A bill aimed at preventing the overmedication of Georgia’s foster children might be dead this legislative session, but the spirit of the legislation lives on in a new a pilot program underway, its sponsor says.
House Bill 23, the Foster Children’s Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act, did not make last week’s critical “Crossover Day” deadline to advance to the state Senate, but Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) has confirmed that Casey Family Programs has stepped in to help assess the problem that the measure sought to address.
The Seattle-based national foundation is funding a review of prescription patterns of psychotropic drugs for children in Georgia’s foster care system. The effort comes on the heels of a state Supreme Court report that found many children in state custody for extended periods are prescribed psychotropic drugs at “alarmingly high rates.” Casey has not yet disclosed the amount of money earmarked for the program that unofficially began in February. The Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University Law School will operate the program, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and other community partners. Along with a review of red-flag cases it will also include training for child welfare workers, says Barton Center Executive Director Melissa Carter.
“Many children in foster care have been traumatized and are in need of quality mental health treatment; however, multiple overlapping layers of prescription drugs is not always quality care,” says Rep. Oliver.
She has agreed to hold off on pressing forward with her bill until the pilot program findings are released early next year. “This Casey Family Programs grant will help us develop a plan for better mental health care and I am grateful for their timely participation,” she says.
Rep. Oliver contends she drafted HB 23 as a result of the Georgia Supreme Court’s “Cold Case” project. The effort sponsored by the high court's Committee on Justice for Children was aimed at improving the legal process for abused and neglected children in the courts, she says. The committee conducted an intensive file review of the cases of children who have been in the foster care system long-term, found high psychotropic drug use among them and completed a report that included law and policy change recommendations.
As drafted, HB 23 bill would require DHS to keep records of the medications and other therapies that foster children receive or for which they get recommended. Rep. Oliver insists 2012 will begin with the measure committed to the House Health and Human Services Committee.
“This pilot program with Casey will help us to strengthen the legislation and ultimately make better informed recommendations on how to solve this serious issue in Georgia,” she says. “Passing this legislation would allow Georgia to take the lead on addressing a serious problem that is also prevalent nationwide.”
Carter says although the bill did not advance further this session, Rep. Oliver’s decision to introduce it was very helpful. “It got the broader attention of stakeholders, much broader than even our [Barton Center] work had done,” she says. “It helped to bring to the table everyone interested in addressing this issue. This pilot program is a direct result of that.”
DHS Commissioner Clyde L. Reese, a former Department of Community Health commissioner, calls the Casey effort “an excellent public‑private partnership” between the courts, physicians and the Barton Center. Carter agrees.
“Casey Family Programs is a large supporter of child welfare programs in the state so, it was an obvious partnership,” she says. “We’re also meeting with DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) to make sure what we’re doing aligns with their goals. We’re all involved and working together on this to improve outcomes for children in foster care.”
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and People, Essence and Atlanta magazines.