The 2009 death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, an abused foster child found hanging from a shower fixture in his foster home in Margate, Florida, shone a bright light on the state’s policy of allowing doctors to prescribe psychotropic drugs on foster kids. It was a horrible tragedy – one that led to outrage and supposed reform. Six years later, attorneys and advocates who fight for the rights of children who suffer child abuse, sexual abuse, and other physical and personal injury have discovered little has changed.
The same “black box” medications Gabriel had received, even though they were intended for adults, at the time were part of a list the Department of Children and Families found were given to 16 percent of cases where foster kids were medicated – often without the consent of a parent or judge.
Despite all this, the practice continues. The preliminary report from the researchers with Florida’s child-protection system revealed that 11 percent of foster kids today are prescribed these psychotropic medications without caregivers following proper procedures, according to the Florida Institute on Child Welfare at Florida State University.
That’s 2,434 of 21,899 children who had open prescriptions for at least one psychotropic drug. Further, of 140 of the children’s files reviewed, only one in five met the requirements for administering psychotropic medications, often with consent forms that were completed late – if they were completed at all.
The drugs, widely used as mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics, are an easy prescription for caregivers trying to medicate behavior into or out of troubled foster children. What was identified and addressed with Gabriel Myers was part of a growing national trend. In 2005, some 14 percent of youths prescribed psychotropic drugs after entering the child welfare system nationwide. Just five years later, it was one in five, according to news reports.
These findings come after the state DCF at the time impaneled a blue-ribbon committee to review issues surrounding Gabriel Myers’ suicide – and what may have contributed to it. The aggressive use of psychotropic medications was revealed, and the panel suggested widespread changes to the policy.
Five years later, it seems those changes aren’t always followed. This must change – or the state and its abused, neglected, and injured foster kids could find themselves in the same place again.