Child welfare case shows oversight lax

Sun Sentinel
Douglas C. Lyons
Senior Editorial Writer

flaadouglaslyonssig_FLSUN_08-18-2007_NB_1_3CH3J2H.jpgDouglas C. Lyons

Gabriel Myers came into this world shortly after his mother tested positive for Benzodiazepine, a powerful tranquilizer while she was in labor. Seven years later he was dead, his body found hanging in a bathroom of his foster-care home in Margate.

In between there were the debilitating moves between foster homes, the horrifying discovery that Myers had been molested by an older boy, the resulting display of sexually abusive behavior toward other children and the need for mood altering drugs to help Myers manage his disruptive outbursts.

The case says a lot about Florida’s child welfare services. Unfortunately, very little of it is pretty. Procedures were followed, mistakes were made, and now fingers are pointing. In the end, a child died in foster care, and the social service professionals and that remnant called “the concerned public” are left to wonder what could have been done differently.

Under the Bush administration — Jeb’s not W’s — state officials privatized foster-care services, putting government resources into the hands of “community-based” organizations, like Child-Net, the Broward County non-profit that was responsible for Myers.

The fact the boy committed suicide while under the care of a local bureaucracy instead of a state one is not a tribute to reform. However, it does show how entrenched sexual abuse and disruptive behavior problems can be.

For example, Myers was taking Adderall XR at age 6 for ADHD. DCF records show that prescriptions of Vyvanse, Lexapro and Symbyax soon followed.

Lexapro and Symbyax carry “black box” warnings that they may increase suicidal thoughts or behaviors in children. Vyvanase also carries risks of aggressive behavior, strange thoughts and mania. There’s nothing illegal about giving psychotropic drugs to minors; it’s the doctor’s call. But, DCF has a history of dispensing these medications in too many cases without informed consent or sufficient diagnosis.

Give DCF credit. It’s examining the Myers case and looking at the department’s use of psychotropic drugs. Early indications are these drugs are still being dispensed with lax oversight.

The department is taking its monitoring role seriously. Now it’s up to groups like Child Net to turn those “red flags” into a viable reform.

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