If you have a child with a behavioral diagnosis in a public school system, you’d better know the law. One Florida couple found this out the hard way when their 6-year-old son with a dual diagnosis of ADHD and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder was sent to a local psychiatric hospital by none other than his school guidance counselor.
The boy, named Nicholas, threw a behavioral fit that involved kicking and biting other students. The guidance counselor, therefore, had just cause to admit the child to a psychiatric hospital with nothing more than a voicemail notification left for his parents:
Florida’s commitment law, known as the Baker Act, allows a person to be sent to a psychiatric hospital for an examination if that person appears at risk of causing severe harm to themselves or others. Once patients are sent to a psychiatric hospital, it is the facility’s responsibility to determine if they need to be hospitalized, and they can only hold patients for up to 72 hours. Thus, it must release patients who aren’t likely to inflict “serious bodily harm” on themselves or others. Sounds normal.
However, what isn’t normal is the treatment Nicholas received. His mother, who only knew that he was being transferred from school to the hospital from voicemails that both the school and counselor had left for her, said she declined consent for her son’s treatment, stating:
“It felt like my child had been kidnapped. I didn’t want him to be there at all. I can’t even hug my kid and tell him it’s going to be okay.”
As it turns out, the hospital to which Nicholas was admitted, River Point, was already under investigation for Medicare fraud. River Point is part of one of the largest hospital chains in the United States. According to a recent news report, at least 10 of these hospitals across 9 states “were under pressure to fill beds by almost any method and to hold patients until their insurance payments ran out.”
Under the impression that he was giving consent for his son to be medicated, Nicholas’s father unwittingly signed admission paperwork giving the facility permission to hospitalize the boy. Repeated parental requests to release Nicholas were ignored and his parents were only permitted to see him during visiting hours. He was punched by another child, locked in a seclusion room in the middle of the night, and eventually taken to an Emergency Room after a panicked outburst. By his third day in the facility his parents observed several bite marks and bruises on the boy as well as a total personality change that scared them to death.
According to Florida law, the facility had no grounds to retain Nicholas after the 72-hour review period. A lawyer who reviewed the case remarked on the complete absurdity of Nicholas’s initial admission to the psychiatric facility, noting that a child “throwing a temper tantrum” is not a harm to the general public.
The case is a warning to parents: Know what rights school administration has when it comes to disciplining your child. And always, always read what you’re signing before you take someone’s word for it.