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Florida DCF Workgroup to Research Death of Foster Child, Gabriel Myers

Department of Children and Families Secretary Convenes Workgroup to Evaluate Circumstances Surrounding Death of 7-year-old in Foster Care

TALLAHASSEE, FL — Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary George H. Sheldon today announced that the Department is establishing a  workgroup to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the tragic death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers.

Gabriel died on April 16 when police indicated he apparently hanged himself in the shower of his foster parents’ Margate home.

Following Gabriel’s death, the Department of Children and Families petitioned the court to release case files and notes relating to the child while in state care. Normally, case files are only made public following a death that is verified as a result of abuse or neglect, per Florida Statutes. However, DCF believed it was in the public interest to open the records to public scrutiny. A judge agreed and the petition was granted on April 22, 2009.

“It is difficult for any of us to comprehend how a child so young could have deliberately and consciously made the decision to end his life,” said Secretary Sheldon. “But in order to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, it is critical we review all available information to determine the factors that led to Gabriel’s death.”

“The workgroup will conduct a full inquiry into the facts of the case, in light of case management and judicial decisions, as well as determine the contributing effects that psychotropic drugs and sexual abuse had,” Sheldon continued.

The workgroup will be led by former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Jim Sewell. Other members include DCF Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Bill Janes; Pharmacy Director for the Agency for Health Care Administration Ann Wells; attorney and child advocate from Florida’s Children First Robin Rosenberg; and Rajiv Tandon, MD, psychiatrist with the University of Florida.

The Secretary has asked that the workgroup consult with professionals from many different areas during this process, including those in law enforcement, the courts, the school system, child welfare officials, the Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and health care practitioners.

“When a child comes into state care, we become the parent of that child and must actively participate in all decisions regarding that child.  To do otherwise would be shirking the responsibility of this Department,” said Sheldon.

The workgroup will be asked to prepare a report based on their findings. The report will be submitted to the Secretary and to the Department’s Task Force for Fostering Success, chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

The Secretary will ask the Task Force to provider recommendations based on the workgroup’s report.ast week Secretary Sheldon directed DCF staff to do a thorough review of every foster child’s file to determine how many children in foster care have been prescribed psychotropic drugs and to what extent. A 2005 study found that 6% of children under the age of 18 in Florida were prescribed at least one psychotropic drug. That figure was nearly four times higher for foster children. “Much progress has been made since that 2005 study, but we need to continually review protocols to ensure children are not unnecessarily medicated or inadequately monitored if medicated,” said Sheldon.

“We need to develop a refined protocol for the use of these types of drugs in our children,” said Secretary Sheldon. “I want to ensure that prescription drugs of this nature are used appropriately, always under medical and judicial supervision and with consultation with DCF staff.”

“By reviewing the facts of this case carefully, we can work to continue to improve the child welfare system in Florida.  While much progress has been made, Gabriel’s death starkly reminds us that when it comes to a child’s life, we cannot relax.  Every decision we make profoundly affects the life of that child,” said Sheldon.

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