Category Archives: Palm Beach Post

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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Kids and drugs. Too much, too little?

Palm Beach Post
by Opinion Staff

George Sheldon, head of the Florida Department of Children and families, says that 2,699 children in foster care — about 13 percent of the total — are taking one or more psychotropic drugs. That’s higher than the roughly 4 percent of children nationwide taking such drugs.

Frighteningly, 16 percent of the Florida foster kids given such drugs are taking them without permission from a parent or judge. One such child, 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, who was taking a combination antipsychotic and antidepressant, hanged himself in April in his Broward County foster home.

It isn’t known whether the drugs contributed to Gabriel’s suicide. But doctors have said that such mind-altering drugs, including many common antidepressants, can lead to thoughts of suicide in children and have put special warnings on the medications.

That, in turn, might have contributed to a drop in the number of children and teens diagnosed with depression, a new study says. The danger is that the risk of suicide from untreated depression could be greater than the risk of suicide as a side-effect of the medicine in kids.

What do you think? Take our poll above.

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EDITORIAL: Owning up, cleaning up

Palm Beach Post

A government agency rarely assumes immediate responsibility for a failure and then expedites a remedy. But Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon did just that after 7-year-old Gabriel Myers killed himself at his Broward County foster home in April.

Mr. Sheldon put together a group to investigate Gabriel’s death and ordered a comprehensive review of department records to determine the number of children in foster care taking psychotropic – meaning mind-altering – drugs. “I was stunned,” said Mr. Sheldon. “It is incomprehensible for me even now to understand how a child so young may have deliberately and consciously made a decision to end his life.”

Gabriel, who had been in state custody for 10 months, was taking Symbyax, a combination antipsychotic and antidepressant, when he hanged himself in the bathroom of his foster home. Gabriel’s caseworker had noted several times that DCF had parental consent for the medication. However, neither the boy’s mother nor a judge had signed the consent required under state law for him to receive the drug, which is known to cause suicidal behavior in children.

Last week, Mr. Sheldon released a report, based on the review. According to the report, information about Gabriel’s prescriptions was not in the department’s database. The review found that 2,669 children – or 13’percent – of the more than 20,000 children in foster care are taking one or more psychotropic drugs.

“That,” Mr. Sheldon said, “is a significant number.” Nationally, between 4 percent and 5 percent of children take such drugs. The review also found that 16 percent of the children in foster care taking these drugs do not have parental consent or a court order. “That is unacceptable,” said Mr. Sheldon. “Gabriel Myers and all of Florida’s children deserve better.”

Though the agency does not yet know whether his medication was a factor in Gabriel’s death, Mr. Sheldon has asked the DCF group to study the efficacy of such drugs. He also has instructed DCF caseworkers to take all children for whom parental consent or a court order is lacking back to their doctors and therapists for updated treatment plans.

Those children who have been prescribed psychotropic drugs must get informed parental consent or a court order before resuming the medication. Mr. Sheldon has asked judges statewide to expedite judicial review on these cases. “This report is an important first step in closely examining not only this case, said Mr. Sheldon, “but in helping to assure that this kind of tragedy never happens again.”

As with other investigations, the facts uncovered in this review do not reflect well on the Department of Children and Families. As with those other cases, though, Mr. Sheldon readily shared those facts and worried less about protecting the agency and more about protecting children.

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DCF: Too many kids in state care are on mind-altering drugs

Palm Beach Post
Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Three times more children in state care are being given mind-altering drugs than kids in the general population, according to an audit of the Department of Children and Families.

And the state is giving the drugs to many children without the legal authority to do so, the preliminary review found.

“That is unacceptable,” said DCF Secretary George Sheldon, who ordered the review after the April 16 death of a 7-year-old Broward County boy in foster care.

Gabriel Myers, who apparently hung himself, was on a mix of the psychotropic medicines, but none of the drugs showed up in the agency’s computer database.

And his file did not include a consent form for the medication from a parent or judge as required by state law.

Gabriel’ death exposed endemic problems within the department regarding the use of the psychotropic drugs that Sheldon pledged “to make right.”

For example, the department’s database contained missing elements including consent orders, prescription drugs, dosages and assessment dates. So the information the review is based on is incomplete or could be inaccurate.

The problems exist four years after the legislature changed the law to require the informed consent orders before children in foster care could be put on the drugs.

“The good news is that the secretary is trying to get to the bottom of the problems here. The bad news is that they still don’t have a handle on why three times as many children in foster care are on psychotropic medication as children in the general population,” said Andrea Moore, an attorney and child advocate who first challenged the department’s widespread use of the psychotropic drugs nearly a decade ago.

She and others worry that the drugs are being used not as a last resort but as a chemical restraint.

“I can’t tell you how troubling it is to me,” said Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ronda Storms, R-Brandon. “Perhaps treating children with drugs may have become the default treatment because it’s easier.”

Sheldon said that he, too, has serious concerns about whether the drugs are being over-prescribed and has asked the auditing team to look into it.

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More than 16 percent of kids in DCF care given mind-altering drugs without consent

Palm Beach Post
Post on Politics
by Dara Kam
More than 16 percent of the children in state care are being given mind-altering medications without the consent of a guardian or judge as required by state law, according to an audit of the Department of Children and Families.

The audit is the result of the apparent suicide of a 7-year-old Broward County boy in foster care last month.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon ordered the review after details surrounding Gabriel Myers’ death revealed that the agency database did not include the correct information about the drugs the child was taking and his case files did not include authorization for administering the drugs.

The report, issued by a panel of experts, also found that

• A total of 2,669 (13.19%) of the 13,000 Florida children in out-of-home care have been prescribed one or more psychotropic medications.
• The largest segment (59%) of those 2,669 children on psychotropic medication is between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.
• There are 73 children (2.75% of the 2,669) ages 5 and under who are receiving psychotropic medications.
• No record of consent or judicial order was found for 16.2% of the 2,669 children receiving psychotropic medication.

Sheldon is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. to discuss the findings. Read the report here:

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Americans’ legal drug abuse

Palm Beach Post

By Rhonda Swan
Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer

Maxine is not the woman she used to be.

She looks the same, except for the white Afro that used to be black.

But gone is her zany sense of humor, sharp tongue and sassy wit.

She stares into space with vacant eyes. Walks like a zombie. She speaks primarily when spoken to, her conversation devoid of her familiar quips. She complies rather than commands.

I’ve known Maxine my entire life – she taught me how to play pinochle and how to bake a cake – yet she seems more like a stranger I’ve just met.

That’s because she’s among the millions of U.S. seniors taking psychotropic drugs, antidepressants, antipsychotics and Alzheimer’s medicines. The traits that used to make people take notice of Maxine, who suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder from an abusive marriage decades ago, are swallowed daily with her anti-psychotic Zyprexa pill.

And now, she’s hardly noticeable.

The number of people older than 65 taking these drugs doubled between 1996 and 2006, according to a study released this month. Doctors prescribed 73 percent more drugs for adults with mental-health issues and 50 percent more for children during that period.

Children such as 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, who was taking Symbyax – a combination of Zyprexa and the anti-depressant Prozac, known to cause youngsters to have suicidal thoughts – when he hanged himself at his Broward County foster home last month.

An author of the study, which appeared in the journal Health Affairs, attributed this astounding increase in the use of these powerful drugs to improved access to mental-health care, which has become more mainstream, and more insurers willing to cover the drugs. But it’s also because more doctors prescribe psychotropic drugs as the first and often only treatment, even when they’re not warranted.

Years ago, when I told my primary-care doctor that I was suffering stress-related anxiety and insomnia, he handed me a prescription for Prozac. I trashed it, opting instead to exercise and change my diet.

In February, when my mother was in West Palm Beach’s Columbia Hospital recovering from surgery, I requested a psychiatric consultation because she wasn’t eating. I thought she might benefit from a session with an objective professional.

The hospital psychiatrist visited with her for less than 10 minutes, diagnosed her as depressed based on her answers to five questions, and then prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft and went on his merry way. Counseling wasn’t even considered as an option.

What happened to psychotherapy, once the hallmark of psychiatric treatment? Because of managed care, it’s going the way of the lobotomy. Why engage the human mind and heart to ease mental suffering when popping a pill is so much cheaper? According to a 2008 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, only 29 percent of visits to psychiatrists in 2004 and 2005 included psychotherapy, compared with 44 percent in 1996-97. Insurers reimburse more, says the report, for three 15-minute medication management visits than for one 45-to-50-minute outpatient psychotherapy session. Not surprisingly, the patients more likely to receive therapy are those who can pay out of pocket.

Granted, not everyone with a mental-health diagnosis would benefit from therapy alone. Many need these mind-altering, chemical-balancing drugs. But many others could achieve optimal mental health without the assistance of pharmaceuticals.

While we’ve been busy losing the multibillion-dollar war on illegal drugs, a government-sanctioned, multibillion-dollar legal drug industry has blossomed, churning out robots void of personality like Maxine and suicidal children like Gabriel.

When life is lost – mentally, spiritually or physically – does it really matter whether the drug dealer had a medical degree?

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