DCF says its rules on children’s drugs are often ignored

St. Petersburg Times
In Print: Tuesday, July 7, 2009

TALLAHASSEE — Child-welfare doctors and case managers routinely failed to complete legally required treatment plans, share information or properly document the prescribing of powerful psychiatric drugs for children, according to a new state study of 6- and 7-year-olds medicated in state care.

One of the 268 such children was Gabriel Myers. The troubled 7-year-old, medicated with an adult antidepressant known to cause suicides in children, hanged himself in April in his Margate foster home.

But the state study, which documents how many times caseworkers and doctors followed child-welfare rules and laws, shows that it would be a mistake to blame Gabriel’s death solely on the drug, Symbyax, said Florida’s drug czar, William Janes.

“It wasn’t just the medications,” said Janes, who sits on a committee investigating ways to prevent cases like Gabriel’s. “It was the system, and his world. His environment just collapsed on him. And there was no one there to really put their arms around him.”

The Department of Children and Families study, presented Monday to the committee, indicates that a number of rules and laws on medication for children in state care weren’t followed for all 6- and 7-year-olds:

• In 86 percent of cases, the prescribing physician didn’t complete what’s known as a “psychotherapeutic medication treatment plan,” which helps caseworkers, legal guardians, judges and other physicians determine a child’s mental well-being.

• In 75 percent of the cases, the caseworkers did not provide physicians with pertinent medical information about the child.

• In 76 percent of the cases, the caseworker didn’t provide parents with information about the psychotropic drugs their kids were being prescribed. Nor did the caseworker help arrange transportation or phone conversations between the doctor and the child’s guardian.

• In 58 percent of the cases, the case manager didn’t attempt to speak with or meet the parent or guardian before seeking a court order to medicate the child.

The committee plans to issue a report by Aug. 20. It is only touching on Gabriel’s case, which is the subject of a Margate police investigation. Some doctors and caseworkers — all of whom work for privatized agencies under contract with the state — might face sanctions, pending the report.

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

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