Carter: Nearly a Third of Georgia’s Foster Children Receive Psychotropic Meds
Nationally, psychotropic drugs are prescribed for foster children at rates between 13 and 52 percent, compared with 4 percent among children generally, says Melissa Carter, executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center. Georgia falls near the higher end of that range, with nearly one-third of children in foster care receiving a psychotropic medication, Carter says.
Carter was interviewed on WABE 90.1 along with Georgia Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver 72L, about possible reasons why nearly a third of the state’s foster children are prescribed one or more of the medications. Oliver is a former visiting professor with the Barton Center.
Part of the problem is that as children are moved from one foster home to another, their physicians and caretakers may change, Carter said.
"There is such a fragmented system of care, that it's very unclear who needs to be making that informed consent on behalf of that child,” Carter told WABE’s Marianne English.
Last year, Oliver introduced legislation that would require stricter oversight when children under the state’s care are given psychotropic drugs.
“When is Georgia going to step forward and comply with the federal obligation that it take some formal action to impose a monitoring process for possible overmedication of foster care children?" Oliver said.
Oliver wants the Department of Human Services to comment on Carter's findings before taking further action, English said.
Last month, Carter published the results of a yearlong study on the issue: Georgia Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Project, which was produced in collaboration with Casey Family Programs and the Child Welfare Collaborative.
“Research likewise shows that children in foster care are at greater risk for mental and behavioral health disorders, but illness severity and prevalence does not fully explain the higher rates of utilization,” Carter wrote.
“As children in foster care change placements, they often change medical providers, and records are incomplete and inaccurate,” the report reads. “Informed consent processes are unclear, and systemic supports for child welfare personnel and providers do not exist,” the report says. “Medications become an expedient solution.”
The 62-page report makes several recommendations to prevent overmedication including:
· Expanding the use of “medical passports” for foster children to provide greater continuity in their medical care, and
· Developing “explicit protocols for sharing individual case-level information … with treatment providers, foster parents or other caregivers, the child’s attorney or guardian ad litem, and the court, as needed to ensure coordinated care”
The report also recommends the state’s Division of Family and Child Services expressly prohibit both “the use of psychotropic medications as chemical restraints and for purposes of punishment or convenience of the caregiver, staff, or parent,” and the use of blanket “administer as needed” instructions when psychotropic drugs are prescribed.
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