Advocate Still Mad at Foster Children Being Prescribed Drugs

Date: 2009-08-14

Associated Press

An advocate for children in Florida’s foster care system is still critical of the state for it’s use of prescribed drugs to treat foster children, despite new attention being given to the issue.

The head of the state’s child welfare agency is recommending stricter rules for prescribing powerful antidepressants and other medication to foster children after a 7-year-old in state care committed suicide.

George Sheldon suggested the changes Thursday, the same day a 55-page preliminary report on Gabriel Myers’ death was released. The reports states that Florida officials have not “clearly articulated” the psychiatric care that children in the state’s care should receive.

The new report found a lack of accountability and inadequate supervision in every step of Gabriel’s case.

Myers hung himself with a retractable showerhead at a foster home in April. He was on powerful pyschotropic drugs at the time of his death. DCF officials have said that caseworkers didn’t communicate with Myers’ foster parents, teachers and doctors.

An attorney who has been an advocate for foster children remains critical of the state. Karen Gievers says while the agnecy’s secretary has suggested changes, the children in state care are still being administered the drugs.

“It’s business as usual in our foster care system sadly as it’s been done for decades. There’s still too much reliance on psychotropic medication. There’s still too many people exploiting children using them as a cash cow and that’s to the detriment of the children,” Gievers said.

“The children can benefit from therapy to help them get through the trauma of being taken from their families and put in the system. And we need to be having our social workers concentration that rather than let’s hurry up and get the children to a psychiatrist who can see the youngster once a month and prescribe more medications.”

“There was a lot of hoops that weren’t jumped through like they should have done. There’s a pretty tight legal requirements for folks that suggest that a child should be in psychotropics and a lot of those weren’t being followed,” Jim Sewell of the Florida Department of Children and Families said.

“What we’ve done in that period of time is actually go through and start to touch every case in the system to make sure that those kids have been properly dealt with, that their safety has been assured, that their medications have been reviewed, that the proper kinds of safeguards have been inacted whether it’s been the parent being involved in discussions about the child’s medication or it was the courts.”

A records check after Gabriel died found nearly 2,700 children - or 13 percent of all those in out-of-home foster care, taking psychotropic drugs. That compared with an estimated 4 to 5 percent in the general population.

The records check showed that 433 of those children, or 16 percent, had not had their drugs approved by parents or court orders.

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