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CEO of mental health center stands behind policies after Jacksonville girl involuntarily committed

Body cam footage of 6-year-old girl has gained national attention

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Video of a 6-year-old girl being escorted out of her school and taken to a mental health facility by police has gained national attention, and on Wednesday, the CEO of the non-profit that made the decision to Baker Act the child said the center is standing by its policies.

Theresa Rulien, the president and CEO of Child Guidance Center, spoke with News4Jax could not speak specifically about the case where the young girl, Nadia, was removed from Love Grove Elementary School and involuntarily committed, or Baker Acted. But she did agree to speak about their policies.

According to a report from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the 6-year-old was seen throwing chairs around a classroom.

Body camera video recorded the little girl asking the officer if she was going to jail.

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Theresa Rulien is the president and CEO of accredited non-profit Child Guidance Center Inc. They’ve had a memorandum of understanding with Duval County Schools for close to 15-years to come into schools to help access students mental health and in some cases, prevent students from being transported to a mental health facility.

“This is a decision made by a licensed mental health professional, and it is not taken lightly,” Rulien said. “It is not based on just one thing. It is not based off of information from just one source. It’s not typically just based off of one incident.”

Data released by Child Guidance Center shows during the 2019-2020 school year the non-profit has made the decision to Baker Act 32 children between the ages of 5 and 10. According to their own data, Child Guidance Center says they’ve managed to divert children from being Baker Acted 289 times for the same age group.

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

In the body camera video showing, 6-year-old Nadia in the back of a sheriffs vehicle, you can hear officers comment that the 6-year-old is “calm.” It’s because of those comments Nadia’s mother questioned publicly if Baker Acting her child was necessary.

“Just because someone all of a sudden deescalates because an officer shows up or a principal shows up, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that the issue -- and again if it occurs over time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is safe. It just means that at this moment this mental health crisis has come for a few seconds or a few minutes,” Dr. Rulien said.

Nadia’s mother said she was also not contacted by the school before her child was taken out of the classroom. Dr. Rulien with Child Guidance Center said that while the school district’s policy is to contact parents prior to committing them, the non-profits policy doesn’t mandate that they get approval from parents to make the decision.

“Let me say that if we were looking at getting parental approval for any type of safety measure that we are putting mental health professionals in the same position that we would put a rescue team that is called out for a physical issues. If they know that a child is in danger physically, with physical health, and a parent said, ‘I don’t want them to be transported,’ we will be putting our mental health professionals in the same position we will be putting our physical health professionals,” Rulien said.

“Of course. You’re always concerned about that is scary to get in an ambulance to go to the hospital, and that is definitely traumatic, but you better get in there to be safe,” Rulien said. “That’s a big focus of our diversion focus is that we don’t want children to have to do that if at all possible. We want to be able to keep them on site, sent right back in the classroom and get them other services.”

Marina Falk, Nadia’s mother, said Thursday that her daughter is traumatized after what happened.

“Nadia is not able to give an account of what happened," Falk said. “She’s just not able to communicate that because of her disability. She can only tell you bits and pieces.”

Stats from Child Guidance Center2017-20182018-20192019-2020
Baker Acts (Ages 5-10)293332
Diverted (Ages 5-10)286361289
Percent diverted (Ages 5-10)91%92%90%

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