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  • Autumn Quiles, LCSW

Baker Acts in Schools


Kids in schools who are having mental health crises are often subject to being involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals without their parent's knowledge or consent. This is because Florida has a law- the Baker Act- that allows police (including school police) and certain Licensed mental health professionals to involuntary commit a person (regardless of age) to psychiatric evaluation if they present an immediate danger to their own, or others', safety.


I am a Licensed professional who has the expertise to initiate this kind of hospitalization, so I am often called to assess whether or not a child presents a safety risk to themselves or others. I have often worked with children who cannot commit to staying safe (they plan to kill themselves), so I have seen this process. Many times.


However, an investigative report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that, in Florida schools, the Baker Act is being misused. They found that the rate of involuntary psychiatric examinations of children in Florida has more than doubled in the past two decades, from 547 to 1,240 Baker Acts per 100,000 children. In Palm Beach County, 1,217 children were Baker Acted; 8 of those children were five years old and 59 were under five years old. It was also found that black kids and kids with disabilities were more often subject to a Baker Act than white kids and kids without disabilities.


Witnessing a child who is so distressed that he wants to die, being restrained in handcuffs and taken away in the back of a police vehicle is horrifying. The crying. The handcuffs. The begging and pleading. The fear. This experience is highly traumatic for a child. I firmly believe that if the broader community of parents understood that this happens regularly, and could happen to their child, there would be a degree of public outrage that would force a change in policy about how we take care of our unlucky kids. Especially those that are black and have disabilities.


Fortunately, a handful of parents in Palm Beach County decided to bring a lawsuit against the Palm Beach Schools for unlawfully Baker Acting their children. I learned today that they won. The Board will hopefully be revising their policy to have school professionals, and school police, trained to manage kids who are having a mental health crisis differently. I look forward to seeing whether or not our District makes substantial changes in their response to kids in crisis. In the meantime, here in my office, I'll keep working to help kids heal from these kinds of traumatic experiences.

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