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Florida foster kids are given powerful medications, but feds find state oversight lacking

Christopher O’Donnell, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

The powerful anti-seizure drug the 5-year-old boy had been taking for more than a year made him “almost catatonic,” his new foster mom from Florida’s Pinellas County worried.

And there was no paperwork showing that the boy’s biological mother or a judge had authorized the psychotropic medication, Keppra, as required by state law.

“I was caught between a rock and a hard spot,” she said. “You can’t just stop that cold turkey.”

The child’s medical records showed he had seizures only when he had a fever, suggesting he was not epileptic. The foster mom asked the boy’s neurologist if they could wean him off the drug.

He has not had a seizure since.

The account from the foster mother was confirmed by the boy’s biological mother, who said she was not asked nor would she have consented to put him on the anti-seizure drug. The Tampa Bay Times and KFF Health News are not using their names to protect the identity of the boy, who is still in foster care.

 

The use of powerful psychotropic and opioid medications in Florida’s child welfare system is supposed to be strictly regulated and documented.

But a federal audit of 115 records of children prescribed those medications selected at random by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found lax record-keeping and multiple cases of child welfare workers failing to follow Florida regulations on psychotropic or opioid medication.

Federal audits in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio also uncovered inadequate oversight of the use of psychotropic drugs among foster kids. In Maryland, the American Civil Liberties Union and other nonprofits filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the state of not maintaining medical records. The suit says as many as 34% of the state’s foster children are given psychotropic drugs but that most of them don’t have a documented psychiatric diagnosis.

Child advocates fear such examples reflect a national failure to closely monitor the use of drugs among a vulnerable population already more likely to be on medication than other children.

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©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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