Reforming the Baker Act Law
Imagine standing in a classroom, and a child is charging at you with a pencil. Your mind is racing, and you fear that this child is a danger to themselves and their peers. With no avail, all resources have been exhausted to de-escalate the crisis. What is the next move? In the state of Florida, the Baker Act Law is used daily in the school system to detained children in crisis.
The Baker Act Law is a law that allows appointed people, such as law enforcement, mental health professionals, the court to provide mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of possible mental illness. The Baker Act Law is named after Florida Rep. Maxine Baker. It was established as part of the Florida Mental Health Act. The Act restored rights to persons with mental issues by releasing those that were not a danger to themselves or others. There are three requirements to meet the Baker Act criteria. The requirements include, a person must be mentally ill or believe to be mentally ill, a person must also refuse a voluntary mental health evaluation, and a person must be a threat to themselves or others. (portstluciehospitalinc.com) In Florida, about 100 children are involuntarily committed for psychiatric exams under the state’s Baker Act Law. The law needs to be reformed to include children because it can possibly detect early signs of mental illness, prevent school shootings, and give teachers another line of defense.
The first reason the law should be reformed to include children because it can possibly detect early signs of mental illness. The Baker Act Law currently allows children to access outpatient testing and observation as well as outpatient crisis intervention, therapy, and counseling services without parental consent. This has caused major controversy. The law should be reformed to include not to require parental consent for children to receive these services. Parents can be bias when a vital decision needs to be made concerning their child. The purpose of the Baker Act is to evaluate a person’s mental health. If a child is Baker Acted, after all other attempts have been made to de-escalate a crisis, then this could possibly help the child get the proper mental health and medical attention needed to prevent another crisis. Baker Acting children could allow parents and educators aware of mental illness in children.
The second reason the Baker Act Law needs to be reformed to include children, is because it can possibly prevent school shootings. A student at Charlotte High in Punta Gorda was Baker Acted after a verbal altercation with another student. The student wrote threatening messages on the bathroom wall, and after being observed by the resource officer and school psychologist concluded that the student was suicidal and possibly wanted to kill other students. He was detained for 24 hours under the Baker Act Law. According to District Spokesman Michael Riley, children receive Baker Act referrals at school to “protect the child from doing harm to themselves or others.” (news-press.com) In this case, Baker Acting this student possibly saved the lives of student, faculty, and staff. According to the Dept. of Sociology, a study found that severe mental illness is the main cause of school shootings. (digitalworks.union.edu) Reforming the Baker Act Law could save our society from another school massacre.
The third reason the Baker Act Law needs to include children, because teachers need another line of defense. In Feb.2021, a student began to have an erratic tantrum, and she became a threat to herself and others. Her teacher called for help from the school officials and the six- year-old child was Baker Acted. (wuft.org) This caused major scrutiny amongst school officials and the child’s mother. The teacher had exhausted all resources to console the child. She used the only other line of defense she had to protect the well-being of the other students in her class. The child’s actions could have caused harm to herself or others. Allowing a teacher with proper training to be able to be make the decision to Baker Act could help save a child, children, and staff from harm. Teachers need another safe haven when it comes to children being violent towards themselves and others.
According to the Professional Staff of the Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, students face social stressors, such as, parental substance abuse, poverty, economic insecurity, mass shootings, cyberbullying, and Covid-19. (wuft.org) Children are overwhelmed with stressors and triggers. Although children are facing these stressors, it may cause them to act out, but others need to be protected. In a case where all resources have been used to de-escalate a crisis with a child, the Baker Act Law could save a child future turmoil. If mental illness can be detected and determined, Baker Acting children that need the services could benefit the child and others. Reforming the law to specify children would be beneficial. This law is under scrutiny because of the requirements. As of now when a child is Baker Acted their rights are being violated. They are minors and they cannot consent a mental health evaluation or understand the process. As mentioned earlier, a person must meet all three requirements to be rightfully Baker Acted. The law needs to be reform to protect children and all others involved.
In conclusion the Baker Act Law needs to be reformed to help children and parents detect early signs of mental illness. Detecting mental illness in a child, could allow that child to live a vibrant life with proper treatment. The stressors that children face could trigger emotions that they are not capable of comprehension. Detecting mental illness, preventing school shootings, and giving teachers another line of defense could save lives by reforming the Baker Act Law. The law should specify children to protect themselves and others. The safety of children is vital, especially in the school system. The Baker Act Law should be viewed as a defender and not an oppressor.
Lighty, Lyric. “A New Bill Could Change The Way Florida Handles Children’s Mental Health.” WUFT News, 10 Mar. 2021, www.wuft.org/news/2021/03/10/a-new-bill-could-change-the-way-florida-handles-childrens-mental-healt.
Kaufman, Emily. An Examination of School Shootings … – Union | Digital Works. digitalworks.union.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1648&context=theses.
Hatter, Lynn. Committed: Improving Florida’s Baker Act For Children A Challenge. 2020, wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/health-news-florida/2020-12-18/committed-improving-floridas-baker-act-for-children-a-challenge.
“Minors.” Department of Children and Families, www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/samh/crisis-services/laws.
“What Is the Baker Act in Florida?” Port St. Lucie Hospital, 2020, www.portstluciehospitalinc.com/what-is-the-baker-act-in-florida/.
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