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Florida Governor, Legislature Must Curtail Use of ‘Chemical Restraints’ on Foster Children

“It seems to be a prerequisite for foster children to be on medication.”

These words were spoken by the adoptive father of two 12-year Florida girls. And the reality he spoke of just shouldn’t be the case.

As Florida Gov. Charlie Crist was barnstorming the state discussing Florida’s successes in fostering adoptions, Mirko Ceska was telling the governor about the continued prevalence of psychotropic drugs in the lives of foster kids and others in the state’s care. Read the Miami Herald article here.

Powerful psychotropic should not be used as “chemical restraints” for minor foster children. But such use is widespread instead of behavioral approaches designed to address the real losses in their lives.

Since the death of 7-year-old foster child Gabriel Myers, and the passing two years earlier of 12-year-old Denis Martez – both of whom died after being given a “cocktail” of power psychiatric medications, the Florida Department of Children and Families is making headway in its moves to curtail such use.

The state must do more.

Activists statewide have expressed widespread support of two proposals coming from the Florida Legislature. If passed, they would require:

1.    Foster children or those children in the state’s care who are prescribed psychiatric or psychotropic medications to have legal counsel appointed to represent their interests before the courts. And

2.    Physicians seeking to prescribe psychotropic drugs to children must first consider the subjective opinions of the children themselves. It’s not enough that the psychiatrists and medical doctors caring for these children already are required to understand each child’s psychiatric history. They must consider the children’s opinions – especially if a child believes he or she is being overmedicated – before prescribing or administering more drugs.

The reality is these are dangerous drugs. And the cases of Denis Martez and Gabriel Myers plainly show that many of these medical providers are little more than “mills” that conduct superficial medical reviews, and they tend to over-medicate the children without regard for existing medical conditions or medications in use – and without any consideration for the children’s needs, opinions or best interests.

This must change. The review ordered by Secretary George Sheldon of the DCF, and hopefully a similar review by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, are just a start. Changing the regulations under which these providers operate to ensure children are represented and their medical cases are watched more closely, may ensure better outcomes.

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