Category Archives: Tampa Tribune

Drugs for foster children

The Tampa Tribune
By CATHERINE WHITTENBURG

Drugs for foster children: GOP Sen. Ronda Storms of Valrico, who is chairwoman of a human services policy committee, has made restricting the use of psychotropic drugs to treat the state’s foster children a priority this session. The issue came to light last year after a 7-year-old foster child who was prescribed such medication hanged himself in Broward County.

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Foster care drug oversight lacking

Tampa Tribune
By CATHERINE DOLINSKI

TALLAHASSEE – State law requires clear, informed consent from a judge or parent before doctors can prescribe psychotropic drugs for foster children. But no one gave such consent for 7-year-old Gabriel Myers to take a powerful drug known to trigger suicidal thoughts in children.

Myers, of Margate, hanged himself April 16 after taking several psychotropic drugs including Symbyax, an antidepressant that has not been approved for children and can increase suicidal thoughts in those who take it. A work group of child welfare officials and experts meets in Tampa today to continue probing the factors that contributed to Myers’ death.

A recent investigation by the Department of Children & Families has revealed that proper authorization has been missing in many cases where foster children are taking psychotropic drugs. The June 4 report showed that, statewide, consent was lacking for 435 such children, or 14.2 percent.

The issue was nearly as much of a problem locally. The same report showed that Hillsborough Kids Inc., a state-contracted foster care agency, had not obtained proper consent for 45 children taking psychotropic medication, a failure rate of 13.7 percent.

But more recently, the news has improved, as both the state and Hillsborough Kids have vastly improved their compliance rates. According to a July 17 report, proper authorization existed statewide in all but 4.6 percent of cases, or a total of 14. Hillsborough Kids had obtained consent in all but 14 cases, or 4.4 percent.

The 9 a.m. work group meeting is at 9393 N. Florida Ave.

Reporter Catherine Dolinski can be reached at (850) 222-8382.

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Concerns over drugs and foster children cloud adoption celebration

Tampa Tribune
By CATHERINE DOLINSKI

TALLAHASSEE – While state officials celebrate Florida’s much-improved adoption rate this week, inquiries continue into the prescription of psychotropic drugs for children still in foster care.

Gov. Charlie Crist kicked off “Explore Adoption Day” on Wednesday by announcing at a roundtable discussion that 3,776 children found homes through the state’s adoption system last fiscal year. That breaks the previous record of 3,674 adoptions in 2007-2008.

As well, the number of children in foster care has dropped since 2007 from 30,000 to less than 20,000, said Jim Kallinger, the governor’s chief child advocate.

The discussion was mainly celebratory — until it was Mirko Ceska’s and Regina Ceska’s turn to talk about their 12-year-old adopted daughters.

The Ceskas told Crist that while in foster care, the girls had been prescribed 11 pills a day, including the anti-psychotic drug Seroquel. Regina Ceska, a nurse, said the dosage of Seroquel was far larger than what she administers to her geriatric patients – and even at those low doses, she said, state law requires monitoring patients for side effects and documenting results every eight hours.

“This drug alters the brain, and it is unconscionable to administer it to young children whose brains are still developing,” she said.

Psychotropic drugs became a hot issue after Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old foster child in South Florida, hung himself in April. Myers was taking an anti-depressant that can trigger suicidal thoughts in children. Audits by the Department of Children and Families have since shown that doctors and case workers have too-often failed to comply with legal rules for psychiatric drug treatment.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon said Wednesday he was inviting the Ceskas to appear before the work group he appointed to evaluate the Myers case.

“Regrettably, the story they’ve told is not new to me,” Sheldon said. “Ultimately … it’s about everybody who works with these kids, needing to work with that child as if it’s their own child.”

The Gabriel Myers work group meets Friday in Tampa from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at DCF’s office at 9393 N. Florida Avenue. Members of the public may attend or listen in by calling (888) 808- 6959 (code: 413-7303).

Reporter Catherine Dolinski can be reached at (850) 222-8382.

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Panel probes DCF drug rules

Tampa Tribune

By SHERRI ACKERMAN
sackerman@tampatrib.com

TAMPA – Despite his 12 years’ experience with Florida’s child welfare system, local child psychiatrist Rahul Mehra had never seen the document required by law to track psychotherapeutic treatment of children in foster care.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen this,” Mehra said Monday, holding up a Department of Children & Families form that verifies, among other medical information, a guardian’s consent for a child to receive drugs for depression, ADHD, autism and other disorders.

“That’s quite a statement,” said Michael Haney, who’s serving on a panel convened in the wake of a 7-year-old Broward County boy’s suicide.

Gabriel Myers of Margate hanged himself at his foster home April 16. After his death, state investigators learned the boy had been prescribed several psychotropic drugs, including Symbyax, which has not been approved for children.

Investigators also discovered that DCF’s database failed to show there was no authorization for Gabriel to receive prescribed psychotropic drugs. That led to a statewide review of foster children receiving similar drugs. Results were disappointing.

Of 2,669 children receiving such controversial prescriptions, 433 did not have parental consent or court orders allowing such medication. Gabriel was among them.

His mother, who had a history of substance abuse, signed a standard medical form. But that does not meet the stringent requirements demanded by law to track children given psychotropic drugs.

Despite the error, Jim Sewell, chairman of the panel, assigned as chairman of the work group, said he didn’t believe the state’s investigation would show the drugs alone led to Gabriel’s death.

“I don’t think the direct cause was drugs,” said Sewell, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement assistant commissioner. “But he may have become predisposed to depression” because of the drugs.

Records show Gabriel had been sexually assaulted by a 12-year-old boy in Ohio. He also had displayed serious behavioral issues, including inappropriately touching other children.

His foster father had recently punished Gabriel, who was told he would not participate in a planned family vacation and could not take toys to school, Sewell said. The boy also had moved two or three times in two weeks and had just lost his psychotherapist, who moved out of the country.

Front-line workers missed opportunities to help this child, Sewell said, either because they didn’t understand the process or they didn’t have time to verify medical treatment.

Workers also expressed frustration with the state’s computer database, known as Florida Safe Families Network, which is supposed to help caseworkers and supervisors monitor children’s well-being. State officials have said they are addressing those issues.

Oversight was another matter, Sewell said. He wasn’t surprised about Mehra’s revelation that he had never seen the state’s form required for children receiving psychotherapeutic treatment.

The private agencies that contract with DCF to provide local foster care and adoption services are going to have to be more accountable, he said.

The work group, handpicked by DCF Secretary George Sheldon and his predecessor, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, meets again June 18 in Fort Lauderdale. Sheldon will use the information to overhaul the state’s policy on psychotropic drug use within the foster care system.

Researcher Buddy Jaudon contributed to this report. Reporter Sherri Ackerman can be reached at (813) 259-7144.

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Foster children given drugs without proper authorization: study


Tampa Tribune

The study was ordered after a foster child apparently committed suicide while taking psychotropic drugs.

Foster children given drugs without proper authorization: study
The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE – Proper authorization wasn’t obtained for 16 percent of the Florida foster children who have taken antidepressants and other prescribed psychotropic drugs, according to a study ordered after one of those youngsters apparently committed suicide.

Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon announced the findings at a news conference Thursday.

A photo of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers was projected onto a screen behind Sheldon, who said there was no excuse for failing to comply with a law that requires parental consent or a court order for such prescriptions.

The drugs affect the central nervous system and can change behavior or perception. They are prescribed for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. Some are used to alleviate pain.

Gabriel was found hanging from a shower cord in the bathroom of his foster parents’ Margate home April 16.

“Anyone who’s heard of Gabriel’s story, I know, is in disbelief and parents everywhere are wondering themselves how could this have happened,” Sheldon said. “Normally a 7-year-old boy is learning to read and tie his shoes, not contemplating death.”

Sheldon has appointed a task force headed by Jim Sewell, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement assistant commissioner, to determine if the drugs he was taking or alleged sexual abuse were factors in his death. Records show he had allegedly been molested by an older boy in Ohio, where he had lived until last June.

The panel also is looking into whether psychotropic drugs are being prescribed for the wrong reasons. Critics say they are misused as a chemical restraint for unruly children.

Sheldon said he expects to receive the panel’s finding within two months.

Officials early on realized the department’s database failed to show Gabriel had been taking the drugs and they had been prescribed without proper authorization, Sheldon said.

Sheldon then ordered a check of all foster children’s records. The resulting report shows parental consent or court orders had not been obtained for 433, or 16 percent of 2,669 foster children receiving such drugs.

“That is unacceptable,” Sheldon said.

The report also indicates the 2,699 children taking psychotropic drugs comprise 13 percent of all Florida children in out-of-home foster care. That compares to only an estimated 4 to 5 percent of children in the general population.

It’s a discrepancy that raises a “red flag,” Sheldon said, but he added that he’ll wait for the task force’s findings before making any judgments.

“We need to constantly keep the face of Gabriel Myers continually in our minds and in our hearts and get this right,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said he didn’t believe an erroneous memo issued by his department contributed to failures to obtain parental consent or court orders. It said those requirements could be bypassed if psycotropic drugs are prescribed for non-psychiatric purposes. Sheldon said few people knew about the memo and he rescinded it when he found out about it.

The department, private contractors working for the agency and legal service lawyers will try to obtain parental consent or court orders for all children who have been prescribed such drugs by June 5.

Sheldon said he also is asking dependency judges to expedite those cases.

Parents must be advised about specific drugs including warnings of potential hazards before giving informed consent, Sheldon said.

Standard medical consent forms, such as one Gabriel’s mother signed, do not meet that requirement.

Sheldon said Candace Myers also may have been high on prescription drugs when she signed the form as authorities took the boy away from her in a restaurant parking lot. Xanax and other prescription drugs were found in her car.

During the last few weeks of his life, Gabriel’s mother lost her visitation rights and he lived in three different foster homes, was told he was going back to Ohio, lost his toys, changed therapists and switched psychotropic drugs, Sheldon said. He said those changes would have been traumatic for anyone regardless of age.

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