How can the school Baker Act my child?

Those of us that live in Florida wait patiently all summer for the weather to turn and provide the perfect day. It is 70 degrees, sunny skies, and the high for the day only 75. These days arrive a few months after school started but are worth the wait.  In the morning when you drop your young kids off at school, they may need a light jacket in addition to the traditional backpack, but it is all good. Your hurry on to work or back home feeling a little bit lighter knowing the weather is good and your child is in good hands.

When the call comes from the school you are naturally a little worried. Is your child sick or injured? The principal soberly tells you that the child posed a threat of substantial harm to themselves and others. The school resource officer has taken them the Baker Act receiving facilities.  You can’t believe what you are hearing. How could a 6-year-old be a substantial threat to themselves or anyone else? What did they do to constitute such a threat and what do you mean Baker Act? You thought that was for mentally ill people.

Your child ignored the teacher’s repeated requests to sit down and stop disrupting the class. It seems he felt that he left something at home he needed for school and was determined to leave school to get it. When she attempted to stop him, he pulled away from her and ignored her warnings about leaving school. The school’s resource officer saw him running down the hall and also tried to stop him. He ignored him also and would even acknowledge their repeated requests to stop.

When your child became more and more upset and struggled to get away the resource officer had to hold Jason down and handcuff him. When he continued to struggle the officer took him into custody. They will hold him for involuntary psychiatric evaluation.  You respond with a few descriptive words for the teacher, principal, and resource officer ending with they are the ones that need a mental health professional. How can you do this? He is a child that suffers from Asperger Syndrome.

The principal tells you they have a right to act if there is a present threat of substantial harm to the student or other children. In this case, it was the resource officer’s opinion that the threat existed, and he is authorized to initiate the Baker Act on kids. Imagine your surprise when the Principal tells you they didn’t have to call! You could have shown up to school only to find my child missing!

This story is fictitious but was related to me by one of my friends (not a client) that asked me what could be done if this happened to their child that has Asperger’s Syndrome, part of the autistic spectrum? The child is high functioning but has difficulty relating to others and can focus on one issue intently without regard to the circumstances. In this case the lunch box he forgot at home.

Children with Asperger’s also can’t understand non-verbal communications. Even if the teacher and resource officer show frustration and yelled at him the child would associate that as different from any other communications. He would only focus on that fact he forgets his lunch box at home.

Real Stories of Kids Baker Act in Florida

Real Stories of Florida Backer Act on Kids

The real stories of children sent to a mental health facility from Florida public schools are frightening. Perhaps the recent school shootings have alarmed school officials to an error on the side of caution but the number of children involved should be alarming to parents.  Across Florida 36,000 children fell under the Baker Act in 2017-2018 according to the University of South Florida Backer Act Reporting Center.

The Times reportedly analyzed 365 police reports that describe Baker Act commitments in schools across Tampa Bay. They state that in more than two-thirds of those cases the officers did not talk to parents until after they decided to use the Baker Act and send the child to the hospital. The officer and school officials are afraid the parents will show up at the school angry. REALLY?

The series of articles continues to describe how things can go terribly wrong after a child arrives for processing at the mental health facility. Under the law, the facility can hold your child for 72 hours

Do You Have an Autistic Child in a Florida School?

If your child suffers from any of the challenges along the autistic spectrum of disorders, you have already dealt with difficult situations.   Many of these children are high functioning or at least able to attend public or private schools with other kids. Even if they don’t, have autistic spectrum issues, kids are kids and suffer a lot of growing pains. Many of these growing pains could end up being mental health issues by teachers and resource officers. 

Most of the school district personnel are not trained as mental health professionals and aren’t equipped to understand or respond to behaviors that are outside the norm. Or maybe they just don’t want to take the time or have the patience to deal with the child’s behavior.

Right or wrong parents and protective children’s groups have forced capital punishment from the schools. Most school officials are afraid of liability for any type of disciplinary action they might want to take to keep a student in line.

Gone are the days when I was sent to the principal’s office with the threat of paddling with a wooden paddle containing holes that enabled it to be swung faster before it struck my bottom. Just seeing the paddle was enough to get me back in line. Nor can a teacher stand you in the corner on your knees holding a book over my head. Or placed in dark clothes closet until the end of class. I can’t even remember what I did wrong!

Perhaps the Baker Act is the relief valve we have forced school administrators to use.  If an autistic or any other child has a meltdown at school the family of the child can suffer the consequences.

The Rate of Pinellas County Children Affected Has Risen Dramatically.

According to a recent Tampa Bay Times article, the rate of children being Baker Acted has risen more than 75% in Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties in the past 5 years.  

The Tampa Bay Times has run a series of articles this week on the Baker Act and Kids. If your child has development issues or is just a kid growing up read all the articles. If your child has special needs you may want to speak to their teacher, principal, and even the resource officer. Really concerned? Talk to a lawyer that specializes in child custody and similar issues

Are the Mental Health Facilities Cashing In?

According to the Tampa Bay Times, some mental health hospitals are cashing in. The article estimates that one extra day in the hospital beyond the 72-hour period could add $1.4 million dollars in revenue to just one hospital whose records were examined. These numbers include adults but image if the same tactics used to keep adults’ extra days how that might affect your child.

When hospitals can charge $1,500 to $2,000 a day for a stay the bill will add up for the individual’s family or the insurance company. That is a lot of incentive to create reasons why your child needs to stay longer.

Custody Issues and the Baker Act?

Your child being Baker Acted could also result in custody issues. These issues could add a new level of complexity that you may not be prepared to manage. If you have had custody issues or are at risk for custody issues be especially concerned about the fallout of the Baker Act if used on your child.

Dependency and parental rights often come into play after the Baker Act is initiated. Imagine if someone calls the Florida Abuse Hotline claiming potential child abuse on your part.

Dependency law, codified under Florida Statutes Chapter 39, is the governing law that is triggered when Child Protective Services make allegations that a child or children are in danger of being abused, abandoned or neglected.

Under Florida law, any report of potential child abuse or neglect that is made to a law enforcement agency, or to the Florida Child Abuse Hotline is required to be investigated within 24 hours of the triggering report.

Baker Act is not directly associated with Dependency and Parental rights but what if someone does report it as if your conduct as a parent contributed to the child’s actions at school?

Contact us at the Law Offices of Edward M. Panzica in Largo, Florida if you feel there might be issues with your child or if your child has been taken into custody under Florida’s Baker Act.  Call 727-588-0966





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