Sanction doctors, child workers who ignore rules in prescribing psychiatric drugs

Florida Today
Our views: Foster kid alert
Sanction doctors, child workers who ignore rules in prescribing psychiatric drugs

A new study of doctors’ and caseworkers’ compliance with legal rules when foster kids in Florida are prescribed mental-health drugs, such as antidepressants, is disturbing and demands action.

Among the glaring discrepancies the Department of Children and Families report found:

In 86 percent of cases, physicians didn’t complete required treatment plan paperwork.

Caseworkers failed to give physicians needed medical information about children in 75 percent of the cases reviewed.

In 76 percent of cases, social workers didn’t give parents information about medications prescribed for children.

The report — which looked at 6- and 7-year-olds — also found workers frequently failed to talk with parents or guardians before seeking a court order to medicate a child, or to inform the court if parental consent wasn’t obtained.

Some fault for the lapses may lie in confusing safeguards built into laws the Legislature passed in 2005 to rein in possible misuse of powerful psychiatric drugs to treat many foster kids, which should be clarified.

And there’s no question caseworkers in Florida’s privatized and cash-strapped child-welfare system bear overwhelming caseloads.

But there’s no excuse for ignoring rules meant to protect children who have already been abused or neglected from more harm.

After a final report is issued in August, physicians or workers found to have knowingly broken the rules should face strong sanctions. The disproportionate numbers of Florida’s 20,000 foster kids taking mental-health drugs — more than 13 percent — must also be more deeply investigated.

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