Foster child’s suicide points to web of shortcomings

Tallahassee Democrat
Our Opinion: Diagramming failure

In April, a 7-year-old ward of Florida’s foster care system hanged himself after taking Symbyax, an adult antidepressant that carried a warning of possible suicide if used by children.

Gabriel Myers’ story is a small part of a report on 268 children ages 6 and 7 who are medicated as part of the care provided to them while in foster care. The report compiled by Florida’s Department of Children and Families indicates failures on the part of caseworkers, doctors and caregivers to sufficiently comply with safeguards to keep these children from harm.

Released in a news story by the St. Petersburg Times, the report points to frightening trends in caring for these fragile children. In 86 percent of the cases, the prescribing physician didn’t complete a plan that would help stakeholders in the child’s care determine his or her mental state. In three-quarters of the cases, caseworkers did not give physicians medical information that was key to the child’s care, nor did they provide parents or guardians with information about the medications the children were being prescribed.

Drug czar William Janes characterized Gabriel’s death as a failure of “the system.”

“His environment just collapsed on him,” Mr. Janes told the Times.

His environment wasn’t just the home Gabriel was placed into, or the web of caseworkers, physicians and caregivers who worked with him. It really began up top with decision made by the state Legislature on funding for services like foster care.

Without adequate funding, and more importantly, an adequate stream of revenue, there are not enough caseworkers to handle the foster care load in compliance with state statutes and policies.

The problems generated by inadequate funding for oversight show up not just in foster homes but in everyday concerns about our children. School systems cannot hire and support school nurses — a crucial liaison for children from all backgrounds who must take medication.

A year ago, Leon County had to cut school health workers, who were not trained medical professionals, but volunteers taking the place of school nurses in order to assist students with medical needs.

Adequate funding for basic state services like foster care, and complementary ones like medical care, is necessary to distribute a feasible workload, follow up as necessary, and monitor critical cases as instructed. It is key to fostering communication where being properly informed about a child’s case could be a matter of life and death.

When an environment like Gabriel’s collapses, it is not a micro-sized failure of a few. It is a symptom of failure on a larger scale, an indicator of the implosion of policy enacted without the financial backing to make it efficient.

Take heed, and remember. Inadequate funding and the insufficient care and oversight that follow is how systematic failures and individual tragedies happen.

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