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DCF: There is No Excuse For Foster Care Children to Die

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 By Gina Presson Contact
May 29, 2009

In the wake of the apparent suicide of seven-year old Gabrielle Myers last month, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) released preliminary results Thursday of the investigation into his death.

DCF Secretary, George Sheldon says, in the weeks prior to his death, Gabriel learned his mother had lost visitation rights, that he would be moving back to Ohio where he said he was sexually abused by another child, and he that he also changed psychotropic medications, therapists, and foster homes, moving three times.

"I don’t care how old you are; that much change in that space of time can be traumatic. Normally, a seven-year old boy is learning to read and tie his shoes, not contemplating death."

Dr. David Cohen, professor of social work at Florida International University, says children in foster care often are troubled and abused, but he says psychotropic drugs should be a last resort. Many problems are better solved with dialogue not drugs, he adds.

"They say it's this love I got; they say it’s this really nice family I was in; they talk about a counselor they saw for three years rather than ten counselors in three years. That’s what they say made a difference, not the drugs."

Secretary Sheldon agrees, saying medication should not be a convenience but a medical necessity. He says the department is working to make sure all children are safe in their care.

"We need to keep the face of Gabriel Myers continually in our minds and in our hearts and get this right. We need to go from this tragedy to start setting the standard for the nation on how to deal with this issue."

The study found Gabriel was taking psychotropic drugs without a valid parental consent form, and database records were not accurate. Secretary Sheldon then ordered a review of all DCF records, which found 13 percent of the 20,000 children in foster care are taking psychotropic drugs, as compared to about four percent of all Florida children. He adds 16 percent of them, like Gabriel, do not have signed parental consent forms for the drugs in their files.

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