DAYTONA BEACH - A bill that would have ensured tighter controls on administering psychotropic drugs to foster children failed to pass this legislative session, but the head of the state Department of Children & Families is moving forward with rules he says will ensure children are safe.
George Sheldon, secretary for the state Department of Children & Families, who was in town Thursday afternoon to attend community meetings on the department's future strategic plan, said the bill not passing was a "major failure" on the part of the Legislature.
A work group made 90 recommendations following the April 2009 death of a South Florida foster child, Gabriel Myers, 7, who was prescribed several mind-altering drugs and hanged himself in his foster home.
Some of the recommendations included hiring a chief medical officer to monitor the prescribing of such medications, which Sheldon plans to move forward with using other funds.
By July 1, he said, operating procedures also will be in place to ensure every child on psychotropic medications has a guardian; to prohibit any foster child from being a part of any clinical trials; and to make sure every child is informed of the side effects, to name a few.
Psychotropic medications are drugs used for psychiatric reasons such as mood stabilizers, stimulants and drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A database also will be in place to allow DCF to monitor any "red flag" cases where a child is on more than two psychotropic medications at the same time, he said.
"I'm unwilling to have Gabriel Myers' death be in vain," Sheldon said in an interview Thursday.
Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who was honored at a community meeting Thursday for her work over the years for social services, said she was "very disappointed" the bill did not pass and that it "is an issue that must be dealt with in our state."
The work group criticized DCF in the review of Gabriel's death and raised concerns in some cases that the drugs have been used to control foster children's behaviors.
Statewide as of May 7, according to DCF records, 14.6 percent or 2,724 foster children are on one or more prescriptions for psychotropic medications, with 122 or 14.8 percent locally.
Bill Babiez, CEO of Community Partnership for Children, the local foster care agency for the state, said local initiatives include hiring a specialist to make sure parental consents are in place when a doctor prescribes psychotropic medications.
"We don't want to miss a beat on this issue. It is too critical to the life of a child," Babiez said.