DCF reports increase in use of Baker Act among children

ORLANDO, Fla. — Mental health care is a big deal, especially in the wake of an increasing number of mass shootings. So, after a former student allegedly opened fire in a high school near Ocala, 9 investigates took a hard look at the mental health of Central Florida students.

A growing number of children in Florida have been detained for mental health examinations. In some cases, they've been evaluated two, three or even 11 times.

Video showed Forest High School students crying as deputies searched classrooms.

Investigators said 19-year-old Sky Bouche snuck into the school last month with a sawed-off shotgun and injured a student when he shot through a door.

From jail, Bouche claimed he had been temporarily detained for a mental health evaluation when he was 14.

He's part of a growing group of children who have been involuntarily committed for a psychological evaluation under the state's Baker Act.

The Florida Department of Children and Families said about 32,500 children were committed under the Baker Act between July 2015 and June 2016. That number is up 49 percent from the previous five years.

Psychologist Deborah Day said it's a good thing.

"We're identifying individuals who need some kind of mental health crisis intervention," she said. "Baker Acts are not designed to give people long-term care. That's the most important thing. That's a misnomer."

For care longer than a 72-hour hold, people must voluntarily agree to treatment or a judge must order it.

DCF said it doesn't keep records on how many examinations lead to court hearings.

The agency's records showed that hundreds of children have had repeat Baker Act examinations.

In one year alone, 19 children were each evaluated more 11 times.

DCF's report also said social media and cyberbullying are likely part of the reason for the increase in depression in children.

Day said it's up to families to seek long-term care for their children, but many can't find it or afford it.

Florida ranks last in the country when it comes to paying for mental health services.