Gov. Charlie Crist urged to stop ‘chemical restraint’ of foster kids

Miami Herald
FOSTER CARE
Gov. Charlie Crist urged to stop ‘chemical restraint’ of foster kids
A pair of adoptive parents are urging Gov. Charlie Crist and lawmakers to stop the `chemical restraint’ of children in state care.
BY MARC CAPUTO

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Charlie Crist barnstormed the state to boast about record adoptions in Florida, two adoptive parents urged him Tuesday to go a step further and stop what they called the “chemical restraint” of over-medicated children in state care.
Mirko and Regina Ceska told Crist that when they adopted their two 12-year-old children last year, each was taking 11 pills daily, including the powerful anti-psychotic drug, Seroquel.

“These girls were overdosed and would fall asleep right in front of us several times a day,” Mirko Ceska said.

“It seems to be a prerequisite for foster children to be on medication,” he added. “So many are on psychotropic drugs.”

The Crawfordville couple weaned the girls off their medication, and their behavior markedly improved, they said.

Crist thanked the Ceskas for their story but focused his comments on declaring July 22 “Explore Adoption Day” and touting the record-breaking number of adoptions last year in Florida: 3,700.

Crist also appeared to soften his support for Florida’s ban on gay adoptions, by saying he’d “have to see” whether he’d support legislation that would lift the ban.

LINKED TO SUICIDE

Shortly after the Ceskas spoke, Crist’s head of the Department of Children and Families, George Sheldon, asked them to testify Friday in Tampa before a special panel that’s investigating the April suicide of a Margate 7-year-old, Gabriel Myers.

Like the Ceskas’ adopted children, Gabriel was prescribed a number of medications including a psychotropic drug. One of the drugs, the anti-depressant Symbyax, isn’t supposed to be prescribed to children and has been linked to suicidal behavior.

The committee’s findings — and testimony such as the Ceskas’ — will likely form the backbone of legislation aimed at curbing and improving the monitoring of prescription drugs for minors in state care.

MEDICATED

Of the 20,000 children in state care, about 3,100 or 15.5 percent are medicated, primarily with psychotropic drugs, Sheldon said. In the general population, he said, about 4 to 5 percent of children are on some medication.

A DCF study of the 268 6- and 7-year-olds medicated while in state care found that 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.

“Nobody has studied the interactions of those drugs children are being prescribed, which makes it a very frightening situation,” said Andrea Moore, a Broward attorney and child advocate.

Regina Ceska, a nurse, said she and her husband found a “shocking” number of children in the foster system appear to be medicated with Seroquel, which she said shouldn’t be used on children.

“This is, in my profession, considered a chemical restraint,” she said.

Sheldon said children in the foster-care system might require more medication, but it’s not clear how many kids are being over-prescribed psychotropic drugs. He said the Ceskas’ testimony helps shed light on the problem.

“Regrettably, the story they’re telling is far too common,” Sheldon said. Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

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