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Committed: How a 6-Year-Old Revealed Florida's Dysfunctional System of Baker Acting Kids []


By JacqueLynn Hatter, Center for Health Journalism, December 13, 2020

The number of children who are taken for involuntary psychiatric evaluations in Florida increases every year. This is the first story in a five-part series about how the state's Baker Act affects children.

Each day in Florida, about 100 kids are involuntarily committed for psychiatric exams under the state's Baker Act. The law was not designed for children, yet over the past few years, the number of minors taken for mental health evaluations has increased. The issue is drawing more scrutiny from child advocates and lawmakers. But solutions to the problem aren’t easy. The reasons why children are committed are often complex. What happens when the state decides to commit a child? Who is most at-risk and why are they being Baker Acted, and is there long-term fallout? This series explores what happens when kids get committed.

Nadia's Story

The body camera video is a bit shakyβ€”but clear. School officials stand outside in a breezeway talking to two police officers. Between them stands a little girl wearing a pink shirt with a rainbow on it. Her light-brown curly hair is piled in a high ponytail on her head. The police ask the school officials if they need to sign anything. They don't. So, one of the Jacksonville police officers turns to the little girl, Nadia.

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I live in Florida and I have dealt with teens that have been Baker Acted. I do a ministry for kids of divorce ( at my church. It is ridiculous. If a teen says anything about indicating they don't want to live any longer, they are Baker Acted before even the end of the day. I had one 15 yr old girl tell me one night after our ministry at church that she had slept with her boyfriend and she felt so guilty. She felt she had betrayed her divorced parents. We talked for an hour. Teens are so vulnerable. They struggle when their parents are separated. They struggle with doing what is right according to one parent but the other parent may be sleeping with the boyfriend. They are caught in the middle.

The very next day the teen goes to school and confesses to the music person that she was feeling depressed and how we had talked, etc. By the end of the school day this 15-year-old had been Baker Acted and was in lock-up - as the teens call it. Her mother accused me of getting her daughter locked-up. The minute she got out of the mental health facility, her dad brought her to see me. This kid just needed some guidance and understanding. Putting her in the hospital did nothing to help her. It wasted tax-payer dollars; caused get anxiety to her parents and to this girl.

I've had teens who actually laugh about being locked up. "I knew I just had to endure this craziness for two or three days and I'd be out." I had another teen who was leaning toward being suicidal. The day he got out, his dad came and spent an entire afternoon with me talking through the situation. Single dad, mom had died of a drug overdose after their divorce, needed to be able to understand his son's issues. That kid, who spent several hours on my back porch talking, is now a wonderful young man. In the AF, has one kid and another one on the way and is a wonderful young dad. Gets all kind of accolades from the AF. Checks in with me every so often.

Why was he suicidal. His girlfriend dumped him. This gf was a tie to a female softness and tenderness. GF was his security. Once dad understood all of this, he could change his "military-dad-like parenting to a softer and loving dad approach. This kid didn't need the coldness of being Baker Acted.

Every teen I've dealt with that was Baker Acted was from a divorced home. How I wish Florida schools could understand ACEs and how to approach these hurting children. Hurting children hurt others and should be dealt with individually.

Looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

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