The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a non-profit mental health watchdog dedicated to the eradication of abuses committed under the guise of mental health, has reached over 90,000 families in a campaign to prevent abuse of the Baker Act by educating families on their rights and exposing unnecessary involuntary commitment of minors in Florida.
The mental health law in Florida, commonly known as the Baker Act, allows children to be sent for involuntary psychiatric examination without parental knowledge or consent. This is supposed to happen if it is believed the child has a mental illness and could be a serious threat to themselves or others.
In practice the decision whether particular child is Baker Acted is arbitrary and influenced by the opinions and beliefs of those making the judgment 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.
Examples of young children being Baker Acted unjustly are far too common. For example, one 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.
In another instance, a fourth-grader was committed right off the school bus while on his way home. His mother 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. After release the boy recounted how he met a girl who cut patterns into her skin with a knife, a boy addicted to pills, a boy wearing a prison jumpsuit, 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.
“We consistently receive calls from parents whose children were Baker Acted off of school grounds without their permission or knowledge,” said Diane Stein, President of CCHR Florida. “Some of these children are as young as 5 years old and do not meet the criteria for involuntary commitment. This is a gross violation of the rights of the child and of parental rights.”
In 2014 the Flagler County 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.”
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.”
Taking action to stop this abuse, CCHR is educating families on their rights under the Baker Act and has mailed over 90,000 postcards to households with children in the Tampa Bay area after launching a new website designed to educate parents and allowing them to download a non-consent form, report abuse and encouraging them to sign a petition to stop the involuntary commitment of children in Florida.
“Our goal is to first reduce the number of unjust involuntary commitments of children and then change the law so that parental rights are restored and the Baker Act is no longer used as a disciplinary tool in our school systems,” said Diane Stein.
Initially established by the Church of Scientology and renowned psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz in 1969, CCHR’s mission is to eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protections. It was L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, who brought the terror of psychiatric imprisonment to the notice of the world. In March 1969, he said, “Thousands and thousands are seized without process of law, every week, over the ‘free world’ tortured, castrated, killed. All in the name of ‘mental health.’” Free help and consultation is available by calling 800-782-2878.
Release ID: 124348