Kids in foster care carry profound pain. It's the pain that stems from the abuse, abandonment and trauma they have experienced during their character-forming years.
This pain often is revealed in various ways: anger, depression, rebelliousness and violence. For the state, it's easier and less expensive to sedate them with medication than to help them heal.
Officials from the Florida's Department of Children & Families have finally admitted that they too often use drugs to manage troubled children rather than to treat them. It's a practice that shows how little understanding the state has for its foster children and the bleak situations in which they have been left by their birth parents. And it highlights the question of just what responsibilities doctors have toward these children. They have the last word. Some of them prescribe powerful psychotropic drugs, most of which are not authorized for children by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
UNETHICAL PRACTICE The drugs keep the kids under control, but they don't necessarily help them get better. When doctors prescribe these drugs, they fail the test of professional ethics. The prescribing physicians often lack information about the children, including their medical histories. This was the conclusion of a report released by a panel of child-welfare experts and DCF administrators that examined the case of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a Broward foster child who hanged himself in the bathroom of his foster home. At the time, he was being given a risky regimen of psychiatric medications. Basic information such as height and weight is often overlooked; some doctors even prescribe such drugs without a physical exam.
Others are simply not familiar with the emotional problems the young patient is suffering.
``The prescriber has a legal and ethical duty to obtain informed consent before psychotherapeutic medication is administered,'' the report states.
SECOND-CLASS PATIENTS At a time when healthcare reform is debated around the country, the panel's findings underscore the adverse effects of government-sponsored medicine on the quality of care for vulnerable groups. Psychiatrists hired by the DCF are paid by Medicare, which reimburses them at a very low rate. This makes these children second-class patients.
Another problem is that the current system generally undervalues psychiatrists, and that insurance companies do not compensate them as specialists. Psychotherapy takes time, and if doctors are not able to give patients that time, they simply become pill-dispensers.
Doctors don't mean to do harm. On the contrary, they believe they are freeing the child from suffering.
But in many cases neither medication nor psychotherapy is the only solution. People involved in the lives of these children -- foster parents, social workers, therapists, doctors -- need the required motivation, knowledge, training and sensitivity to work with young people who have been so seriously affected by the rejection of their birth parents and the neglect of society.
Drugging foster kids is creating a generation of chronic patients who will depend on social services for the rest of their lives. They will end up in hospitals and prisons -- all at the expense of taxpayers.
Doctors should put away their prescription pads unless a case is well documented and has proper consent.
Likewise, everyone in Florida's child welfare system should look at these children as his or her own. Every parent in Florida should feel that minors under state custody are also their own children. Only then will the kids have a chance to rejoin society as equals.