The level of disclosure and openness may be unprecedented for a state agency in Florida.
Spend time on the Department of Children and Families’ Web site (www.state.fl.us/cf_web) and it becomes clear the agency is firmly committed to improving its delivery of services to foster-care children and their families.
What is fueling the commitment? The case of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child in DCF’s care who died April 17 of an apparent suicide in his foster parents’ home in Margate.
Myers had been prescribed drugs for depression and possible schizophrenia.
DCF Secretary George Sheldon, who appears to have been touched deeply by Myers’ death, immediately promised a thorough, painstaking review of the agency’s policies and procedures governing the prescription of psychiatric and behavior-altering drugs to foster-care kids.
DCF created a separate link on its Web site to update the public about the Myers’ investigation. Sheldon established the Task Force for Fostering Success and charged its members to “identify and implement improvements to the system.” He created the Gabriel Myers Work Group and asked members to “take an independent look at this case and its implications on the way DCF does business throughout the state.”
Since June 5, the agency has been posting weekly reports, by region, detailing the number and percentages of foster children receiving one or more prescriptions. Additional reports have been posted outlining DCF’s drug-prescription policies and procedures.
Several of the reports have been highly critical of the agency. Case in point? The recent “Special Quality Assurance Review” of 268 6- and 7-year-olds in state foster care receiving psychotropic medications. The study found:
In 58 percent of the cases, the case manager did not attempt to engage the parent or legal guardian before requesting a court order to medicate the child.
In 70 percent of cases, supervisory reviews and discussions of the child’s behavioral health were not documented.
In 75 percent of the cases, the case manager did not provide the child’s medical information to the prescribing doctor.
In 86 percent of cases, prescribing physicians did not complete a treatment plan for the child.
Clearly, DCF is failing foster children and their families. However, if the agency continues to operate with the same level of unprecedented transparency it has exhibited the past three months — and implements much-needed reforms — it may save the lives of other foster children.