After child’s death, DCF will do better

Miami Herald
VERBATIM
By XXXXXX
Below are excerpts from remarks by Deparment of Children & Families SecretaryGeorge Sheldon on May 28 on the Psychotherapeutic Drug Status Report.

When I learned about the death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, who apparently hanged himself in his foster parents’ home in Margate, I was stunned. It is incomprehensible to understand how a child so young may have deliberately and consciously made a decision to end his life. Anyone who heard of Gabriel’s story was in disbelief; parents everywhere are wondering to themselves: How could this happen?

Immediately following Gabriel’s death I appointed a work group, chaired by Dr. Jim Sewell, former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to review all available information regarding the factors that led to Gabriel’s death. I asked the work group to conduct a full inquiry into all the facts of the case, including the contributing effects of psychotherapeutic drugs and sexual abuse.

Poor-quality data

Some disturbing things emerged fairly quickly. Gabriel’s physician had prescribed several psychotherapeutic drugs, but this information was not reflected in our database. There also was no evidence in Gabriel’s files that the statutorily required parental consent or a court order was obtained. This report is an important first step in closely examining not only this case but in helping ensure that a tragedy of this magnitude does not occur again. We have not determined whether these drugs were a factor in Gabriel’s death. Regardless, we have a responsibility to monitor the use of those drugs and to ensure the overall care, treatment and safety of children in our care.

Here are some of the key findings: First, the report indicates that about 13 percent of the more than 20,000 children in out-of-home foster care are taking one or more psychotherapeutic medications. That is a significant number. Though obviously I have little confidence in our past data, it appears to be a reduction from where we were four years ago, when the Legislature’s concern about this led to passage of the consent law. It is also lower than other states. [However] Florida needs to get this right.

Parents’ consent

Second, we have to bring every single case into compliance with the law. Our review indicates that about 16 percent of the foster children on psychotherapeutic medications do not have either parental consent or a court order. That is unacceptable. Our attorneys with Children’s Legal Services are working with the caseworkers at our partner agencies to obtain these consents or file a status report with the courts by next Friday.

We have to make sure that parents are not just signing a consent form but really understand what they are signing. We have to get our database system in better shape, and work with other agencies like the Agency for Health Care Administration to ensure the integrity and usefulness of the data we have on these children. We are also raising the standards for the performance of our partner agencies. These partners are really the key to our success. But ultimately the Department of Children and Families is responsible.

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