Report: More Than 13% of Florida’s Foster Kids on Drugs

The Jacksonville Observer
Austin Cassidy

A Department of Children and Families report has found that 2,669 Florida foster kids – just over 13 percent of children in the system – are on psychotropic drugs.

The report comes as a result of the death of a 7-year-old Margate boy, who apparently hanged himself, while under treatment with psychotropic drugs. A DCF investigation of Gabriel Myers’ death found that a proper consent form had not been signed regarding the boy’s treatment and that his medication was not reflected in his case files.

“It is inconceivable to me, even now, how a child so young could have made a deliberate or conscious decision to end his life,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon.

Following Myers’ death, Sheldon ordered that the files of all foster children be reviewed to ensure that the agency’s case files accurately reflect the number of children who were on psychotropic drugs.

The department found that 2,669 of Florida foster children, or about 13 percent, are on one or more psychotropic medications, including 73 children (2.75 percent) who are 5-years-old or younger. Additionally, more than 16 percent of the total number were on the medication without parental consent or judicial order.

For the general population, about 4 percent to 5 percent of children are placed on psychotropic drugs.

Sheldon said the agency’s attorneys and case managers are currently working to have consent papers signed by guardians and to have those children re-evaluated by physicians.

The department is not yet setting out any disciplinary actions for guardians or caseworkers who may have slipped up in the process, but Sheldon is not ruling it out in the future. He also acknowledged the concerns of many child advocates that children are being drugged simply to make them more manageable.

“I’m not a psychiatrist and I’m not anti-medication, but I have serious questions,” Sheldon said.

The issue of psychotropic medication for children has come up frequently in the Legislature, and Sheldon said he has been in contact with legislative leaders and other lawmakers about the report.

The work group will continue to meet until about July and will issue a series of recommendations to the agency. Agency officials are still working out a time line for the department to finish a quality assurance evaluation of the data they have received regarding the system’s foster children.

“I want a sense of urgency throughout this, but I also want to get this right,” Sheldon said.

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