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Health News Florida Series Explores Use Of The Baker Act on Children

Martina Faulk holding a photo of her daughter, Nadia King, as a baby.
Martina Faulk is one of the parents Hatter interviewed for the series. Faulk's daughter Nadia was involuntarily committed last February after an outburst at her Jacksonville elementary school.

Last December, HNF reporter Lynn Hatter did a five part series detailing the challenges facing children who are involuntary committed and the schools that invoke the Baker Act to deal with disruptive students.

Each year, about 36,000 children in Florida are committed for psychiatric exams under the Baker Act.

The 50-year-old state law was designed to help adults who are struggling with mental health issues. But schools have been using it to deal with unruly students.

Parents have few rights when the Baker Act is invoked, and often it’s school resource officers who make the call.

While some students genuinely need help, others have been committed because they made an off-color joke, or struggle with learning problems like ADHD.

This week on Florida Matters, host Bradley George talks with Lynn Hatter, a Health News Florida reporter based at WFSU in Tallahassee. She produced a five-part series on the issue in December.

She said the number of children who are involuntary committed in Florida each year is akin to a medium-size school district in the state. And Hatters says there is also a trend in who is committed more often.

"We do see a large number of children with disabilities. I think that was a feature of our reporting," she said. "And we also see a large number of kids who are black and brown. And we know that we do have historical discrepancies in terms of who is sent for disciplinary actions in general."

In the second part of the show, George has a short conversation with state Senator Lauren Book, who is proposing legislation to update the Baker Act. She is one of two Florida lawmakers bringing the proposal forward, the other is state Representative Patt Maney.

You can listen to the full show above. Just click on the "Listen" button below the headline.

And to listen to and read Lynn's full series, click here.

Dinorah Prevost is the producer of Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.
Bradley George comes to WUSF from Atlanta, where he was a reporter, host, and editor at Georgia Public Broadcasting. While in Atlanta, he reported for NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and The Takeaway. His work has been recognized by PRNDI, the Georgia Associated Press, and the Atlanta Press Club. Prior to his time in Georgia, Bradley worked at public radio stations in Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.