Officials working on better way to track foster kids' medical, court histories

Date: 2009-07-25

By Ileana Morales

TAMPA — The group formed after the 7-year-old boy's suicide in April.

The idea was to examine his death and prevent similar ones, but the group has found itself struggling to solve the problem of simplifying paperwork for the medical histories of Florida's foster children.

The Department of Children and Families' Gabriel Myers Workgroup met for the fifth time on Friday. Members want fewer but better forms tracking foster children to lessen the burden on case managers already swamped with cases of paperwork in their cars.

But the question of how to do that remains unanswered.

Gabriel Myers, 7, hanged himself with an extendable shower hose in his South Florida foster home. He was taking a combination of psychotropic drugs without state-required approval from his parent or a judge.

After Gabriel's death, DCF secretary George Sheldon said he intended to require consent for each prescription of psychiatric drugs. Then he started the task force.

Still, problems abound. Case workers didn't provide prior medical information to prescribing physicians in 65 percent of cases and failed to inform parents of prescriptions in 85 percent of cases, according to a recent DCF report.

Employees need support from a better system, said Bill Janes, DCF assistant secretary for substance abuse and mental health.

Maybe a checklist for case managers, said Dr. Rajiv Tandon, a University of Florida psychiatry professor.

Sheldon encouraged the panel to create a whole new system if necessary and leave the worry of budgetary constraints to him.

Our Kids, a group focusing on child welfare in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, presented on Friday its progress with an electronic database of documents for 3,500 foster children. It highlights each child's current prescriptions and missing paperwork in the electronic case files. Medical histories and scanned court orders or other related documents are available through the program.

"We didn't do this with millions and millions of dollars," said Pat Smith, the agency's chief information officer. "It's a very simple program."

Wurm hopes DCF gets on board to find the quickest route to the group's statewide goal. One way may be through new legislation.

The next public meeting is Aug. 5 at the DCF Suncoast Regional Office, 9393 N Florida Ave., in Tampa.

Ileana Morales can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.


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