In wake of child’s suicide, Legislature moves to limit foster care’s reliance on psychiatric drugs

St. Petersburg Times
By Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer

TALLAHASSEE — A year after a 7-year-old boy heavily medicated on powerful psychiatric drugs hanged himself in his Margate foster home, lawmakers are pushing to reform state medical requirements for foster children.

The Senate’s Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee unanimously approved a measure Thursday designed to curb the prescription of mental-health drugs to children in state care.

The proposed law would require the state Department of Children and Families to assign volunteer guardians to oversee each child’s mental health care. It prohibits foster children from being the subject of clinical drug trials and raises the age at which children are allowed to take these drugs from 6 to 11 in many cases.

The measure (SB2718 and HB1567) would also give children some say in the drugs they take.

“We are not just going to medicate them until they turn 18 and then dump them into adulthood,” said sponsor Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, chairwoman of the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.

The state’s growing use of adult medication on emotionally and mentally troubled children has sparked debate for years.

Multiple state studies show child-welfare doctors and case managers routinely failed to follow legally required treatment plans or properly document when and why drugs were given to foster children, creating a network of youth sedated by “chemical straitjackets,” Storms said.

The death of Gabriel Myers in April further revealed the shortcomings of 2005 legislation that required more information sharing, parental involvement and second-party review of doctors’ prescriptions for the youngest children.

Because foster children are often cared for by multiple service contractors, communication lapses and fragmented mental health care are still rampant, a recent state report on Myers’ death determined.
“Our response to him was to medicate him, and medicate him, and medicate him,” Storms said.

Under the bill, proposed medical treatment plans must be explained to a child and the child must consent to the treatment in many cases before taking the drugs.

“What this means is less medication and more behavior analysis so that they are not just sedated little zombies,” said Jan Montgomery, president of the Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, which would train legal guardians to observe and treat behavioral problems.

Still, Montgomery said she did not expect a sudden culture shift, given failed past efforts to track foster children’s medical records.

“It’s going to be a slow slide toward what we are hoping is the right way,” Montgomery said.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “In wake of child’s suicide, Legislature moves to limit foster care’s reliance on psychiatric drugs

  1. Orlando

    I am a father of a seven year old, hundred percent dedicated to him, even though I divorced when my son was three years old, I make sure he gets the attention and love he needs.

    In the case of little Gabriel, all he needed was love and guidance, also discipline to teach him what was right and wrong. All those complaints of him throwing scissors, touching girls at school or bad behavior are just occurrences that kids do when they are not educated and corrected, unfortunately he never had the person to give him all that, the only people that can provide that from the heart are the parents and only the parents because is a different love, maybe he had it from his mother but she failed to do so.
    My seven year old son has done things like that, one time he threw a toy at a kid’s nose and the kid stared bleeding from his nose, another time he came running with his hand extended and touched a lady’s buttocks in front of her husband (just imaging my reaction)… also, about his bad behavior when he doesn’t get what he wants. Well guess what happened, he was grounded, away from his toys, cartoons, video games etc… he was corrected and was told what was right and wrong… It takes a person with authority to wisely educate a child.

    Gabriel never had that, and in my opinion he was told by other people bad comments like that he was a liar and a bad person. My son at the same age does not know things like that, kids at that age are innocent, and they are like a sponge that captures any information and they repeat.

    How can you medicate a child with heavy drug when in the case of Gabriel, he was young and healthy, also all those changes of people taking care of him and moving from place to place they are so instable for anybody.

    This foster care system has to change drastically because this was a clear failure of this program. Drugs are not the answer unless kids are clinically ill by a serious diseased like cancer, diabetes etc… the solution is to give love, stability and a real home to this poor kids with the right program.

    God bless you little Gabriel.

    Orlando R.

  2. Hi Cristina,

    1. We miss you at the Times (490 1st Avenue South)…And God bless little Gabriel.

    2. Several friends of my youngest son (now 30 years old) were given psychiatric drugs from six – to their 18th birthday. They stopped taking these perscription drugs when they were old enough to make that decision.

    3. They are all married and have little ones. One of these young men has decided that he will never allow his children to be drugged. He claims he lost much of his childhood because of mother’s mistakes… (little helpers)? The brain confuses and Doctors confuse or treat their own confusion… through their patients both young and old.

    Anyway, the children, I knew are now men and are productive adults…

    Christina, my wife and I look forward to your next article…Thanks!

    Phil Edwards

    • billie

      im sorry to tell you that just because of a short relapse that his mother had does not mean he was not shown love nor decispline. he was very muched loved and the center of his mothers world. yes he was just a child who sometimes acted out. all kids do at some point or another rather there shown both at all times.this tragady took our loved one from us. his life is saving millions of kids lives who get caught up in a systems that doesnt care. now they have to pay attetion.people need to know that all kids in foster care are someones kids that happen to fall on a hardship of some kind .not all are abused nor just left their .his mother loved him more than her own life and if she could change places she would.i miss my cousin and the fact that we dont get to watch him become a man to live out his life to the fullest because some doctor over dosed him in a system that didnt care

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