What steps are taken before someone is involuntarily committed or ‘Baker Acted?’

Number of children involuntarily committed has doubled in last 15 years in Florida, stats show

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As a Jacksonville mother continues her push for answers after her 6-year-old daughter was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, the News4Jax I-Team is taking a closer look at the steps that are supposed to be taken before someone is “Baker Acted.”

On Thursday, police body camera footage was released to the public showing the mother’s child as she was escorted by a police officer off the campus of Love Grove Elementary after an episode at the school.

When a child at any Duval County school starts to act out, the staff is trained to deescalate the situation. In the case of Nadia King, the 6-year-old, a police report states that the child was reportedly destroying school property, attacking staff and running out of school.

During such a scenario, staff member are instructed to contact the school district’s hotline, which differs from county to county. Duval County is different from St. Johns County, but the protocol between each county is similar.

By law, school district personnel are not allowed to make the decision to admit a person under the Baker Act.

“The licensed mental health professional is the one that actually can make the call as to whether or not the paperwork is completed to transport the child to a Baker Act receiving facility to where they are then reevaluated,” said Theresa Rulien, president of the Child Guidance Center.

RELATED: Body cam captures moments with police before Jacksonville girl was involuntarily committed

In Nadia’s case, the decision was made by a clinical social worker. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was then called to escort her. It’s standard protocol for any child in Duval County.

Dr. Amit Vijapura, a Jacksonville psychiatrist, told News4Jax that the behavior Nadia reportedly exhibited was enough to involuntarily commit the child.

When asked how common it is for a 6-year-old to be Baker Acted, Vijapura responded: “Very uncommon.”

The Child Guidance Center -- the non-profit that made the call to commit Nadia to a mental health facility -- is the center that DCPS is supposed to call when they feel a child is at risk of hurting them self or someone else.

The News4Jax I-Team learned the district called its hotline 1,140 times since the start of the school year. The hotline connects the school to Child Guidance Center.

The non-profit agency has licensed health care professionals trained in anxiety disorders, delinquency issues and Baker Act diversion. The decision was made to commit Nadia to a facility, where her mother said she stayed for two days.

According to data from the Child Guidance Center, of the calls DCPS made to the hotline during the school year, 887 resulted in a licensed health care professional coming to the school to assess the student. Of the 887 assessments, 155 resulted in a child being committed to a health care facility.

“I think it’s not always understood by the general public that a Baker Act situation is not a punishment. It is not made in anyway to try to change behavior,” Rulien said. “It is how to protect this person in the immediacy.”

Rulien could not speak about specific cases, and she could not comment on Nadia’s case. Body camera video from the Sheriff’s Office appears to show Nadia calmly talking to an officer as she escorted to the facility by cruiser.

Across Florida, the number of children involuntarily transported each year to a mental health center has doubled in the last 15 years to about 36,000, or 100 a day, according to the Baker Act Reporting Center at the University of South Florida. More than 4,000 were under the age of 10.

About the Authors: