Drug rules to protect kids were ignored, DCF says

From the Miami Herald archives on June, 10 2009.

Florida child-welfare administrators are largely ignoring a host of rules put in place to protect children from potentially dangerous — and sometimes unnecessary — drugs, according to a detailed state review of the records for more than 100 young foster children who are being given powerful psychiatric medications.

Caseworkers under contract with the state Department of Children & Families are failing to comply with almost every benchmark governing the use of psychotropic medication among foster children, according to the DCF report, obtained Tuesday by The Miami Herald.

“The deeper I get into this thing, the more my blood pressure rises, ” DCF Secretary George Sheldon said. “This really is unacceptable.”

The study, which included 112 children younger than age 6, is the most recent measure of the state’s progress in curbing mental-health drug use among foster children since the April death of a 7-year-old boy who had been given several psychiatric medications during a nine-month stay in foster care.

Recent revelations come only four years after state lawmakers passed legislation to curb the use of mental-health drugs among children in state care. The law requires, among other things, informed consent from a parent or judge, second-party review of doctors’ prescriptions for the youngest children, and annual reports to the state Senate.

Among the most troubling findings, child advocates say, is the state’s almost complete failure to seek a second opinion from a psychiatrist under contract with DCF before administering mental-health drugs to the youngest children in state care — younger than age 6.

“We knew it was bad. We just didn’t know it was this bad, ” said Andrea Moore, the former head of Florida’s Children First, who has led efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on mental-health drugs for almost a decade. “It is more than frustrating, because children have been left at risk.”