Standing Committee on Legal Needs of Children
Mental Health Subcommittee
Mental Health Forum May 22, 2007
Summary of Recommendations Proposed by Participants1
“In order to secure the fundamental rights of children to physical and emotional
well-being and safety and protect children’s legal interests, Florida should fully
fund independent advocacy that includes the availability of legal counsel and
guardians ad litem for children in certain legal and administrative proceedings by
creating a Statewide Office of the Child Advocate.”
Implement the Judge Frank Orlando/Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Alternatives
to Detention” programming.
The mental health system should continually assess children and youth and not
base all treatment and placement decisions solely on an initial assessment or
Moreover, the system should examine behavior in the context of the difficult
situations facing the youth, and not presume that misbehavior is a product of
Finally, the State must consider the educational consequences of shuffling
traumatized children into special education programs where they often do not get
a rigorous academic education and leave school without the diploma necessary
to allow them to access higher education or the vocational skills to become self-
Professor Bernard Perlmutter:
The State must provide, at a minimum, counsel for:
1. All children being committed to locked residential treatment programs
(not just those who object to commitment.)
2. Children with developmental disabilities: mental retardation, spina
bifida, cerebral palsy and autism.
3. Children in DJJ and DCF who are on psychotropic medications where
there is no parent to consent to medication.
(Recommendation joined by Angela Orkin)
Florida’s Children First prepared this summary in its capacity of providing assistance to
the Standing Committee. Every effort was made to accurately and concisely summarize
the presentations and recommendations.
Summary of Recommendations/2
Juvenile Detention Centers should provide mental health treatment to detainees
as many youth awaiting therapeutic treatment remain in detention longer than the
DJJ must improve communications between the Juvenile Assessment Centers
and the Detention Centers – as often pertinent information about a youth’s
mental health needs is gathered at the Assessment Center but not provided to
the Detention Center.
Juvenile Probation Officers should take a more active role in referring youth for
community based treatment services.
Communities must build follow-up programs that care for youth who leave the
custody of DJJ to help them remain stable in the community.
Public Defenders need to professionalize representation of youth to specialize
and enhance their services.
Laws that criminalize the manifestation of disabilities should be re-examined so
youth are not penalized for behaviors caused by their disabilities.
Routine shackling of children must be eliminated.
Youth, especially youth with disabilities, should not be allowed to enter a plea
before they have opportunity to be advised by competent counsel
The Department of Juvenile Justice needs full funding of its budget requests in
order to provided needed mental health services.
Children in the dependency system need attorneys to represent them from the
shelter stage in order to minimize their length of stay in state care. Permanent
families can prevent the need for intensive mental health treatment for most
Systemic improvements are needed to speed the length of time it takes to obtain
Medicaid for children who enter into state care.
Judicial education is critical to ensuring that judges make appropriate decisions
concerning medication and residential placement.
Summary of Recommendations/3
Existing procedures for providing youth with notice concerning treatment and
refusal to provide services must be revised to ensure that due process rights are
Steps should be taken to ensure that children are more routinely taken to court
hearings so their voices can be heard. (Recommendation joined by Angela
Dr. Antoinette Appel:
The law should be revised to create an “informed prescription” requirement.
That is, before the court permits the administration of psychotropic drugs to
children, it must view evidence that the doctor has had access to and reviewed
all the medical records of the child before issuing a prescription - and then again
every time that the prescription is reviewed. Courts entering medication orders
should require prescription reviews.
A neutral arbitration system should be set up to review the medications that
children are being given.
Honorable John J. Frusciante:
Children need consistent mental health treatment regardless of their placement
so that counselors don’t change when children change placements.
The State must provide more in-home services to parents of children with mental
health concerns so that the parents can learn how to manage their children’s
difficult behaviors and keep them at home and out of institutions.
Children must have attorney representation in exceptional student education,
DOAH proceedings, and food stamp reviews – all areas in which the GAL cannot
Competency restoration programs should be community based so that there are
not long waiting lists and so that children can remain in closer contact with their
Improvements are needed in the system that is supposed to ensure that youth
aging out of foster care who are in need of guardians have the guardianship
established before they exit foster care.