Monthly Archives: November 2009

DCF may hire medical officer to monitor kids’ meds


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida’s welfare agency should hire a chief medical officer to monitor powerful medications prescribed to foster children.

That’s the recommendation of a task force formed after a 7-year-old foster child hanged himself in April.

Before his death, Gabriel Myers was on several powerful psychotropic medications that carried U.S. Food and Drug Administration “black box” label warnings for children and increased the risk of suicidal thinking.

Some of the medication is not approved for children.

Wednesday’s report says the Department of Children and Families should also contract out independent research studies to examine the effects of psychotropic medication on children. The agency should also frequently review data about how many children receive such drugs in the state.

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In Florida, it’s Adoption Year

Palm Beach Post

November is National Adoption Month, a fitting time to recognize the strides Florida has made in turning around its foster care system and putting more children into permanent homes.

The state’s child welfare system is still in need of major improvements as illustrated this spring when 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, who was taking an anti-psychotic drug that neither his mother nor a judge had approved, killed himself at his Broward County foster home. Gabriel’s is one of several horror stories starring the Florida Department of Children and Families since the state privatized foster care and adoptions.

Still, the number of children in foster care — which has steadily decreased — and the number being adopted — which has steadily risen, tell a different story — one of success and hope.

Florida set a record this fiscal year with 3,777 adoptions through June 30. Of those foster children, 162 were in Palm Beach County, 20 in Martin County and 44 in St. Lucie County.

There have been 600 finalized adoptions since July 1, and about 200 — including 50 in Miami on Friday — will become final this month, putting those children in permanent homes in time for Christmas.

Florida also has seen a drop in the number of children in foster care. As of July 1 of this year there were 19,797 in foster care, a decline of 9,483 since the beginning of 2007.

The federal government recognized the state’s efforts by awarding Florida $9.75 million in adoption incentives, nearly one-third of the $35 million given to 38 states and Puerto Rico. The bonus money rewards states for adoptions of older children in foster care and those with special needs. In December, DCF created the “Longest Waiting Teens” initiative to encourage adoption of teenagers. Of the 103 children seeking permanent families, 26 have found one.

“Nationally, we rank at the very top as far as adoptions. We’re very proud of that accomplishment,” Jim Kallinger, Florida’s chief child advocate said in an interview. “And communities are getting involved. People are answering the call and adopting these kids despite the economy, which is quite amazing.”

These accomplishments are certainly worth lauding. What also would be amazing is for Florida’s Supreme Court to repeal the state’s ban on gay adoption. Florida is the only state to ban adoptions by all homosexuals. A case to overturn the ban is pending before the 3rd District Court of Appeal. Any decision will likely be appealed again at the Supreme Court level.

The court can take Florida to an even higher level of adoptions by allowing all loving families willing and qualified to give abused and neglected children a permanent home the right to do just that.

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Florida panel wants tougher rules on drugs for foster kids

Florida Times Union

Florida panel wants tougher rules on drugs for foster kids
Task force investigating boy’s suicide is making final recommendations.
By Brandon Larrabee

TALLAHASSEE — A task force investigating the apparent suicide of a 7-year-old foster child approved a list of nearly 100 recommendations concerning the use of psychiatric medications by foster children Thursday as the examination of the hanging death of Gabriel Myers continues.

The panel called for several measures to toughen accountability in the dispensing of psychotropic drugs and making sure the medications aren’t the only part of a child’s therapy.

Members of the working group also called for the Legislature to devote more resources, including the creation of a chief medical officer for the Department of Children & Families, to keep an eye on treatment for foster children.

“We need to have a better system of accountability over children who are being taken care of,” said Jim Sewell, former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and head of the task force. “… If we’re serious about making sure we’re taking care of children, we’ve got to make sure that we’re devoting funding to it.”

The recommendations include calling for tighter oversight by local DCF workers of the nonprofit organizations that handle foster care services and increased scrutiny from the agency’s central office. The panel also suggests making sure that caseworkers and caregivers get second opinions for the use of certain types and frequencies of medications.

Sewell said the panel’s recommendations, which are being put into final form after an hours-long meeting Thursday to hammer out the details, focus less on whether the psychiatric medications are over-prescribed than whether they are “properly prescribed.”

“We don’t say the drugs are completely bad,” Sewell said. “Medications are useful … when they’re part of dealing with the child’s overall issues.”

But Sewell said part of the solution is making sure the department employees follow existing laws and rules.

“The framework’s in place,” he said.

The use of the drugs and whether the agency was obtaining proper consent from parents or courts entered the spotlight when, in the aftermath of Gabriel’s death, the department revealed that more than 3,000 foster kids were taking the medications without the legally required permission.

While the major recommendations for the Legislature involve what Sewell described as “tweaks” to the law and more resources for monitoring the use of the drugs, lawmakers are likely to more closely examine the use of psychiatric medications for foster children.

Members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee from both parties pledged this month to toughen laws and rules for prescribing psychiatric drugs to children in the wake of Gabriel’s death.

“We’ve got a lot deeper issues than the medical director,” Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville and a member of the committee, said Thursday.

He said lawmakers could move around funding to provide the necessary money for things like the medical position, but also wanted assurances that there would be accountability for failures like Gabriel’s death.

“We need to find out what the department is going to do about this to makes sure there won’t be another Gabriel Myers situation down the line,” Hill said.

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Gabriel Myers Work Group ready to review final report, recommendations

Fort Myers News Press

The Gabriel Myers Work Group will meet Thursday to review its final report and recommendations.

Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon established the group to review the use of psychotropic medication to treat children in foster care.

It came after the April death of a 7-year-old Broward County foster child, Gabriel Myers, who hanged himself.

The department had not obtained valid consent for his medication.

A draft of the report released earlier found that medicating children in state care is often an unregulated, haphazard process in which drugs are prescribed to help caregivers calm difficult children instead of treating them.

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Report Rules Myers Cause of Death ‘Undetermined’

The Jacksonville Observer

News Service of Florida

A 7-year-old Margate boy being treated with powerful psychotropic drugs may not have intentionally killed himself last spring when he hanged himself by a shower hose in his foster family’s home, a medical examiner concluded in a recently released report.

The report, released Thursday, states that though Gabriel Myers was responsible for the actions that led to his death, he never expressed any thoughts of suicide to psychiatrists who interviewed him several times.

“He has a history of self-inflicted injury for secondary gains,” wrote Dr. Stephen Cina, Broward County’s deputy chief medical examiner. “In fact, at one point he injured his own neck to mimic strangulation in order to get other children in trouble. An argument could be made that his hanging was accidental, an attention-getting act gone awry.”

Myers had been bounced from home to home, disciplined for behavioral problems and forbidden to see his mom.

The case drew outrage from child advocates last spring, when Department of Children and Families officials released the information about the case. Myers had been on heavy doses of psychotropic drugs, yet those medications were not accurately reflected in his case file.

Psychotropic medications include a wide range substances used to treat psychotic behavior, depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior and attention deficit disorder and include such brand name drugs as Haldol, Prozac, Valium and Ritalin.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon appointed a work group to investigate the case and the use of psychotropic drugs on foster children. The results were even startling to the department.

The group found that about 15 percent of foster children in Florida were being prescribed mood or mind-altering medications. However, only 5 percent of all children nationally are on such drugs. The research found that foster children as young as 2-years-old have been treated with psychotropic drugs.

And in many cases, the children had been put on the drugs without parental consent or judicial order.

Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jim Sewell, who chaired the work group, told the News Service Friday that he has begun to review the medical examiner’s report, but he is also waiting for the police to release a final report on Myers’ death as well.

Regardless of whether Myers’ death was an intentional suicide or not, Sewell said it brought to light problems within the child welfare system that need to be addressed. The final report of the Gabriel Myers Work Group illustrated a complete breakdown between different services within the system.

Psychiatrists, school officials and foster care officials all noted behavioral problems in Myers and attempted to help. But none of the people communicated with each other, a repeated pattern, the group found.

“The greatest difference with Gabriel was that kid was crying for help in a lot of different ways,” Sewell said. “And you had a lot of people who wanted to give it to him, but they weren’t coordinating it well.”

The issue and work group report has received legislative attention as well. Lawmakers have held two committee meetings on the issue, one in Tallahassee and one in Tampa. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, said last month the Senate committee on Children, Family and Elder Affairs will be introducing legislation related to the issue in the coming months.

The work group will release its recommendations on Nov. 19, Sewell said. He said the majority of them will likely focus on integrating services within the system so that, hopefully, no other children will be in the same position as Myers.

“You had a lot of good attempts by a lot of different agencies to help him and they weren’t successful,” Sewell said.

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