We're Florida journalists who revealed flaws in the Baker Act, a law used more often by police to take children from schools to be locked in mental health facilities
We’re Leonora LaPeter Anton, Megan Reeves and Jack Evans, reporters at the Tampa Bay Times. We recently published two reports (here and here) in our Powerless series on Florida's Baker Act. The law was meant to help people in mental health crises, but our investigations revealed glaring flaws in its use on kids.
Nearly 100 children a day across Florida end up at mental health facilities, with more than 36,000 placed under the Baker Act last year. The state isn't even tracking its use at public schools, so we built a database. We found it's been applied at least 7,500 times in Tampa Bay's public schools since 2013, and probably far more. Most decisions were made by law enforcement with little training instead of mental health professionals. An expert says the Baker Act is abused statewide and used as a way to get kids out of school.
One disturbing aspect we learned: Parents and guardians often have no say. We spoke to families where autistic children ended up in police cruisers, despite their individualized education plans and no mental health diagnoses. Families say they were traumatized. Some facilities even put them in harm's way.
Ask us anything.
- /u/Leonora_LaPeterAnton - Enterprise reporter
- /u/mareevs - Education reporter
- /u/jackhevans - Breaking news/crime reporter
Edit: Great questions, y'all! Keep them coming. We'll keep an eye on this throughout the day as we work on our other projects. For more background, you can check out our story on the Baker Act's history and short experiences from families.
Edit 2: Thanks for all the wonderful, thoughtful questions, folks. It means a lot that you'd all engage enough with the stories to participate here. We're all headed home for the day, but we'll swing back by here in the morning to do a last round of question-answering. Otherwise, feel free to reach us on Twitter: WriterLeonora, mareevs and JackHEvans. Have a great day!