Last year, the Cold Case team reviewed a massive file of a 14-year-old foster child named Charlie. Among the state of Georgia forms, reports, statements and all things bureaucratic was a long-forgotten letter from his kindergarten teacher when the boy was 5. In the letter, the teacher pled for intervention for Charlie*. She obviously cared for her student, who came to school without a coat or socks in cold weather, sometimes wearing filthy underwear. The teacher noted that Charlie was frequently hungry at school and also described the emotional abuse she witnessed when visiting him in his roach-infested home.
In Florida, an investigation by The Palm Beach Post discovered more than a third of psychiatrists working for the state juvenile jails have accepted large speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies producing the anti-psychotic drugs regularly prescribed to kids in the Florida juvenile justice system. According to The Post, child advocates are claiming the doctors are over-prescribing the powerful psychotropic drugs to children in the juvenile jails as a “chemical restraint” and not for a legitimate medical reason. As a consequence of The Post’s findings, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters began an investigation into how psychotropic drugs are prescribed to children in DJJ custody.
More than a third of foster children in Georgia are prescribed psychotropic drugs — medications like antidepressants and mood stabilizers. Because so many foster children are using the drugs, a new review aims to provide better oversight over their usage. The review is expected to reduce prescriptions of expensive psychotropic drugs within the foster care system. “You are going to save money, and you’re going to provide good medical care,” Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Georgia currently spends $7.87 million year on psychotropic drugs.
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.
says too many of Georgia’s 7,000 foster children are being over prescribed potent, mood-altering psychotropic drugs. Some are being given more than four different medications daily, many of which have serious side effects and have not been tested and approved as safe for children. HB 23, she says, can help begin to address the complex problems that this dangerous practice imposes on some of Georgia’s most vulnerable young people. She also insists that a major overhaul of the current process could save our financially strapped state lots of money. Here’s what Rep. Oliver, who represents a portion of middle DeKalb County, told JJIE.org’s Chandra Thomas about the “Foster Children’s Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act” that she has introduced in the House.
The state juvenile code rewrite and a bill proposing an end to the practice of overmedicating foster children topped the agenda Tuesday as advocates from JUSTGeorgia and the Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program gathered at the capitol for their annual lobby day. More than 300 supporters from across the state turned out to meet with legislators about what they say are two top critical policy issues affecting children this session. “We’re all here trying to do right for the children of Georgia,” says Georgia CASA Executive Director Duaine Hathaway. “We are here to inspire Georgia legislators and get them to act on behalf of Georgia’s children.”
JUSTGeorgia Project Manager Julia Neighbors says the event is as an opportunity for the network of volunteers and supporters to reconnect with seasoned lawmakers, while raising awareness among the 45 new legislators who have taken office this year. “This is also just a good opportunity for JUSTGeorgia to work with CASA,” she says.
A wrenching story of abuse and neglect appears on the op-ed page of Thursday’s AJC. And State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-DeKalb) makes the case for reviewing how much medication is used to control the behavior of children in foster care. Oliver writes about a little boy who endured a crushing family tragedy and was abandoned by his parents while in first grade. Now he’s 13, living in an institution and heavily medicated with psychotropic drugs. His story is one of more than 200 cases detailed in the Cold Case Project, sponsored by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Justice for Children.