Nearly three years ago, my sister, a child psychologist, brought a story to my attention about a 6-year-old boy, Nicholas, who threw a temper tantrum at his elementary school in Jacksonville.
What happened next could be considered a total and complete failure by local authorities. Nicholas, who was an Individualized Education Program (IEP) elementary school student, was removed from school by a Sheriff’s deputy using the Baker Act, and taken to a mental health facility for a medical evaluation.
His parents were not contacted until he was admitted to the facility, meaning the doctors could hold him for up to 72 hours, even if it was against the wishes of his parents. Nicholas also had to wait 24 hours before seeing a medical professional. When the facility finally allowed his parents to take him home, Nicholas had suffered a bloody nose, scraped shins, and was in an almost hysterical state.
Under the Baker Act, this holding period is legal. The law is a well-intentioned attempt to promote public safety by allowing medical professionals to hold an individual for up to 72 hours to evaluate whether the patient is at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.
State Rep. David Silvers, a Democrat, represents the 87th House district, which includes part of Palm Beach County. (Courtesy)
The law, however, can sometimes produce shocking unintended consequences, such as allowing a 6-year-old boy to be held against the will of his parents and endure a traumatic and life-altering experience.
I decided to dig deeper into the issue of mental health for minors. Up to 32,000 children have been sent for medical evaluation (Baker Acts) in Florida from July 2015 to June 2016. The numbers have been growing significantly over the last few years but a recent uptick has been staggering.
It’s why I filed House Bill 1183 in the 2017 Legislative Session, my first year as a House member in Tallahassee. It requires medical facilities to initiate a medical review of a minor within 12 hours of the minor being admitted to a facility and it also created a statewide Baker Act Task Force to investigate its use with minors. It was signed into law.
My work on mental health for minors was only just beginning.
In the 2019 session, I filed legislation that implemented several task force recommendations.
House Bills 361 and 363, with Senate companions SB1418 and SB838, implement several of those recommendations by allowing medical facilities, that admit minors for a medical evaluation under the Baker Act, up to 5 days to collect data on the minor and then send the information to the Department of Children and Families. This helps DCF better determine if the child has been discharged from the facility or if a medical professional has extended the child’s stay.
Another recommendation expanded the Statewide School Suicide Prevention Program. It requires a school to have multiple professionals on campus proficient with a nationwide medically approved suicide prevention instrument if the school elects to participate.
Finally, the public records exemption bill (HB363/SB838) that became law requires all court records relating to medical evaluation to be exempt from public records. I truly believe this bill will save lives, as people may be more willing to seek help if they know that their information will remain private and confidential.
For the 2020 legislative session, I will be filing a bill that requires immediate notification to a student’s parent, guardian, or caregiver if the student is removed from school, school transportation, or a school-sponsored activity and taken to a receiving facility for an involuntary examination. Such notification shall include: notification prior to the student’s removal for an involuntary examination, if such notification will not cause a delay that jeopardizes the student’s or another individual’s physical or mental health or safety and immediate notification upon the student’s removal for an involuntary examination.
Mental health impacts every one of us, whether it is a loved one, a friend, or an acquaintance. The issue of mental illness is something that we as a society need to make a priority and quite frankly something that needs to be out in the open so people can become more comfortable with seeking help.
I believe addressing mental health issues and civic responsibility will save and enrich the lives of all Floridians. I’m honored to serve in a Legislature that understands and supports these goals.
State Rep. David Silvers, a Democrat, represents the 87th House district, which includes part of Palm Beach County.