Study is more fallout from suicide of 7-year-old foster child in Margate
By Jon Burstein
Almost one of every six foster children on mood-altering drugs in Florida is being given the medications without the court order or parental consent mandated by law, according to a study released Thursday by the state Department of Children & Families.
DCF Secretary George Sheldon acknowledged there was “no rational basis” for 433 foster children in Florida being administered the psychotropic drugs without the required permission, as the study found. The agency is working so that by next week the children have parental consent to take the drugs or are scheduled to go before a judge for a court order, Sheldon said.
The study is more fallout from last month’s suicide of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers. The boy hanged himself April 16 with a shower hose in the bathroom of his Margate foster home. At the time of his death, he had been prescribed two psychotropic drugs–Symbyax and Vyvanse–that had not been approved by either his parents or a judge.
In Broward County, the DCF study found that only seven of the 212 foster children on psychotropic drugs–3 percent of the total–did not have the required approval.
In Palm Beach County, the results at first seemed much more eye-popping: of a total of 149 foster children on mood-altering drugs, 41–or 28 percent–did not have the necessary consent. But the nonprofit agency that manages the county’s foster care system reported that there were only eight children taking medication without the proper consent. The other 33 had the proper approval, but their data files were incomplete, said Judith Warren, chief executive officer of Child and Family Connections.
DCF concluded that inaccurate and incomplete information in its databases had caused it to previously underreport the number of foster children in Florida on psychotropic drugs.
Of the 20,235 foster children in Florida, 2,669 of them–13 percent–are on the drugs, including 73 who are 5 years old or younger, the study found.
Prior to the study, the database listed 1,954 foster children as taking the medications.
In comparison, about 5 percent of children in the general population are on some sort of psychotropic drug, said Rajiv Tandon, a University of Florida psychiatry professor who is part of a panel examining Gabriel Myers’s death.
Child advocates long have been frustrated with the administering of psychotropic drugs to foster children, arguing that the medications are used more often to subdue children than to address their mental health issues.
“The study tells me more what the department doesn’t know than what they do know,” said Andrea Moore, a Coral Springs attorney and child advocate.
She said she finds it “extremely troubling” that according to the DCF’s latest findings, 16 percent of the foster children taking psychotropic drugs are doing so without a judge’s approval or parental consent even though the state law requiring such approval was passed four years ago.
Jon Burstein can be reached at jburstein@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4491.