Monday, June 1, 2009

Florida Department of Children and Families' records on foster children taking psychiatric drugs raise doubts

Gabriel Myers

By Kris Hundley
Saturday, May 30, 2009

The agency in charge of Florida's foster kids thinks it has finally gotten a handle on how many of its charges are on powerful psychiatric drugs.

But a closer look raises serious questions about the validity of the recently updated database.

While Florida's Department of Children and Families said Thursday that a review of case files found 2,669 children on psychotropic medications, the supporting data are shaky.

DCF's records include such unlikely scenarios as an eight-year delay between the time a court approved a drug and the date it was actually prescribed.

In another case, a child started taking a drug for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder nine years before the judge gave consent.

About 100 court approvals were signed on weekends.

And of more than 5,000 prescriptions, only one child was reportedly taking Symbyax, a combination antipsychotic and antidepressant that has been on the market since 2004.
Symbyax was one of the psychotropic drugs being taken by a 7-year-old foster child who committed suicide in South Florida last month.

DCF is required by law to track foster children on psychiatric drugs because of potentially dangerous side effects. Previously, the department had reported that fewer than 2,000 kids were on such prescriptions.

In this week's review, DCF also admitted that one in six of those children did not have legally required approval by either a parent or a judge to have such a prescription.

But in hundreds of cases in which a judge's consent reportedly was obtained, the date of that order came either long before — or long after — the prescription started.

For instance:

• In 10 cases around the state, DCF's records show judges signing consent orders for a variety of drugs in January 2001, but the children's prescriptions did not start until 2009.

• A 16-year-old in Marion County was approved for the antipsychotic Risperdal in August 2005, but the prescription didn't begin until May 2009.

• A 15-year-old in Duval County had a judge sign off on another antipsychotic, Abilify, in January 2007; state records show the prescription began in May 2009.

John Cooper, DCF's acting assistant director of operations, acknowledged shortcomings in the state's database but said the medication start date could simply reflect the most recent prescription for a long-standing medication.
Andrea Moore, a longtime advocate for foster children, said that's no excuse. State law requires judges to regularly review the appropriateness of psychotropic prescriptions, she said, especially if the medication is changed.

"A consent signed two years earlier is not a valid consent,'' said Moore, former executive director of Florida's Children First. "That's particularly important when you're talking about atypical antipsychotics where serious questions have been raised about their long-term side effects."

Conversely, in more than 100 cases, there was an unusually long delay between the medication start and the court order.

• A 14-year-old in Brevard County reportedly on the ADHD drug Adderall since 1999 received court approval in November 2008.
• A 16-year-old in Hillsborough County began taking Seroquel, an antipsychotic, in October 2005, with a judge's consent received this January.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon ordered a thorough review of all kids on psychotropic drugs last month after the suicide of Gabriel Myers. Myers, who had been in state custody for 10 months, was on Symbyax, as well as Vyvanse, for ADHD.

The state's database shows only one other foster child, a 14-year-old in Marion County, currently taking Symbyax. DCF's Cooper declined to comment on why the drug did not appear more frequently.

Symbyax has not been approved for children, although the practice that employs Gabriel Myers' psychiatrist is currently recruiting adolescents for a clinical trial of Symbyax for bipolar depression.

The most popular medicine on the state's database is Adderall. The next three most prescribed drugs, Risperdal, Seroquel and Abilify, are all antipsychotics.
DCF's data show the sense of urgency among caseworkers as they scrambled through files in the aftermath of Gabriel Myers' suicide. Of the 2,433 court orders in the report, 187 of them are dated after April 16, the day the boy took his life. That includes the record of a 7-year-old in Palm Beach County who had been taking Adderall since November 2005.

The agency's database showed that 1,653 of the 2,669 foster children taking psychotropic drugs have multiple prescriptions. However, the state's tracking system is unable to easily identify kids on several different drugs at one time rather than multiple prescriptions for the same drug.

"We've noticed there are system limitations," said DCF's Cooper, who added that the system requires users to work through 12 screens to enter data. "As part of the Q.A. (quality assurance) process, we're trying to get a better idea of what's going on."

Moore, the foster child advocate, wonders why DCF released the data before checking it against Medicaid's records of the same children, a step DCF promises to take.
"When we've compared those two databases in the past, we've found significant under-reporting by DCF," she said. "At least Secretary Sheldon is trying to put pressure on them to get it right. But there's no reason, in my opinion, to trust the data they currently have."
Blog on Gabriel Myers:
Thanks for sharing this article..


C Desmond said...

Thank you, I am looking for blogs like yours that I can link to from my new website,
(Abolish DCF dot com)
Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I never believed things like this were allowed to happen until it happened to me i found your site looking for access to my foster care from fla ( i grew up in foster care) to help with my case here in texas dallas county removed my 8 yr old son from cooks childrens hospital in Ft. worth (not in dallas county) claiming I knew for 2 years that my son had a brain tumor there symptoms for eight months before the diagnosis but they explained by drs as other problem such as childhood migraines and sld made worse by the fact that his previous school was skating him the symptom that led to the cat scan appeered only 2 days before his cat scan he began walkinng like he was extremely intoxicated and even then I never suspected a tumor because my mother walks the same due to a condition called Dandy/walker syndrome that was te dianosis i expected to hear on Aug. 29th 2008 instead i was told the horrible truth the last thing i said to my son before he was sedated for the flight to ft. worth from odessa tx was they r going to put u to sleep 4 a little while and when u wake all your headaches will be gone he was asleep for the next 3 1/2 weeks the day before thanksgiving my husband were asked to take psyc evals to be sure we were dealing every thing well and while we were gone they removed my son from the hospital and into a foster home with strangers we have seen him only once and they want me to sign away my rights to him or they r going to remove my 4 daughters as well on July 30 the day I had last child we did mediation over the phone and they said if i terimnated they would call off the dogs and leave my girls alone i agreed with out signing anything the next day CPS from hunt was in my hospital room we were referred by who else but dallas county the investigation in hunt county is closed and they could find no fault in my family wich only leaves me to wonder who did i piss off so badly that they would do this to my son because in truth all they have done is break the heart of an 8 year old little boy with brain cancer if any one can tell me how to retrieve my dcf records or knows of an atty in dallas who can help please e-mail me @ there is more to this story but i believe i have taken up enough of your comment space but thank you for letting me tell my story it hurts too much to keep it all in but I cant tell anyone who will understand either thank you

kathy said...

I'm trying to find someone who is currently dealing with Florida DCF. I worked in the legal system for 12 years and cannot believe the things that go on and are allowed to go on. Where do you go for help? How do you know what's legal and not legal? I have a court appointed attorney, but apparently it is too much trouble for him to talk with except on the day of hearings. They are actually considering giving my daughter to her father, who has a long history of arrests, violence, sexual abuse, et cetera. Is there anyone out there that has dealt with Florida like this?

Anonymous said...

For the Love of Joshua
We are grandparents in the state where the sun really does not shine. We have no rights, no one speaks out for our grandchildren. I raised my grandson the first 3 years of his life, while mom went deep into drugs and strip clubs. She is still there too. DCF has an open case of abuse, neglect and child endangerment. They returned my grandson back to her even after a boyfriend beats him up, with unexplained cuts, burns, bruses, welts, emotional damage. After there is a felony conviction. DCF returned him to the very person that permitted it and floods her public funding, our tax dollars, to support her habits and continued neglect.

I still fight for him because his mother is the danger. She permits it. Even with documented proof, sworn statements, Florida Department of Children Services continue to remain steadfast in the excuses for the best interest of the child?? Zahid Jones Law is being set aside and ignored by the system that made it a law.

Each time I hear "they are UNDERSTAFFED, OVERBURDENED" These excuses MUST STOP. Children are dying. Florida has more laws protecting the rights of animals than children in this state. DCF is a funded agency that does not work. The 2009 report of child death rate in this state was released (January 8th, 2010) tonite for last year alone; 192 children died WHILE in the custody and care of DCF last year.


The best interest of the child? Is it better for that child to be with grandparents that provide clothes, food, shelter, the safety, security, love and care or to be returned to the parent charged with Probable cause of endangerment, abuse, and neglect? Who has the interest in what here?

Funds are endless to DCF and provided to the abuser as DCF returns the child for what is called "FOR THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD. Tearing a child from grandparents that provided all those simple things with no public help are now ripped apart, and to what gain? Whose gaining???


My grandson is taken from me, told he cannot see me, told there is conflict. He doesn't understand conflict. He's 6 years old! He understands he wants to come home, how to survive, at all cost, survive the nightmare he is thrown into, the abondanment, being left alone to survive this and told he can't see his grandmother. All he can say is "I want my Mamaw" and now he can't express that out loud or he suffers.

The excuses must stop and Florida Department of Children Services must be stopped.

If it takes one more voice, let it be mine to stop the thoughtless, unforgiving patterns this country has reached in allowing such excuses to continue to condem our children to the horrors they endure alone. The feelings of utter loss and hoplessness because we as a society do not want to look at the animals we've become.

Are we so absorbed in our "stuff" and selves that we do not want our lives disrupted to stand up and say no more. We can cry out and put up billboards for animals, or our rights. But what do we do at the sight of a child killed or hear about the suffering they endured in a world they had to learn to cope with because we don't want to disrupt our comfort zone.

To do nothing for our children is awful, to do THIS is UNEXCUSABLE.

For every child that suffers and for every child that has died a horrible death by the hands of the DCF, I continue to speak out and ask you to join me. I am not ashamed or afraid to say my name, because I love my grandson and I do want him. Keep your funding Florida. His name is Joshua. I love you sweetheart.