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Minding the children


Minding the children

November 26, 2003

Once again, senators are asking the right questions on the issue of whether Florida's foster children are being overmedicated on psychiatric drugs. The only difference this time is that the state's Department of Children and Families finally seems interested in finding the answers.

The Senate Children & Families Committee put DCF Secretary Jerry Regier on the hot seat last week, after DCF's own statistics confirmed that nearly 30 percent of foster teens, and at least 550 foster kids age 5 or younger, are on mind-altering drugs.

"These numbers are shocking," said Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac, who has led the push for tougher legislation on the medications. "We need to make sure we are not just making little addicts out of our children."

Until now, DCF has been reluctant to admit even the possibility of a problem. But last Wednesday Regier responded to Campbell's concern with something more constructive than DCF's usual stonewall. The child-welfare chief said he intends to work with state health care agencies and experts to identify which psychotropic drugs are being administered, by whom, to whom and why.

Though the specifics remain to be fleshed out, Regier's plan represents progress, however belated. For years, advocates have complained about the overuse of psychotropic drugs, which can carry side effects worse than the symptoms they are meant to improve. The Statewide Advocacy Council in September found that the drugs are often prescribed for young foster children - some barely old enough to walk or talk - without a pediatric psychiatrist having first examined the child.

Council chairman Craig Rappel is among those who see promise in DCF's change of heart. "The Public Trust demands that, as any parent would do, DCF ask questions about the care and treatment of their (children in state care)," Rappel told the Times.

It's about time DCF pulled its head out of the sand and started searching out answers and solutions.

2003 Nov 26