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.