Number of foster children in Florida on mood-altering drugs underreported, state study finds
By Jon Burstein
FORT LAUDERDALE – The number of foster children in Florida prescribed mood-altering drugs has been significantly underreported, according to the early results of a statewide study sparked by a 7-year-old boy’s suicide in Margate.
The revelation came Thursday at the end of an intense, day-long hearing by a panel appointed to scrutinize Gabriel Myers’ tumultuous journey through the child welfare system that ended with him hanging himself at his foster home on April 16. Gabriel had been prescribed two psychotropic drugs.
Since then, the state Department of Children & Families has been reviewing case files on the more than 20,000 foster children in Florida. Before Gabriel’s death, just under 10 percent — 1,954 — were listed as being on mood-altering drugs, said John Cooper, the department’s acting assistant secretary for operations.
That number will rise markedly when DCF releases the findings of its current study next week, Cooper said.
“I don’t know by how much, but it will be significant,” he said.
In Gabriel’s case, he only was listed in the database as being on Adderall, an attention deficit/hyperactivity drug, that he had been taken off of months before his death, said DCF Secretary George Sheldon. The two drugs that Gabriel was taking when he died–Symbyax and Vyvanse–had not been approved by either his parents or a judge–a violation of state law.
Child welfare officials acknowledged that failure Thursday to the six-member panel as they traced the last 10 months of Gabriel’s life. Throughout the eight-hour hearing, questions arose about communication between social services providers and whether vital information about Gabriel’s behavior and background was being shared and acted upon quickly.
No one checked to see why Gabriel had been prescribed Adderall before moving to Florida from Ohio or if he had been on any medications prior to that. No one obtained a copy of his child welfare history from Ohio until after his death.
In his last month, Gabriel saw his world turned upside down–going to a new foster home, changing therapists, changing after-school programs and his mother being transferred from the Broward County Jail to an Ohio jail. His behavior worsened during that time with him destroying property and threatening to hurt others.
“Was Gabriel spiraling out of his control or was his environment spiraling out of control?” asked panel member Bill Janes, DCF assistant secretary for substance abuse and mental health.
Sheldon, who attended part of Thursday’s hearing, told the panel he wants every aspect of Gabriel’s case investigated and people held accountable.
“We got to get every component of this system right,” he said. “When you deal with children, no one can have a bad day.”
Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4491.