DCF needs better tools to monitor psychotropic drug use

Sun Sentinel

Editorial Board

The working group brought together by the tragic death of Gabriel Myers has finished its work. Unfortunately, its final report comes as no surprise: Simply put, the 7-year-old foster child who committed suicide died at the hands of a neglectful bureaucracy.

Gabriel’s lifeless body was found hanging in his Margate foster home on April 16. The death shone a troubling spotlight on the boy’s medical history and — once again — resurrected the controversy over prescribing psychotropic medications to children. Nationally, about 5 percent of all children are treated with psychotropic drugs. In Florida’s foster care system, roughly 15 percent of its children receive at least one of these powerful drugs.

The working group’s findings are replete with all-too-familiar instances of red flags and missed opportunities. One finding, however, stands out and is a testimony to the failure of a major reform to the state’s child welfare system: “There was inadequate oversight of the involved agencies by the [Florida] Department of Children & Families.”

Community-based care was designed to take care of that. The initiative, dating back to the days of Gov. Jeb Bush, took the responsibility for operating foster care services away from what was then a dysfunctional state agency and turned those duties over to local, “community-based” organizations, such as Child-Net, the group responsible for Gabriel’s care. DCF, under this reform, would concentrate its bureaucratic resources on oversight.

At least that’s how it was supposed to work.

Instead, DCF has had a tough go of it. State lawmakers earlier this year considered a bill to limit the department and other health and human services agencies’ ability to monitor these contracts, despite a recommendation by OPPAGA, the Legislature’s watchdog agency, against such limits.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the legislation failed to get real traction. Lawmakers should instead find ways to improve monitoring to ensure quality services without strangling contractors’ operations. As Gabriel’s case shows, it’s needed.

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