Sunday, May 17, 2009

Florida DCF Secretary Convenes Workgroup to Evaluate Circumstances Surrounding Death of 7-year-old in Foster Care

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 provide recommendations based on the workgroup's report.

Last 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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