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Editorial: State agency must pay greater attention to detail for children in foster care

The Stuart News

By Editorial Board

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring to light a serious issue.

Such is the case with 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who died April 16 of an apparent suicide in his foster parents’ home in Margate.

Myers had been prescribed psychiatric drugs for depression and possible schizophrenia.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon ordered an immediate review — not only of Myers’ case, but also the case files of more than 20,000 children in Florida’s foster care system.

The results are disturbing. The review found:

— More than 13 percent — 2,669 — of children have been prescribed one or more psychotropic drugs, such as Risperdal and Adderall. In the general population, about 4 percent to 5 percent of children are taking these medications.

— The DCF database underestimated — by one-third — the number of children in state foster care taking mental-health drugs.

— In 16 percent of cases where foster-care children were prescribed mental-health drugs, the review found no record of either parental consent or judicial decree. A 2005 state law requires a parent’s permission or a judge’s order before such drugs can be administered to a foster child.

The image emerging of DCF’s handling of foster children who have been prescribed mental-health drugs is of an agency woefully inattentive to details.

This is disconcerting, especially when the lives of children may hang in the balance.

Sheldon, who became the chief at DCF in October, has demanded several reforms at the agency, including:

— An independent investigation into Myers’ death and the agency’s handling of the case.

— Ensuring there is a consent form on file for every foster child receiving prescription medication.

— An immediate review to determine the reliability of the DCF database.

“We are working very hard to integrate our mental-health and substance-abuse services and to fully engage them in the care of all our children,” Sheldon said at a recent press conference. “But the tragedy of Gabriel Myers reminds us how much more we have to do.”

Sheldon, who appears deeply troubled by Myers’ death, also appears deeply committed to improving DCF’s management of the foster-care system.

It’s the very least the agency can do for thousands of Florida’s most vulnerable residents.

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