Monthly Archives: April 2009

State probes apparent suicide of foster child, 7

Miami Herald
A work group has been appointed to investigate factors leading up to a 7-year-old foster child’s apparent suicide.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

Florida’s top child-welfare administrator has appointed a work group to look into the April 16 death of Gabriel Myers, the 7-year-old boy who took his own life at a Broward County foster home after a stormy nine-month odyssey through the state foster-care system.

At the top of the priority list for Department of Children & Families Secretary George Sheldon will be an examination of the state’s reliance on psychiatric drugs for children in state care.

`CHEMICAL RESTRAINTS’

The issue has troubled the department since the early 2000s, when a Broward child advocate claimed the drugs were being used as ”chemical restraints” on unruly children.

Sheldon has asked administrators to begin reviewing the files of 2,200 children, or about seven percent of those in state care, to determine precisely which medications the children are being administered, he said. Gabriel, who was originally from Ohio, had been prescribed a handful of mind-altering drugs in his final months, DCF has said.

”I have serious concerns about a 7-year-old on the number of medications he was on,” Sheldon said. Because DCF acts as the parent for foster kids, Sheldon said, the agency must ensure that children are being administered only the medications they truly need.

”It is difficult for any of us to comprehend how a child so young could have deliberately and consciously made the decision to end his life,” Sheldon said. “But in order to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, it is critical we review all available information to determine the factors that led to Gabriel’s death.”

Overseeing the work will be Jim Sewell, a former deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who has been working with Sheldon in recent months. Sheldon said he expects the review to be thorough, and he hopes Sewell’s law enforcement background will help the team dig deeply into the boy’s troubled past.

Gabriel came into state care in June when his mother was found nearly unconscious in a car with the boy in a Denny’s parking lot. Inside the car were several prescription drugs, including Xanax. Reports said Candace Myers had dozed so deeply she did not notice that officers had taken the boy.

BOUNCED AROUND

In coming months, Gabriel lived with a maternal uncle, then moved to a foster home, and then to another home in Margate, and through it all his condition worsened. On April 16, he got into a squabble with the 19-year-old son of his foster father, announced his intention to kill himself, and then hanged himself from a detachable metal shower cord.

Sheldon said he also will ask the work group to study the state’s handling of children who have been the victims of sexual abuse, and who then go on to seek other victims. Records show Gabriel had been molested by an older boy in Ohio, and had begun to act out sexually among other children.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Miami Herald

DCF Probes Drugs Prescribed To Foster Kids

CBS4
I-Team: DCF Probes Drugs Prescribed To Foster Kids
MARGATE (CBS4) ― State officials are looking very closely into the alleged suicide of a seven-year-old boy in foster care.

Seven-year-old Gabriel Myers may have been tormented by demons that came from a prescription drug bottle; police say the boy hanged himself from the extendable shower head in his foster parents’ home.

CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald has reported Myers had been taking powerful, psychotropic medications. Some of the drugs are not approved for use in children by the Food & Drug Administration. Three of the drugs come with strong warnings that they can increase the risk of suicide in children.

The Department of Children and Families chief apparently has found it troubling; he’s ordered an internal review of what drugs Florida foster care children are taking.

While Gabriel had been given pills meant to treat mental illness, there is no indication he was psychotic.

“Apparently, he was a normal little boy who occasionally had tantrums and became difficult when he didn’t get his way, but he was not diagnosed with schizophrenia or any other major mental illness,” Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller said.

Nineteen year-old Miguel Gould was watching the foster child the day he hanged himself. “He was just sick,” Gould told CBS4’s Gary Nelson. “He had pills he had to take to get better. He would have to take like two or three pills per day.”

In recent weeks, Gabriel was prescribed the drug Symbyax, which comes with the strongest warning the FDA issues regarding potential for suicide in children. Gould said the boy’s behavior worsened after he began taking the latest drug. “It got worse. His behavior was just out of control. I couldn’t control him, my parents couldn’t control him.”

Gould told CBS4 News the boy pitched a fit the day he died, angry about a lunch of soup and crackers he had been given. Gould said Gabriel had to eat something with the medication he was taking because it “could be rough on his stomach.”

Dr. David Lustig, a child psychologist and director of the Koala Learning Center in Pembroke Pines, said some children may need to be treated with psychotropic drugs, but because of possible serious side effects they have to be watched closely, especially when starting on a new medication. “Someone has to be monitoring the child to make sure the medicine is doing what it’s supposed to do and there are not adverse reactions,” Lustig said. “In a foster setting, there may not have been anyone to do that adequately.”

Miller, the Herald reporter, previously authored an investigative series that revealed as many as one in four foster children in Florida was being given psychotropic drugs. “They didn’t suffer from psychosis,” Miller said. “They were just kids whose foster parents found it difficult to manage.”

After the Herald’s reports, the Florida legislature passed a measure intended to limit the practice, but it has met only limited success. Doctors are permitted to prescribe the powerful drugs “off label,” despite the FDA’s lack of approval for their use in children.

Leave a comment

Filed under CBS 4 - WFOR

Press Release – DCF Secretary Convenes Workgroup to Evaluate Circumstances Surrounding Death of 7-year-old in Foster Care

From: Judi Spann [mailto:Judi_Spann@dcf.state.fl.us]
On Behalf Of DCF Press Office
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:00 AM
To: DCF Press Office
Subject: Department of Children and Families News Release: Secretary Convenes Workgroup to Evaluate Circumstances Surrounding Death of 7-year-old in Foster Care
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2009
CONTACT: Judi Spann
(850) 488-4855

Department of Children and Families Secretary Convenes Workgroup to Evaluate Circumstances Surrounding Death of 7-year-old in Foster Care

TALLAHASSEE, FL—Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary George H. Sheldon today announced that the Department is establishing a workgroup to determine the
facts and circumstances surrounding the tragic death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers. Gabriel died on April 16 when police indicated he apparently hanged himself in the shower of his foster parents’ Margate home.

Following Gabriel’s death, the Department of Children and Families petitioned the court to release case files and notes relating to the child while in state care. Normally, case files are only made public following a death that is verified as a result of abuse or neglect, per Florida Statutes. However, DCF believed it was in the public interest to open the records to public scrutiny. A judge agreed and the petition was granted on April 22, 2009.

“It is difficult for any of us to comprehend how a child so young could have deliberately and consciously made the decision to end his life,” said Secretary Sheldon. “But in order to help
prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, it is critical we review all available information to determine the factors that led to Gabriel’s death.”

“The workgroup will conduct a full inquiry into the facts of the case, in light of case management and judicial decisions, as well as determine the contributing effects that
psychotropic drugs and sexual abuse had,” Sheldon continued.

The workgroup will be led by former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Jim Sewell. Other members include DCF Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Bill Janes; Pharmacy Director for the Agency for Health Care Administration Ann Wells; attorney and child advocate from Florida’s Children First Robin Rosenberg; and Rajiv Tandon, MD, psychiatrist with the University of Florida. The Secretary has asked that the workgroup consult with professionals from many different areas during this process, including those in law enforcement, the courts, the school system, child welfare officials, the Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and health care practitioners.

“When a child comes into state care, we become the parent of that child and must actively participate in all decisions regarding that child. To do otherwise would be shirking the
responsibility of this Department,” said Sheldon.

The workgroup will be asked to prepare a report based on their findings. The report will be submitted to the Secretary and to the Department’s Task Force for Fostering Success, chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. The Secretary will ask the Task Force to provide recommendations based on the workgroup’s report.

Last week Secretary Sheldon directed DCF staff to do a thorough review of every foster child’s file to determine how many children in foster care have been prescribed psychotropic drugs and to what extent. A 2005 study found that 6% of children under the age of 18 in Florida were prescribed at least one psychotropic drug. That figure was nearly four times higher for foster children. “Much progress has been made since that 2005 study, but we need to continually review protocols to ensure children are not unnecessarily medicated or inadequately monitored if medicated,” said Sheldon.

“We need to develop a refined protocol for the use of these types of drugs in our children,” said Secretary Sheldon. “I want to ensure that prescription drugs of this nature are used
appropriately, always under medical and judicial supervision and with consultation with DCF staff.”

“By reviewing the facts of this case carefully, we can work to continue to improve the child welfare system in Florida. While much progress has been made, Gabriel’s death starkly
reminds us that when it comes to a child’s life, we cannot relax. Every decision we make profoundly affects the life of that child,” said Sheldon.

###

NOTICE: Florida has a broad public records law. Most written communications to or from state officials are public records that will be disclosed to the public and the media upon
request. E-mail communications may be subject to public disclosure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Public Records

After 7-year-old’s suicide, officials order look at drug use of other Florida foster children

Sun-Sentinel
By Jon Burstein

In the aftermath of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers’ suicide, state child welfare officials will review the case files of every foster child in Florida to see how many are on mind-altering drugs.

The head of the Department of Children & Families also took the rare step Wednesday of appointing a panel to examine the circumstances surrounding Gabriel’s death. The child hanged himself April 16 with a shower hose in the bathroom of his Margate foster home.

“It is difficult for any of us to comprehend how a child so young could have deliberately and consciously made the decision to end his life,” DCF Secretary George Sheldon said. “But in order to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, it is critical we review all available information to determine the factors that led to Gabriel’s death.”

Four weeks before his suicide, Gabriel was prescribed Symbyax, which is a combination of the generic forms of the anti-depressant Prozac and the anti-psychosis drug Zyprexa. He already had been taking Vyvanse, a drug to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Sheldon has asked his agency to examine how many of the more than 20,000 foster children in Florida are taking psychotropic drugs. A DCF study in 2005 concluded that one in every four foster children was on a mood-altering drug.

Child advocates in the state have long criticized what they have described as the rampant use of psychotropic drugs on foster children.

“One of our concerns is that they use the medications as ‘chemical restraint’ and not as a medication to treat a disease or condition,” said Andrea Moore, executive director of Florida’s Children First.

Child welfare records released last week indicate Gabriel started taking Symbyax even though there apparently was no court order in place. Under Florida law, parental consent or a judge’s order is needed before a foster child can be administered a psychotropic drug.

“We need to develop a refined protocol for the use of these types of drugs in our children,” Sheldon said. “I want to ensure that prescription drugs of this nature are used appropriately, always under medical and judicial supervision and with consultation with DCF staff.”

To delve into Gabriel’s death, Sheldon appointed a five-member panel to be led by Jim Sewell, a former assistant commissioner with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Jon Myers, Gabriel’s uncle, said he hopes that something good will come out of DCF’s actions.

“We realize (child welfare officials) have a tough job and the idea is that they learn from this and pass some laws which are in the best interest of the children,” Myers said.

Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4491.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sun Sentinel

Child’s death was anything but a suicide

Miami Herald
By FRED GRIMM
fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

Calling the death of Gabriel Myers a ”suicide” lets his killers off the hook.

The 7-year-old was propelled by a vast conspiracy of abuse and neglect and malpractice. The boy only finished the job on April 15, when he locked himself in the bathroom of his Margate foster home and coiled a shower hose around his neck.

We know that his mother, currently in jail in Ohio, her parental rights severed by the courts, seemed to be preoccupied with other matters, including drugs.

AN ALARMING PATHOLOGY

And we know that something awful in his short, sad life had triggered an alarming pathology of aggressive sexual behaviors. This stuff doesn’t occur spontaneously. Someone, reportedly an older child, inflicted this kind of learned behavior on a small child. Gabriel was abused.

”Kids act out like this because someone hurt them,” said Andrea Moore, the longtime child advocate in Broward County and director of Florida’s Children First. “And they are trying to tell us they’re hurt.”

Gabriel was a child of obvious and urgent needs. He needed help, attention and therapy. What he got was Lexapro, Zyprexa and Symbyax (a combination of Zyprexa and Prozac). None of the three powerful psychotropic drugs doled out to Gabriel while he was a foster child was approved for children. All three drugs were known to raise the risk of ”suicidal tendencies” in children.

And Moore points out that none of these anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs had a damn thing to do with repairing Gabriel’s underlying problems. “Give me a break. There is no drug that cures the pain of childhood sexual abuse.”

POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS

The drugs, which come with a long and sobering list of possible side effects in children, have been doled out to troublesome kids to make them more manageable. Eli Lilly was fined $1.4 billion — that’s billion with a B — in March for nefariously marketing the unauthorized use of Zyprexa for children, despite the known risks. A big chunk of those kids, like Gabriel, were foster kids, whose lives by definition were inflicted with the kind of trauma apt to cause unruly behavior.

State officials across the country seemed happy to pay $25 a pill to keep their unruly wards quiet. Eli Lilly also targeted elderly Medicaid patients. The federal lawsuit cited a “thinly veiled marketing of Zyprexa as an effective chemical restraint for demanding, vulnerable and needy patients.”

Foster kids were essentially guinea pigs in a vast, public-financed drug experiment.

Of course, safeguards supposedly protected foster kids. Florida requires so-called ”informed consent” before some doctor pumps a kid up with psychotropics. Parents are asked first — though most foster children would hardly be foster children if it wasn’t for lousy decisions by irresponsible parents.

Absent a parent, a judge must give the OK for psychotropics. But the courts and case workers from the Department of Children & Families are all too overwhelmed by caseloads and beset by budget cuts to spend time contesting a doctor’s judgment.

”No one was looking out for Gabriel,” Moore said.

What Gabriel got, instead of real help, were powerful adult drugs laden with dangerous side effects. His cause of death was listed as suicide. It was just another misdiagnosis.

Leave a comment

Filed under Miami Herald

Babysitter Describes Foster Boy’s Alleged Suicide

CBS4
Watch The Unedited Interview With The Babysitter In The Video Player On The Right Side Of Your Screen
19-Year-Old Says Boy Spoke, Even As He Hung By His Neck

MARGATE (CBS4) ― A foster child who allegedly killed himself 11 days ago cursed at his babysitter and announced his intention to commit suicide, even as he hung by his neck in a bathroom shower. That is the account the babysitter gave CBS4’s Gary Nelson Monday.

Nineteen year-old Miguel Gould was watching the foster child, seven year-old Gabriel Myers on April 16th when Gould says the boy threw a tantrum, angry about a lunch of crackers and soup the sitter had given, and locked himself in a bathroom. Gould is the son of the foster father at the home where Gabriel died.

Gould told the CBS4 News I-Team he went to check on the boy when he heard a “loud noise” from the bathroom. Gould said when he looked through a window in a patio door to the bathroom, he saw that Gabriel “had used a shower hose to wrap around his neck.” He said the boy spoke to him, as he hung by his neck, his feet suspended off the floor of the bathtub beneath him.

“I told him not to do anything crazy or stupid. He told me was going to kill himself,” Gould said. “I told him to unhook himself, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

Gould and CBS4’s Nelson had this on-camera exchange as they stood in the bathroom of the foster home Monday:

Gould: He spoke to me as soon as the hose was tightly around his neck, and he was able to speak.
Nelson: He was hanging there, his feet were suspended off the bathtub?
Gould: Uh huh.
Nelson: And he spoke to you as he was hanging there?
Gould: Yes.
Nelson: And he said?
Gould: He said that he was going to kill himself.
Nelson: Even as he was hanging by his neck?
Gould: Yes.

The babysitter said he ran and got a screwdriver to open a door that leads to the bathroom from an interior hallway of the home. He said it took him “about two minutes” to find a screwdriver and pop open the lock on the doorknob.

“As soon as I unlocked the door, he was, you know, lying in the tub, dead,” Gould said. “I believe he fell into the tub. His head was leaning against the wall. As soon as I saw him lying there dead, then I unhooked him.”

The babysitter said he tried to “breathe” for the boy but was unable to revive him.

Gould said he moved into the home in Margate “three months” ago, after living with his “stepfather” in Canada “for 18 years.”

Gould said we would frequently watch Gabriel and another foster child in the home while his father was at work as an assistant principal in a Miami-Dade school and his mother worked as a nurse.

Margate police say the investigation into the foster child’s death remains open and no manner of death has been officially determined. Police Chief Jerry Blough declined to comment further.

Gould told CBS4 News he has been interviewed at length by Margate investigators.

The Department of Children and Families released nearly 1,500 pages of case file on Gabriel Myers over the weekend. The youngster was taken from his drug-abusing mother less than a year ago. He had apparently been sexually abused and exposed to adult videos since the age of three. Teachers had reported that he had exposed himself, and touched other children inappropriately.

CBS4’s News partner, the Miami Herald reported last week that the boy had recently been prescribed powerful, psychotropic drugs not approved for use in children. Some of the drugs are known to increase suicide risk in children.

Leave a comment

Filed under CBS 4 - WFOR

Behind Gabriel Myers’ sweet smile lay a sad, scarred soul

Sun-Sentinel
Department of Children & Families documents show a life that spiraled out of control
By Jon Burstein

He was just 7 years old. He enjoyed playing with Pokémon trading cards and swimming. He sometimes could act like “the nicest, sweetest little boy in the world,” according to a former foster parent.

But behind Gabriel Myers’ smile was a scarred soul, a boy who once told a therapist he was a “bad person” and a born liar. With a mother who was a drug addict and a father in prison, Gabriel’s world was one of turmoil in which he was both a victim and a potential threat to other children.

His behavior had been spiraling out of control for weeks until he brought an end to his short, tragic life. He locked himself in a bathroom at his Margate foster home and hanged himself. He apparently was upset because he didn’t want soup for lunch.

The sad details of the last 10 months of Gabriel’s life came out Friday night as the state Department of Children & Families released more than 1,400 pages of reports, e-mails and notes related to the boy. The records show child welfare agencies had extensive dealings with Gabriel, including weekly in-home therapy sessions.

The day before his April 16 hanging, a therapist saw him, observing that “his acting out behaviors are becoming more severe and include the destruction of property and the need to restrain him.” The therapist wrote that there were no indications he was suicidal, according to the April 15 report.

During the last three months of his life, Gabriel had “experienced numerous significant events that, in combination, may have contributed to his mental status” when he killed himself, concluded a 14-page DCF report released along with Gabriel’s case file. Among the changes in his life:

He had to be quickly transferred to the Margate house in March after he threatened to harm a toddler at the foster home where he had been living for five months.

A judge terminated his mother’s rights to see him. He had visited her while she was in the Broward County Click here for restaurant inspection reports Jail on drug charges. She is now incarcerated in Ohio.

He had to enroll in a new after-school program and got a new therapist.

Broward authorities first learned of Gabriel in June when his mother, Candace Myers, was found passed-out in a parked car with him in the back seat. Gabriel’s grandparents, who raised him most of his life, had brought the boy down from Ohio only weeks earlier after his mother said she wanted him back.

Candace Myers went to jail and Gabriel went into the child welfare system. Gabriel’s uncle, Jon Myers, agreed to take his nephew into his family’s South Florida home.

But Gabriel’s behavioral issues were too much for his uncle to handle, records show. In particular, Gabriel told his uncle that he was inappropriately touching girls at school. Records indicate Gabriel apparently had been molested by an older boy while living in Ohio.

Jon Myers removed Gabriel from school, saying he didn’t want to endanger other children, records show. In October, Myers told child welfare officials that he could no longer be responsible for Gabriel. He echoed that sentiment in an e-mail Saturday to the Sun-Sentinel.

“After consulting with his counselor, it became apparent that the severity of Gabriel’s problems were beyond our capacity, and we believed he needed to be placed in a residential treatment facility with 24 hour supervision,” Myers wrote.

Gabriel was moved to a foster home that consisted of him, a toddler and a foster dad. The foster dad wrote extensive e-mails to Gabriel’s child advocate, detailing his behavior. Gabriel exposed himself to another boy, forged his foster dad’s name on a teacher’s note and was caught repeatedly lying and stealing, records show.

His time in that foster home came to an end in March when he went into a rage, trashed his room and threatened to hurt his foster dad and the toddler, records show. After the March 17 incident, a psychiatrist prescribed the powerful mind-altering drug Symbyax.

Records indicate Gabriel started taking the drug even though there appears to be no court order in place. Under Florida law, parental consent or a judge’s ruling is needed before a foster child can be administered a psychotropic drug.

DCF spokeswoman Leslie Mann said it’s rare for a judge to challenge a prescription made by a psychiatrist.

Gabriel’s final stop was the Margate foster home. He was there for less than four weeks.

“The most stable relationship in his life at this time appears to be with his teacher,” his therapist wrote in an April 2 report. “Many caregivers [foster parents/therapist/aftercare/foster siblings] have all just changed. He is having nightmares and problems falling asleep thinking of his mother in jail.”

Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4491..

Leave a comment

Filed under Sun Sentinel