Friday, August 4, 2017

The Florida foster-care panic: Still another child pays the ultimate price

Florida DCF seeks to evade responsibility for misuse of
psychiatric drugs on foster children.
For the third time in less than a year, a Florida foster child has committed suicide.

16-year-old Guilianna Ramos Bermudez hanged herself in a group home where she’d been bullied.  She’d also suffered another trauma; Her own daughter, who had been allowed to live with her at the group home had been taken away.

On the night she died, she had argued with the group home staff, refusing to take her psychiatric medication.

Giulianna’s best friend told the Miami Herald:

“She would always refuse her meds. ‘Mazzy, it makes me feel like a zombie,” Mazzelyn said. “The meds made her depressed. She wasn’t depressed.”

Would this tragedy have taken place even had the Herald not launched a crusade to tear apart more families, overloading the entire system?  We’ll never know. But this tragedy would have been less likely for at least two reasons:

● If, in fact, Giulianna really needed to be placed in foster care – and we don’t know that  - the odds are far better that there would have been a good, safe nurturing foster home for her. Now, however, that place is more likely to be taken by someone who never needed to be in foster care at all. So children like Giluianna are shunted into the worst form of care – group homes. Those also are the places where staff are most likely to overmedicate children to keep them docile.

● Of all Carol Marbin Miller’s various crusades the only one that had a positive effect was the one, about a decade ago, against the misuse and overuse of psychiatric medication on foster children.  But that’s only because this happened to be the time when DCF had a leader who truly cared about children and the courage to back up the caring. George Sheldon made the crusade to curb the misuse of psychiatric medication his own.  And he made some progress.

But everything Sheldon accomplished was wiped out when Miller and her colleagues went on their crusade against the efforts by Sheldon and his predecessor, Bob Butterworth to reduce the number of children placed in foster care – efforts that, according to independent evaluations, improved child safety. An overloaded system increases the temptation to rush to the prescription pad.

And, of course, there’s no indication that what now passes for leadership at DCF gives a damn.  Remember how, when asked about how false reports passed on from the hotline were overloading caseworkers, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll replied “It is what it is”?

In this case, when asked about the use of psychiatric medication in this case, a DCF spokeswoman replied simply: “DCF does not prescribe medication.”

But it’s DCF’s responsibility to oversee the people who do.

No child welfare system can prevent every tragedy.  But the tragedies won’t be curbed until the foster-care panic is stopped.