In response to the widespread abuse of the Baker Act, Diane Stein and CCHR Florida went into action. “We currently have a law that is, in my opinion, the single biggest source of human rights abuse in Florida,” said Stein, President of Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Florida (CCHR Florida), on the CBS12 Investigates news channel.
In an interview with Freedom, Stein stated, “Our campaign to protect children from unjust, involuntary psychiatric examination has resulted in laws which provide greater safeguards against abuse. We are moving forward with even greater changes that will result in the restoration of parental rights.
“In the 12 years prior to 2017, an estimated 295,000 children in Florida were involuntarily sent to psychiatric facilities for examination—many without parental consent or knowledge.” In an independent study done on Baker Acting of children in Pinellas County, it was found that 30 percent of the children did not meet the criteria for involuntary examination. In other words, an estimated 89,000 Florida children and their parents were illegally subjected to trauma due to what is politely referred to as “an inappropriate Baker Act.”
For every dark day when a parent’s child is taken involuntarily, the CCHR Florida hotline is there to take incoming calls and walk parents through the steps to obtaining safe release. This on-the-ground assistance is only one part of it—there is also raising the awareness of those who can do something about it. “As part of this campaign every lawmaker in Florida has received multiple complaints from parents and caretakers on the Baker Acting of children,” said Stein.
“We have [issued] a General Order that specifically instructs our deputies that anti-social behavior is not a mental illness.”
Sheriff Jerry L. Demings,
Orange County, Florida
This helped bring the issue to a boil statewide in 2017 with the Florida Department of Children and Families’ formation of the “Task Force on Involuntary Examination of Minors.” Staffed by representatives from all major entities concerned, including the Florida Commissioner of Education, Florida Public Defenders Association, Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the task force was charged with submitting a report to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the president of the Senate, and Speaker of the House of Representatives by the end of 2017. Stein said that the work of the task force “resulted in recommendations that will help stop unlawful involuntary psychiatric examination of children.”
One recent result: In a letter dated September 22, 2017, to Stein, Jerry L. Demings, sheriff of Orange County wrote, “Thank you for the information you recently provided to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office regarding Baker Acts on minors … We agree. We have [issued] a General Order that specifically instructs our deputies that anti-social behavior is not a mental illness. The Order also instructs our deputies to make reasonable efforts to notify the minor’s parents or guardians before initiating or executing a Baker Act.”
As a result of this, in Orange County (home to the city of Orlando, Disney World, and over 295,000 children under the age of 18), the number of calls coming into the CCHR Florida hot line has dropped. “In fact, my main hotline call handler reported that we are receiving NO calls on kids from that area of Florida,” said Stein. She counts it as a major step forward in protecting human rights for children and their parents.
CCHR’s work is made possible in a large part due to the support and partnership of the Church of Scientology, which co-founded CCHR with psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz in 1969.