short, tragic life and death of Gabriel Myers will not be completely in
vain if the state finally adapts its treatment of mentally troubled
foster children to emphasize therapy, not psychotropic drugs.
Gabriel was a 7-year-old foster child in Margate whose world, never
very secure to begin with, was splintering into fragments when he hung
himself April 16. Gabriel was not a perfect child. He had anger issues.
He displayed inappropriate sexual behavior that may have stemmed from
his own molestation earlier in Ohio.
Gabriel entered Broward
County's foster-care system in June 2008 when his mother was found
passed out in her drug-filled car in a parking lot. Once in foster
care, Gabriel was medicated with an adult anti-depressant and received
therapy. In the last few weeks of his life he was moved from two foster
homes, given a new psychotropic medication, learned that his mother
would be sent to jail in Ohio and came up against a foster father
turning more punitive in his punishment of the boy.
Department has been candid
His death rocked the Department of Children & Families and
Broward's foster-care system. DCF Secretary George Sheldon has made
sure the department is candid and open about its role in Gabriel's life
and death, a welcome change from prior administrations. Gabriel was one
of hundreds of foster kids on psychotropic drugs. Mr. Sheldon appointed
a task force to look into his death and drug use on foster children.
The group's findings show that child-welfare doctors and case workers
don't always follow the rules on drugging kids in state care. In
Gabriel's case, his social worker needed to get either his parent's or
a judge's approval to use the psychiatric drug. That wasn't done. His
therapist may have overemphasized treating the sexual behavior and
overlooked his depression. Everyone dealing with the boy treated him
more as a case study than as a forlorn, frightened 7-year-old who
needed a parent's love and protection.
There are solutions
Other findings that must be
addressed: Caregivers aren't adequately monitoring the potentially
dangerous side effects of the psychotropic drugs on children;
psychiatrists and pediatricians often lack medical histories for the
children they treat, yet still prescribe drugs; mental healthcare for
foster children is fragmented and poorly funded (this should come as no
surprise to anyone familiar with Florida's dismal social service
record); finally, and this one really needs to be heeded, DCF has
failed to implement recommendations from previous reports on use of
To continue these dreadful practices is to put the state's foster children in more peril than ever.