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Erline Kidd, with sons Devon (left) and Von, is fighting to stop the city from medicating her little girl, who's in foster care. "My daughter is like a zombie," she says.
- Yechiam Gal

April 16, 2001 -- ERLINE KIDD doesn't want her 8-year-old daughter to end up like a boy named Cecil Reed - a corpse at the city morgue.

Kidd fears for the life of her daughter Shaevonnah - "Shae" - because she's in the custody of the city's Administration for Children's Services - just like Cecil was.

And just like Cecil, ACS is allowing doctors to give Shae a cocktail of psychiatric medications that Kidd feels is harming her baby.

Kidd's objections are being ignored, just like those of Cecil's father, who stopped complaining April 7, 2000, when his 16-year-old son suffered a heart attack triggered by a combination of four drugs, and died.

"I was begging them to stop," said Cecil Reed Jr., a city worker who lives in The Bronx.

"Jesus," said Dr. Peter Breggin, an author and critic of psychiatric treatment of children. "They were treating him like you would treat a raving psychotic."

ACS says it doesn't know how many of its 31,000 children are on psychiatric medication, but advocacy groups say complaints from parents arrive at their offices on a "regular basis."

A state audit of 401 randomly selected kids last year found that more than half were being treated for mental problems - and that most likely means medication.

Some advocates charge the foster-care agencies contracted to care for nearly 90 percent of ACS's children use medication to "control" the emotionally troubled kids.

Parents like those of Tariq Mohammad, 16, face medical-neglect charges in Family Court if they object too vigorously.

Tariq was on medication for schizophrenia, an illness he says he never had, and its side effects made him violently ill. The family sued ACS in civil court and won after a court-appointed psychiatrist determined Tariq didn't need any medication.

"I am outraged, not just for me, but for many kids that are being medicated," Tariq said. "It really screwed me up. I guess they do it because they don't want to deal with us."

Tariq, who lived in the foster system since he was 11, says his pleas for an alternative treatment were summarily ignored.

The ACS says parents are entitled to get a second medical opinion or hire a lawyer to fight the case in court.

The mad rush to medicate, a nationwide phenomenon, is especially delicate with foster kids. The ACS relies on the judgment of doctors subcontracted by its 60 foster agencies to evaluate and treat children, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Faulk said.

The ACS is supposed to monitor the treatment, but overworked caseworkers can't - or don't - micromanage each kid, so they defer to doctors.

Hank Orenstein, the director of the advocacy agency C-Plan, said the ACS exhibits a "naivete" in mental-health services.

"It's a relief to have other professions make the decision but as you can see some children are not always best served with medication," said Orenstein, whose group is part of Public Advocate Mark Green's office.

Parents end up becoming helpless watchdogs handcuffed by bureaucracy and poverty.

"I hated it," said Cecil Reed's father, a Baptist church deacon, describing the slow medication death of his son at the Bronx Children's Psychiatric Center.

Reed began noticing a problem with Cecil's treatment three years before his son died. Reed, who was threatened with medical-neglect charges, said Cecil was "sleepwalking" after the hospital began serving the boy cocktails.

Doctors said Cecil had schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder but his father claims his son wasn't insane, just a strong-willed kid who like any youngster would lash out after being separated from family and friends.

"Daddy, I don't want to take medicine anymore . . . They are just using me as a guinea pig," Reed remembers his son saying.

When the usually cooperative Reed questioned the medication in late 1999, the hospital simply got consent from the ACS behind the father's back, he charged. Faulk didn't respond to the allegation.

He learned about the deadly cocktail the day after his son died.

The autopsy report notes Cecil's body contained "potentially toxic" levels of pindolol, a heart-damaging drug never tested or recommended for children.

Breggin said serving these cocktails to children is "so dangerous and experimental that it wouldn't be permitted under any legitimate rule of research."

The ACS, the state's Office of Children and Family Services and the state Office of Mental Health, which runs the Bronx facility where Cecil died, refused to comment because the family plans to sue.

Erline Kidd's face sunk when she was told about Cecil. Kidd charged she always learns about the drug cocktails her daughter gets after the fact. All contact with her daughter's doctor is arranged by the ACS.

Kidd, a reformed cocaine addict, is fighting two wars: to get her daughter back from the ACS, like she did with her two sons, ages 12 and 9, in January, and to stop the drugging of the girl.

Little Shae is on Seroquel and Thorazine for psychosis, and four other drugs.

"I just know it's too much - my daughter is like a zombie," the mother said. "One time I saw her and I wanted to grab her and run."

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