Florida Drugged Foster Children Report Out

The Gabriel Myers Task Force, a work group appointed by George Sheldon, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, named after the seven year old boy in foster care who committed suicide, released its report Thursday.

Advocates, according to an article in the Miami Herald on the report, fear that the recommendations of the work group will prove too costly to be implemented.

More lawyers and court-appointed guardians, more therapy, second medical opinions, and the security of long-term foster homes where caregivers treat kids “as we would our own children.”

Those are some of the wish-list items of a state task force that studied the April death of a Broward foster child and recommended a host of reforms for Florida’s chronically troubled foster-care system.

Sheldon selected the 5 members of this Task Force, and they had 6 meetings in different areas throughout the state seeking those measures that could improve the lives of children in foster care in Florida.

Among the work group’s key findings:

• DCF expects the work load to more than double — from 761 calls in budget year 2008 to 2,000 in 2009 — for a University of Florida program, called the Behavioral Health Network, that provides information on psychiatric drugs to parents, foster parents, court-appointed guardians and caseworkers for foster kids.

• Children with mental illnesses fare better when they receive psychological or behavioral therapy in addition to medication. Therapeutic services for foster children have remained stagnant in recent years along with state dollars for mental-health care.

• Court-appointed guardians ad litem should be reporting children’s wishes regarding medication to judges who oversee their time in foster care, the report said. But only about 6 out of 10 foster kids have access to a guardian, advocates say.

ATTORNEY FEES

• “Any child who objects to the administration of medication, at any point in time, should be appointed counsel to directly represent his or her position,” the group wrote. Some advocates, the report added, insist that every child in foster care — especially those taking psychotropic drugs — should have a lawyer.

The state now pays $1,000 in attorney’s fees for lawyers who represent parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children, said Judi Spann, DCF’s deputy chief of staff. The state pays another $1,000 in cases where parents might lose their rights permanently, and $1,000 more if there is an appeal.

My concern is that therapy on top of medication doesn’t address the issue of the number of children in “treatment” (on drugs) in foster homes. This percentage is much higher than the percentage for children who are not in foster care.

“Treatment”, in this sense, has become the state’s way of dealing with unwanted children. One of the dangers of this sort of “treatment” is that you will start some kids off in the mental health system that will never get out of that system during the course of their lives. Believe me, this happens!

Work force members acknowledged the difficulty of implementing the proposals in the report. The report suggested that the challenges implementing these proposals had more to do with a lack of ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’ than they did with funding.

The report ends by leaving the management and funding of its proposals to be addressed by state legislators assuming, of course, ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’ on their part.

Although George Shelton tried to address concerns by advocates that little might come of his work group’s report, his rhetoric wasn’t very reassuring. Some advocates don’t have the sense that he is doing more than giving the appearance of doing something about the matter.

As one critic of the process pointed out, officials at the DCF have broken the law, and as long as such instances of law breaking go unprosecuted, ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’ are being, have been, and will be, evaded.

What do we get when another child dies? Another report?

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