Parents Deserve to Be Involved In Their Child’s Mental Health

If you were to read the news or do a simple Google search for mental health and children, you’d be bombarded with stories feigning a mental health crisis among children in the United States, demanding change. However, these stories are spun by the same people behind the lies of the mental health industry — the same people who claimed ADHD medications were safe for children and not addictive.

In this giant push for mental health solutions for children, have you noticed that parents are rarely (if ever) brought up as a solution? Why is that? It’s because it doesn’t fit the narrative. The mental health industry, including the World Mental Health Federation, has an agenda dating back to the 1800s that centers focus on the contributions of psychiatrists — effectively pushing parents away from their parental roles.

Today, parents are hitting a wall when it comes to some of the decisions around how to care for their kids. This wall is short-term emergency commitment (STEC) and other involuntary psychiatric practices that are legalized by outdated mental health laws. The key players in the mental health industry are often the only ones benefiting from forcing children to undergo examination and treatment. This warrants serious reconsideration — parents should be able to reclaim their right to oversee the mental health care of their children.

Understanding STEC

Short-term emergency commitment occurs when someone is taken into custody — often by local law enforcement — and brought to a healthcare facility to be held for varying periods of time, depending on the state. The holding time can be as little as 24 hours, but in some states, it can be unspecified — meaning they can hold a person as long as they deem necessary if the conditions of the local statutes are met. Every state, including the District of Columbia, has a law governing STEC. They each have set lists of individuals authorized to initiate the STEC process, but in many states, “any interested person” may initiate.

Requirements for STEC vary considerably from state to state and receive different grades of efficacy. Connecticut, for instance, allows for civil commitment for an indefinite period. In 2016, 22 states required a judicial review of the emergency STEC, and only nine required a judge to certify the commitment. While numbers may have shifted, there is still progress to be made when it comes to additional review for STEC.

In Florida, STEC is called the Baker Act. At a school in Manatee County, an autistic 12-year-old with an individual education plan (IEP) was removed from school and taken to a mental health facility. He was released after 19 hours, shortly after meeting with a nurse practitioner. His family found a new school, but still fear that authorities could invoke the Baker Act and trump the IEP they have in place.

While the stated goal of STEC is to keep an individual safe and determine if they need further care, the facts suggest otherwise. Involuntary commitment deprives a person of their liberty, invoking some of the most powerful laws in this country. Further, when it is used on children, STEC usurps parents’ fundamental rights to direct their children’s care and upbringing.

Why STEC Has Been (And Still Is) A Thorn in Parents’ Sides

Children are often handcuffed and taken to psychiatric wards that can perform involuntary exams without parental consent or involvement. This type of “Baker Acting” of children has been problematic for decades. In Wakulla County, Florida, 2018-2019 data shows that 48% of Baker Act exams involved children.

To make matters worse, the lack of mandatory reporting on the number of people taken into custody makes it difficult to determine exactly how often STEC is abused in child-related cases.

Twenty years ago, STEC was applied to hold about 15,000 children in Florida alone. Fast-forward to the most recent data from 2020-2021, and the rate has more than doubled to over 37,000. This data also suggests that the Baker Act is illegally applied to people with disabilities and disproportionately to children of color.

Although multiple factors might contribute to the improper application of STEC, money is likely a big one. An exposé of a Florida psychiatric facility revealed that the facility charged up to $1,500 for each day a person was held under the Baker Act. An additional 2013 report further showed that the typical length of a stay was 4.5 days, not the 72 hours Florida law stipulates.

What’s Being Done to Change Laws

In 2021, Florida passed the Parent’s Bill of Rights, which guarantees a parent’s right to direct their child’s mental health care. The state also passed the School Safety Bill (SSB), which puts a procedure in place that requires reasonable attempts to contact a parent before authorities can initiate the Baker Act on a child.

Following the passage of these bills in Florida, numerous states across the country began filing their own versions of these bills hoping to enact similar protections for children and parents in their states.

More broadly, Congress is working to pass a national Parent Bill of Rights. The bill would protect a parent’s right to know about measures taken by school employees or contractors, including those related to addressing or treating mental health.

But as the history of the Baker Act shows, advocacy doesn’t end with enacting regulations. If the national Parent Bill of Rights passes, educating parents about their rights must be a priority, along with gathering data that shows whether the law is properly enforced.

Supporting Kids’ Mental Health Is a Team Effort, and Parents Should Be Star Players

The Baker Act and other forms of STEC regulation have legally sidelined parents for years. To truly protect and help children, parents must take back their voices and reclaim the ability to oversee the care their kids receive.

Involving parents in their children’s mental health care should be the norm, not the exception. Parents should be the primary decision-makers for their children.

But for this to happen, parents must know and understand their rights, and lawmakers must write laws that protect them.