6-year-old held in mental health centre for 2 days without mother’s consent

  • >>Johnny Diaz, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-02-18 14:18:11 BdST

Representational image. REUTERS

A Florida kindergartner was sent to a mental health centre against her mother’s wishes and held there for 48 hours this month after she reportedly threw tantrums at her school.

The student, 6-year-old Nadia King, was just starting her day at Love Grove Elementary in Jacksonville on Feb 4 when her mother, Martina Falk, received a call from a mental health counsellor at the school saying that the girl “was out of control and throwing a tantrum.”

“The school called me after the decision to Baker Act was made,” Falk said on Monday, referring to a Florida law that allows the involuntary commitment — for up to 72 hours — of people who are judged by certain authorities to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Tracy A. Pierce, a spokeswoman for Duval County Public Schools, said it was Child Guidance, a crisis-response firm, that decided to have the girl admitted to the mental health centre — not the school.

Nadia was taken to River Point Behavioural Health, an 84-bed centre that treats patients of all ages for emotional, developmental, substance abuse and behavioural health issues. Pierce declined to detail specifics of Nadia’s behaviour that day, citing student privacy laws. But an incident report from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said that the girl “was destroying school property, attacking staff, out of control and running out of school.”

“When a student’s behaviour presents a risk of self-harm or harm to others, the school district’s procedure is to call Child Guidance, our crisis-response provider,” Pierce said in a statement on Monday. “Our staff followed that procedure.”

“The parent was notified immediately” after the decision was made to transport Nadia, who “calmly walked to the police car” with the school principal, she added.

Police body-camera footage shows the girl calmly chatting with a sheriff’s deputy in the car, where she asks if there are any snacks and if this is a field trip. She also recites her mother’s name and phone number. The deputy can be heard telling another officer that the girl is “pleasant” and “cooperative.”

“She is fine,” the deputy says in the video. “There is nothing wrong with her.”

The school district said that the officers in the video were not present “during the events which motivated the school to call Child Guidance” or when the health counsellor “was intervening with the student.”

Falk, a customer service representative, said that when she arrived at River Point Behavioural Health, around 11:30am, she was told that her daughter was being held for 48 hours. She said she wasn’t permitted to see Nadia until 6:30 that night. When she did see her, Falk said the girl was sedated in a secluded room.

“I was crying, I was hysterical, I was angry,” Falk, 31, recalled, adding that she was able to bring her daughter home around noon on Feb 6. “I don’t think she should have been Baker Acted. Why did they feel this was necessary?”

Falk said that Nadia, whom she described as prone to outbursts and tantrums, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as a disability called global developmental delay. She said she had enrolled Nadia at Love Grove Elementary, which has a student body of about 420, because of its services for children with special needs.

Reganel J Reeves, a lawyer for Falk, said the family planned to hold the school district accountable for the emotional stress the girl and her mother had endured.

“We put them on notice and intend to take legal action,” Reeves said on Monday.

In the meantime, Falk said that Nadia was now enrolled at another school.

“We are trying to get back to having everything as normal as possible,” Falk said. “We are maintaining.”

© 2020 New York Times News Service