Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fort Myers, Florida - Nine-year-old girl with mental illness arrested at school

Wink News (Lee County, Fla.), News Press, and First Coast News report that a nine year girl with a mental illness was arrested last Tuesday at Royal Palm School, a school for special needs students, and is now facing charges for battery on an education employee. According to First Coast News, "the girl went from a timeout room to a criminal holding cell Tuesday, and faces two counts of felony battery against her teachers." Lots of questions, not addressed in these reports, about the medical treatment, if any, she was receiving for schizophrenia (it appears that her mother was unable to get her treatment at a core health care centre), support for her mother (who has another child with a mental illness), use of time-out rooms and restraints, the involvement of the Department of Children and Families (it appears that teachers tried to address the issue on their own -why didn't they contact DCF?), of using jail as the means for dealing with social problems. Here is an excerpt from News Press:

Williams [her mother] said after her daughter was prescribed several medications with no success, doctors began suggesting experimental drugs. Williams didn't agree to that, so treatment ended and the family moved to Lehigh Acres. Williams said she tried to get help from the Ruth Cooper campus of Lee Mental Health, but couldn't get an appointment.

John Gervickas, children's mental health specialist with DCF, spoke with Williams twice Wednesday after The News-Press inquired about the case. He said an appointment for an assessment is being made. While there was DCF involvement with the family before for a claim of neglect, the girl's mental state was never at issue.

Michael McNally, vice president of community relations at Lee Mental Health, said he could not speak specifically on this case, but "given the history and everything else, that would be very surprising to me," McNally said of the girl not receiving help at the agency.

Lee Mental Health serves more adults than children and, while the number of adult patients admitted has increased with the population, he said, treating all children who come hasn't been an issue.

His agency would have had to accept the girl had officer Nicholson chosen to forcibly admit her for mental health care under a law called the Baker Act. But interim Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker said there are many stipulations for a Baker Act, especially for children.