Everything You Never Wanted to Have to Know About The Baker Act of a Child

Let me describe a scenario that recently took place at my job: A 12 year old child who has a violent criminal history, leaving (running away from) the behavioral unit they are enrolled in, and entering the grounds of an elementary school which they do not attend. Yes, all facilitators in the unit are Crisis Prevention Intervention trained (meaning trained on verbal deescalation, physical holds and restraints, etc.) but this particular child cannot be touched due to their extensive childhood abuse history. So, what can be done? The student is a danger to others, trespassing, and a danger to themselves. Law enforcement must be called.

What do they do?
Seeing a child be wrestled to the ground and handcuffed (wrists and ankles) is not something the majority of people in society want to witness, but that is what was done in the story I am describing. With the child in the back of a cop car attempting to kick the windows out, where to? What next?

The Baker Act
Most parents are unaware that their child can be removed from school grounds, without their permission, and brought to a psychiatric ward. Parents have the right to be informed and to understand that, by school intervention programs, your child may be evaluated and if a psychologist or school personnel or even another child who then reports their observations to a school psychologist, deems that your child is a behavioral risk, a potential risk to themselves or others, they are liable to the Baker Act.
A child is considered to be 4 years old up to 17 years old. Children younger than 4 years old are not considered to be involuntarily committed under the Baker Act. Involuntary means that a person is committed against their will, without their own choice.
A medical professional, Sheriff Resource Officer and a police officer can initiate a Baker Act if the child or individual is demonstrating an inability “to exercise voluntary control over his or her own symptoms (mental health symptoms).”
And because of their inability to control their mental health symptoms, depression, anxiety, aggression, etcetera, and because they are deemed an “imminent danger” to themselves or to others, with the “nature and extent of the danger posed” documented in their records, the individual or child will be involuntary committed.
If the child is deemed to be incapacitated or incompetent to consent to treatment, he or she cannot prevent the involuntary commitment. If the person is involuntary committed, then there are very specific things that they can or cannot do. The following information from the Florida Department of Children and Families “Baker Act Handbook and User Reference Guide” clarifies specific issues regarding the child, parent or guardian’s right to refuse treatment:
“The person does have the right to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus so a judge can determine if the person’s rights have been violated.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

A Voice for EBD

As I have mentioned, all of the students I work with are EBD, Emotional Behavioral Disorder. This is a newer label that many people have not heard. So, I’m using this blog as a voice for EBD, so that it may be known and respected and left without stigma.
Many terms are used to describe emotional, behavioral or mental disorders. Now, students with such disorders are categorized as having an emotional disturbance, which is defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as “a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors

An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers

Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances

A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression

A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school factors.”

Educational Recommendations
Teaching strategies for these students should be based on changing the behavior itself. The system is often centered on discouraging the unwanted behavior and rewarding/encouraging the desired behavior.
Specifically identify the behavior which needs to be changed.
Create a baseline of the observed behavior.
Closely examine the information in the baseline and evaluate what has been observed and documented
Develop short and long term goals for the student. In the plan create a reward system to be used. Such as: give student a check mark for every 15 minutes behavior is appropriate. When the student receives 8 checks they may have 10 minutes of computer time.
Reevaluate the plan for effectiveness. Has the behavior reduced occurrence in a variety of settings?
Make modifications in the behavior plan to reinforce the desired outcome.
A behavior modification chart is a widely accepted tool to help a child visually understand the key behavior expectations and track their progress.

The Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy (CAN) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring advanced and alternative non-toxic treatment for children with a variety of social and emotional disorders. The site links to several behavior modification charts.

There are nearly 20,000 students ages 3-21 identified as having a primary disability of EBD.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

Tree Eating Giraffe and Pizza Eating Dog

As a psych major I never cared too much about Childhood/Adolescent Psychology. However, that has all changed since I scored a job with the school district in an elementary behavioral focus classroom. Two weeks ago, while building this tree eating giraffe and pizza eating dog from Legos I learned, very nonchalantly, from one of my fourth-graders about several types of abuse going on at home. I want to keep today’s blog simple. Lovingly care for your children. You lay their foundation for their entire lives. Make it a strong one. Don’t lay a foundation with cracks and crevices that will allow them to fall apart. Neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, etc. all form cracks in your child’s foundation that can easily lead to use of drugs, abusive relationships, attitude of not caring, dropping out of school, poverty, jail, all the things that loving parents never want for their children.
The prevalence of child abuse in our community is huge. We have more than 100 reports of child abuse each day. Sadly, many more instances go unreported and countless children are subject to abuse and neglect. I believe the cycle of abuse and family violence are preventable, and want to learn more about prevention, as my current job is working with children already altered by the effects of abuse.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

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Where My Blogs Come From, What I Do

I am employed by the Santa Rosa County School District. I work in the elementary behavioral unit, which facilitates a total of eight 3rd-5th graders who have all been specifically placed by the state due to severe behavior. The unit is an intensive behavioral support program.
All of the students are EBD, Emotional Behavioral Disorder, among other diagnoses including Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and other undiagnosed disorders due to age being a determining factor in the ability to give a proper diagnosis. The program takes a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) approach. We assist students in identifying behaviors that are inappropriate in the academic environment, exploring triggers for those behaviors, identifying positive behaviors with which to replace those unwanted behaviors and practicing those positive behaviors in a safe, nurturing and structured environment. The program also uses a structured reward approach to build external buy in and eventually transfers the behaviors to an internal intrinsic motivation.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

Positive Behavior Intervention Support Tip for April’s Newsletter

This month’s Positive Behavior Support Tip is “Teach Relaxation Techniques.” Why may this be important to your child? Many children strongly desire to be successful, but haven’t yet developed all the skills, which causes frustration and anxiety. Teaching students different relaxation techniques provides them a way to manage their own feelings and emotions. Relaxation is a good coping skill for children (and adults) to utilize. Additionally, relaxation has physiological benefits too, like improved blood flow, oxygen levels, and endorphin levels along with lowered levels of stress hormones. You may be wondering, when and how do I teach relaxation techniques to my child? When you notice your child having a ‘bad day’ and becoming frustrated or confrontational, this may be an indicator that their workload is large. This would be a good opportunity to teach relaxation. Make sure to assure the student that everyone gets stressed, worried, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Help students to recognize when they are becoming stressed and encourage them to ask to take a break. Establish where, when, and how students will initiate and carry out a break to relax (establish where students will take their break, if there will be one or more choices of relaxation techniques to choose from, how they ask to take a relaxation break, how long they are allowed to be relaxing, etc.) Some practical relaxations tips for students are deep breathing, count to ten, write in a journal, draw, color, read, or listen to music. Teaching your child relaxation techniques can help them to identify emotions such as frustration, stress, and being overwhelmed. Learning to manage these emotions will greatly help your student be successful in their present and future.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC