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Florida Department of Children and Families’ Role ‘Should’ be to Protect Foster Kids

By Brian J. Cabrey

As published as a letter to the editor in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The April 16 suicide death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child in the custody and care of the Florida Department of Children and Families, shocks the conscience. Gabriel apparently hung himself with the shower hose in the bathroom of his foster home in Margate.

The victim of sexual abuse, as well as other abuse and neglect that resulted in him being removed from his family and placed in foster care, Gabriel had been prescribed a variety of mind-altering psychotropic medications while in foster care to deal with the myriad behavioral problems he was experiencing, no doubt largely the result of the abuse he had suffered. Reports are that he was on three or four different drugs, or combinations thereof, at the time of his death.

What is almost as shocking to the conscience as a 7-year-old wanting to, knowing how to and actually committing suicide, is that a 7-year-old would be on not just one, but multiple psychotropic medications. Most such drugs have never been tested for pediatric use, and have not been FDA-approved for such use. Their prescription and use with kids is generally “off label,” meaning there are no approved instructions or guidelines for such use.

Too often these drugs are used by DCF as chemical restraints to deal with difficult children who exhibit undesirable, inappropriate or dangerous behavior. Rather than deal with their underlying issues and problems, drugs are used to turn these children into non-disruptive zombies so that they can be safely placed in a foster home or institution. A 2005 study revealed that one out of every four foster children in Florida is on some sort of psychotropic medication, including multiple children less than 1 year of age. Never mind that no research has been done as to the long-term effects of such medications on a growing child’s brain. Such use of these medications is reprehensible and amounts to warehousing children.

The goal is and should be to protect and rehabilitate children who have been harmed and damaged by abuse, abandonment or neglect, not simply to store them away safely, only to be shown the door when they turn 18 and age out of the foster care system. In this case, little Gabriel didn’t even get that far. Instead, he ended up dead, at 7. Such a short, traumatic life abruptly and prematurely ended in an equally tragic manner. Godspeed, little Gabriel. We’re sorry.

Brian J. Cabrey is vice president of Florida’s Children First in Jacksonville.

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