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Improving children's mental health target of new Florida law

Law provides students with additional resources, support
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Posted at 3:37 PM, Jul 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-01 17:29:32-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A new law that took effect Wednesday in Florida is helping schools be better equipped to support students facing mental health issues.

Local mental health advocates say it's a step in the right direction.

RELATED: New Florida laws that go into effect on July 1

Dr. Nicole Davis said her mother-daughter time has been at an all-time high this year.

"I have two amazing little girls. They are 13 and 10. We love hiking, going to the pool and spending that time together outside," said Davis.

When Davis cannot be around her youngest child, she said anxious feelings kick in.

"Because I don't trust that the school and or the overarching procedures that have been in place with regard to how to handle my daughter whenever she has a moment of distress," said Davis.

Davis said her daughter has generalized anxiety disorder.

"There was a situation at her school last year where she talked about not wanting to live and the school reacted with such fear that there was a call put out to the county," said Davis.

Now, Florida House Bill 945 is changing the response to mental health issues in schools.

The new law sponsored by State Rep. David Silvers, D-West Palm Beach, allows for school districts to utilize mobile response units and crisis stabilization services as a first line of assistance to children needing mental health care.

"We have a responsibility to ensure our schools, teachers, administrators and others have access to the support and services needed for children and youth in our schools struggling with mental and behavioral health challenges," Silvers said. "The goal for this bill is to protect children from additional trauma like the use of the Baker Act while also providing a safe, caring environment for children as well as their classmates and teachers."

Social workers say children can have more difficulties with the changes in schedules, routines and daily lifestyle caused by COVID-19.

"Getting people in there that are trained to deescalate, and that are trained for comprehensive assessment who aren't going to have those big reactions to a thought of suicide," said Alyssa Hickey, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at Therapeutic Oasis.

Hickey said the key is knowing that behavior is a symptom of a more significant issue.

"It might not always need to be a 'Baker Act' if we can deescalate and promote safety with parents, with the school and the kids themselves," said Hickey.