted to address this situation by requiring parental notification prior to the initiation of a Baker Act but to date none have passed. [2,3,4]

As currently written, the law does allow for a person in crisis to be helped by “willing family members or friends” however, parents are not being brought into the process before a child is taken from school, usually in handcuffs and by law enforcement. Contacting the parents and giving them an opportunity to help their child seems logical yet this common sense approach to reducing the number of unnecessary child Baker Acts is being ignored and left out of legislative solutions. [5]

CCHR, a mental health watchdog organization, believes that the law needs to be amended to specifically state that a parent, legal guardian or caregiver should be notified as a first course of action.

“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,” stated Diane Stein.

A barrier to this change appears to be the mistaken belief that the existing law already covers parental notification, but this notification is only after a Baker Act is initiated and the child must be taken into custody and transported to a psychiatric ward. In other words, under current law, notification is too late for the parents to take any effective action to help their child.

Misconceptions surrounding the Baker Act and uncertainty on parental rights in general, prompted CCHR Florida to launch a campaign to educate families, school districts and law enforcement on these rights. Having reached hundreds of thousands with this campaign, CCHR has pledged to continue fighting for an amendment to the Baker Act and for a Parents Bill of Rights to be created in Florida statutes. For more information on the Baker Act, your rights as a parent or to report abuse please call 800-782-2878 or visit www.cchrflorida.org.

Sources:
[1] The Baker Act, The Florida Mental Health Act Fiscal Year 2017/2018 Annual Report

Click to access ba_usf_annual_report_2017_2018.pdf


[2] 6-year-old Florida girl “traumatized” after being involuntarily sent to mental health facility https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-baker-act-6-year-old-girl-sent-to-mental-health-facility-by-school/
[3] Woman upset after officer Baker Acted 9-year-old son http://www.wftv.com/news/local/woman-upset-after-officer-baker-acted-9-year-old-s/107160305
[4] Florida’s flawed Baker Act rips thousands of kids from school https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2019/12/10/floridas-flawed-baker-act-rips-thousands-of-kids-from-school/
[5] Florida Involuntary Examination Criteria http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0394/0394.html

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