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Florida revises law on involuntary child psychiatric evaluations

Suicide prevention has been a focus in recent years, as is preventing the type of mass shootings that appear all-too frequently on the news across the country.

In order to protect the public interest, Florida's Baker Act allows courts to order involuntary psychiatric examinations. These evaluations temporarily remove children perceived to be a danger to themselves or others and provides them a full psychiatric evaluation to determine if there are any mental health issues.

The law balances everyone's right to independence with public safety concerns. The ultimate goal is to get people who truly pose a danger out from society and provide them with the medical and mental health treatment they need.

Unfortunately, it can also result in teens and children undergoing traumatic experiences when they truly pose little danger to themselves or others. 

Recently passed "Child Welfare" bill amends involuntary commitment

On June 26, 2017, Florida passed a number of laws involving children who need protection from the state. As part of that bill, Florida also attempted to limit the amount of time a minor can be held for an involuntary psychiatric examination.

Previously, a child ordered to have such an evaluation must have been evaluated within 72 hours; under the new law, the child will instead have to be evaluated within 12 hours.

Task force set up to look at child involuntary commitments

According to data compiled by the Baker Act Reporting Center of the University of South Florida, over 30,000 children have been ordered to undertake a psychiatric evaluation by the courts. The new law sets up a multi-agency task force to examine why there have been such a large number of evaluations ordered in recent years, and to make recommendations on how to lower that amount.

Questions?

The Baker Act allows psychiatric evaluations to be ordered without the consent or knowledge of the parents or legal guardians of children. However, in some cases such an evaluation, or involuntary commitment, can be challenged. The law can be complex in such cases, so it is best to speak to a lawyer familiar with challenging involuntary commitments and other mental health law issues to understand your rights and options in such a situation.

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