“Florida is doing this at a rate that is unheard-of in any other place,” said Yasamin Sharifi, who co-wrote the report.
Since the mid-20th century, community-based counseling, therapy and in some cases medication have been preferred over lengthy inpatient treatment for children with serious behavior disorders. Some of those who worked with Nicole said she was sometimes pulled out of programs that might have helped her as a result of her own bad behavior.
“People say the system has failed on me,” Nicole said in a telephone interview from Volusia County jail. “I don’t think I should go to prison. Obviously, I don’t. Little kids like me, 14-year-olds, make mistakes.
“Just not this big.”
A Troubled Childhood
Both the Department of Juvenile Justice, which operates delinquency diversion programs, and the Department of Children and Families, which oversaw Nicole’s mental health care, declined to speak about her case, citing privacy laws.
Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for the children and families agency, said the state was expanding adult mental health services to include more children, and trying to cut down on the use of involuntary mental health commitments with better preventive services that include a single point of contact for children and families.
“The goal of children’s care coordination is to overcome systemic barriers to services, enable sharing of information across organizations, and increase access to care,” she said in an email.
After the Parkland shooting in 2018, when a teenage gunman with mental problems fatally shot 17 classmates and staff members, the state poured $28 million into mobile response and community action teams designed to help troubled children. Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged $23 million of coronavirus relief funding in 2020 to expand mental health services and then backed plans to add a “resiliency” curriculum in the schools to help children build the mental health skills to cope with the hurdles life puts in their way.