Tag Archives: autism

How to Prevent an Autistic Child’s Baker Act

Another 8 year old was just “Baker Acted” in my county.

I want to say bad words.

Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to share what I have learned the hard way to help prevent psychiatric institutionalizing from happening to anyone else.

It’s not fail safe, and I am not an attorney.

I am a mom who is angry, sick and scared that parents of children with special needs not only have to worry about IEP meetings, social skills, physical care, emotional well being of their children but ALSO they have to worry about an overzealous person removing the child unnecessarily from their home.

I get it: Sometimes Baker Acts are necessary. This act exists to protect a person who is danger of physically hurting themselves or someone else. AND the law also states that this is only to be enacted if “it is not apparent that the harm may be avoided through the help of willing family members, friends, or the provision of other services.”
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How to determine if the individual appears to meet baker act criteria.

So here is what I have done to help prevent a Baker Act in the future.

  1. I met with school staff to explain my child’s diagnoses and behaviors. A  school employed behavior analyst walked the staff and teachers through my child’s Behavior Intervention Plan. I explained that my family can and will supervise my child 24/7, we have no weapons in the home, my child is under regular care of a psychiatrist and we have resources to hospitalize him other than the awful county facility should we agree he need hospitalization.
  2. An attorney friend sent me the website of the Citizens Commissions on Human Rights on preventing Baker Acts, which has helped me with step #3.
  3. I filled out and had the form from the website above^^ notarized, and put in my child’s school file after the guidance counselor signed acknowledgement of receiving this. I keep a copy, too.
  4. I scheduled a meeting with the school resource officer. I brought a copy of my son’s IEP and Behavior Intervention Plan. I spent an hour talking to him about my son’s behaviors, what to do if he had a meltdown, and gave him a copy of the notarized form from #2 and 3 above. I talked about our ability to care for him, our family support, and that we have insurance and resources to choose which hospital our child should go to if it was necessary. I made it clear that we would employ litigation if my son was Baker Acted unnecessarily. The SRO thanked me and suggested all parents of children with autism or behavior difficulties should take the time to meet with SROs.
  5. I let the IEP Team and the SRO know that the SRO is not to become a preferred person for my child. The less interaction, the better, per our advocate from Florida Disability Rights.
  6. At our IEP Meetings, our amazing advocate reminds the team that a Baker Act for a child who has known statements and behaviors consistent with autism is inappropriate. Autism is a developmental disorder, NOT a mental health disorder.
  7. I check in via email weekly with school personnel, so they know I am continuing to be involved even if I am not physically present at the school.
  8. One thing I would *like* to have in place is a psychiatrist willing to sign release on Baker Acts in the future. Our current provider will not involve himself in “legal cases”. I’m working on changing providers, because I think it’s really important to have this “Uno Wild” card just in case. A psychiatrist is the only person with legal authority to sign a child out of a Baker Act situation once the process has been initiated.
  9. I pray daily for my child and the people who surround my child. God can cover what I can’t.

What do you do to help prevent this? I’d love to hear your ideas.

 

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Fighting for my child

I entered my child’s IEP meeting armed with a 4″ binder overflowing with my child’s life history … and an advocate.

An IEP is an individualized education plan for children with special needs. It is federally mandated and public schools must implement and follow per federal law.

My husband and I had sorted our tasks and goals into separate lines of priorities with getting our son in a safe school first and foremost.

So we engaged Disability Rights Florida for legal advocacy and representation in navigating our child’s IEP as we recover from his inappropriate Baker Act.

DRF is a federally mandated organization dedicated to defending the rights of any person with documented disability. Because our child’s rights were violated, they will advocate with us to get him the education he needs and is entitled to. They also will help us pursue compensatory education if deemed appropriate. They are funded through Social Security Administration, the Administration for Children and Families, and several other administrations.

If you think or know your own child is not getting an appropriate education, call them. They offer free services if they can take your case.

We called them and did an initial intake. I emailed my son’s IEP and behavior intervention plan and reviewed the circumstances of his Baker Act.

They took our case and requested our son’s comprehensive file from the school board.

Our advocate called in to our scheduled IEP meeting and had clear questions and concerns on our behalf. She asked many questions to clarify nuances and was highly effective.

I highly recommend always having an advocate in some way, shape or form at an IEP meeting.

Another option in Brevard County is the Family Liaison Project. They are funded through Brevard County Public Schools. We have not paid for advocates, although some people have reported positive experiences with them.

I’ve learned in IEP meetings: that if I ask for certain supports and am told no, I can ask for a list of criteria that would be used to determine support. I can ask for documentation of policies and procedures and for clear timelines. In statements we disagreed with, our advocate had the meeting notes amended to reflect our disagreement or changed.

We were reminded by our advocate that we aren’t just lucky to be at the IEP meeting: we are integral members and the school is required to invite us.

Our county grants families access to use “out of area” requests for school placement. We considered jumping to this option instead of navigating another cumbersome IEP but decided that working with the system:

  1. forces the system to work better and
  2. puts the burden of transportation on the school.

Our child deserves a free and appropriate public education.

The school system has to accommodate him and must learn to do better for all students with special needs.

We have spoken with many attorneys and it seems we do have a legal case with our child’s civil rights being violated. We haven’t decided how to proceed regarding this yet.

We are still feeling residual effects of trauma but we are coping.

My autistic son was Baker Acted the first day of middle school.

I was stuck in the high school car loop picking up my oldest when I got a call from the middle school guidance counselor: please come immediately to help with my son.

I sent my husband, and as I was pulling into my driveway to drop off my daughters, received a cryptic text from my husband: “Call me now. He’s being baker acted.”

What?

My 12 year old son has a sweetness to him, despite his preteen reluctance to shower and anxiety in crowds. He thrives on routine and consistency; clear expectations and quiet.

We knew middle school would be hard. Even elementary school wasn’t easy for him, but we had a great team of people who knew and loved him. We had developed an effective IEP and communicated it at a “roll up meeting” with both his current elementary school team and the middle school guidance counselor.

Most neurotypical adults I know don’t have fond memories of middle school. It’s an awful age, socially and physically.

So we worked to prepare our son.

We walked his schedule on an empty middle school campus. We asked to meet with guidance before school started. We took our son to middle school registration and orientation. We met up with a friend and her son who would also be at the middle school.

He was excited to start fresh at a new school. He would be riding the school bus for the first time!

He made it through the first 3 periods. Lunch was confusing, chaotic, and loud. Long lines made it difficult for him to acquire his lunch. We had packed snacks in case this happened. He was invited to sit at a computer by the guidance counselor but was overwhelmed and declined.

He never ate lunch. Drank water. Or remembered his snacks.

He was confused and lonely. He was hungry.

He visited the guidance counselor, who chose not to call us.

He went to class and at the end of the day he’d had enough.

He began scratching his arm (he does this when he’s upset–it’s common for children with autism to do this). He was removed from the classroom because this is inappropriate behavior.

He said “I just want to kill myself so I don’t have to go to school.”

Not a great phrase.

We’ve begged him not to say that.

He says it like a teenager might say “OMG! I’d just DIE if that happened.”

He doesn’t have pragmatic language skills. Which is noted in his school file.

He doesn’t have access to weapons. He is supervised in our home. And he is not suicidal.

However.

The new school resource officer overheard and decided to Baker Act our child. Without context. Without questioning his stress level or mental abilities.

The guidance counselor chose not to get involved. He chose not to implement the functional behavior plan on file. He chose to delay contacting us. He chose not to prepare the teachers and staff who would be interacting with our child.

He disregarded everything outlined in the IEP.

Because of his laissez faire approach, my son suffered.

I pulled up to this brand new to us school. And watched in horror as my confused son stepped into the back of a police car.

I followed them for 45 minutes until we got to an inpatient psychiatric center.

I learned our doctor couldn’t release him from the Baker Act. I asked what to sign so that I could take my child home. I begged to stay with him.

Instead I was asked for my insurance card because we have to pay for unwanted, unneeded, unauthorized inpatient overnight care and evaluation.

I was told I had no power and they could do whatever they deemed necessary for my son.

My son said “What?! I say that all the time!”

I answered, “And this is why we tell you NOT to say that. ”

He exclaimed, “OK OK! I get it! Can we go now?”

“No, buddy. I am not in charge now. I can’t fix this.”

He looked at me with terror-filled eyes as the reality of his situation materialized.

In what world is a mother unable to make decisions for her child?

I made it as easy as possible for my child. I asked him to think of it like going to summer camp. I gave him a picture of our family. I gave him a snack while we waited.

We didn’t see him again until 19 hours later.

Our beloved doctor had to discharge us from care because he was Baker Acted and it’s now out of scope for her.

We owe thousands of dollars for his care.

We do not know where our child can safely learn.

Our daughters didn’t get to share about their own first days of school.

We lost sleep. We lost trust in the school, in law enforcement and in our society. We are embarrassed and lost.

Now we are spending our weekend redeeming our son from the inpatient facility and combing over his IEP and paperwork to prepare for an emergency meeting with his school. Because accountability is important to us. And we need a plan documented for his future even if he doesn’t return there.

Anyone know a good lawyer?