The answer is, “not so well,” according to recent investigations. Apparently what happens is this: children are first taken out of abusive or neglectful homes and put into the foster care system, presumably to be given the chance at better lives. So far, so good. However, removal from one environment that has victimized them, and entry into another highly questionable one, is the surprising discovery of government and media investigations into the matter. What was found is that the chosen method of treatment in many cases is child drugging — excessive, unnecessary, and at extremely high doses.
This is not to mention the exorbitant cost of these drugs paid with Medicaid funds, which American taxpayers trust will be spent constructively and responsibly. Some states spend so much on psychiatric drugs that it will become necessary to divert funds from education and social services to keep covering the costs. In the state of Massachusetts, for example, almost 40% of foster children were found to be on at least one psychotropic drug.
Troubled children entering foster care are routinely interviewed by cold clinicians, sometimes for just 15 minutes or less, hastily pronounced “disordered”, and then medicated. Most often prescribed are the newer class of drugs called “antipsychotics” intended for seriously ill adults, not for the most commonly diagnosed childhood “disorder”, “ADHD”. Inappropriate application of these heavy drugs seems inexplicable until one considers that these newer antipsychotics are more heavily advertised and higher priced. This leads one to ask if those factors are influencing doctors more than the welfare of their patients, especially in light of kickbacks offered by some drug companies for prescribing their brand.
These antipsychotic drugs were not even tested for children; but now their liberal clinical use has proven them destructive, often tragically so. The 2009 case of seven-year-old Gabriel Myers who committed suicide while under foster care was traced to multiple high dose drugs prescribed by his Medicaid psychiatrist. Rather than the wake-up call his death should have been, this kind of dangerous drugging has been allowed to continue and pervade the foster care system. Statistically, foster children are given over ten times as many drugs as those outside the system. Apparently, out of the public view or a parent’s watchful eye, anything can happen. Now, however, government officials and Medicaid have been alerted, and have instituted reporting requirements to prevent this, and have dismissed some of the high-prescribers in their employ.
One could ask if these drugs are at all effective in fixing what is wrong. Not according to the children themselves, or their foster parents, who spoke out in a three part ABC program portraying this disturbing scene in America. ABC’s long-term investigation exposed the fact that Medicaid psychiatrists, rather than offering the sincere concern, attention, and compassion thus far lacking in these children’s lives, find it simpler to fix them with drugs. What was also exposed is that the side effects of child drugging are often so severe that a second drug is given to combat them, then another to combat newer side effects, and so on until as many as five drugs are prescribed for one child. Side effects are sometimes irreversible, such as diabetes, neuro-muscular deterioration, and the most tragic of all – suicide.
Many foster children described what they experienced in foster care. They spoke not about the nurturing welcome one hopes would greet them when entering foster care, but about the incorrect diagnoses and bags of meds they were handed. One child described his medicated state as like a pile of bricks on his head weighing him down. Though it would seem less likely that a child could “act out” with his muscles and psyche shackled; actual films showed extreme tantrums while under medication, which subsided when the medications were withdrawn.
Some children told of being on drugs beginning at age six, and continuing throughout their foster “care”. Even when placed in temporary homes, foster parents were pressured to keep them drugged up. One foster family chose to pay for an independent therapist who suspected that the heavy cocktail of drugs was causing the extreme behavior he witnessed. When weaned off the heavy “cocktail” of meds, this child’s behavior radically improved. One teen in foster care gained over 100 pounds as a side effect of her medication, putting her at risk for diabetes.
Another foster child from an earlier investigation told her story of being placed in a home with over a dozen foster kids, all under heavy medication. Unhappy about being unable to interact with them because they were so out of it, she was sent to a psychiatrist. Her first visit resulted in being labeled bi-polar for being “depressed”, and she was prescribed Prozac and Seroquel. Subsequent visits were stressful to her because the doctor would first and last ask her about the drugs. She feared, if she said anything negative about them, that he would raise the dose or add more. Seeing the heavily drugged kids at home, she wanted no part of it. Taking her meds, she said, would knock her out so that she could not stay awake at school. Such foster child drugging is clearly both counter-productive and oppressive. Though America’s duty is to protect and foster the physical and mental well being of these children, the real beneficiary of the current program seems to be the pharmaceutical industry.
It seems obvious to state that abusive and neglectful homes caused the emotional states of these children. Anger, frustration and other emotions are the consequence of disordered and destructive environments. One child trauma authority said that the failure of many psychiatrists to understand this, and their blaming brain-based disorders instead, is leading to all the child drugging. Nurturing, improved environments and rehabilitating therapy are what is needed. An ABC correspondent questioned how the costs of such a program would be covered. On an immediate look, resources may seem to be lacking. But if the current expenditure of millions of Medicaid dollars on expensive drugs were eliminated and re-allocated, the funds would then be available to rehabilitate foster children with proven, positive methods carrying none of the dangerous side effects of child drugging.