The conversion of
foster-care kids into addled, drooling but easily managed zombies by
ordering up injudicious dollops of psychotropic drugs makes for a
Except nobody was shocked.
Not in South Florida.
Hundreds of foster kids, taken away from their
families and placed in the state-run foster system, have been kept
in line by an apparent overuse of powerful drugs, some with daunting
side effects. The Herald's Carol Marbin Miller reported that kids
consigned to state care are being dosed with powerful
antidepressants, anti-psychotics and tranquilizers, some not
specifically approved for children.
Child advocates charge that the unruly kids are drugged into a
dull and submissive state to make them easier to manage, not because
of mental illness. And that the drugs were administered despite some
startling side effects.
One boy, reacting to a prescription of Risperdal (one of four
psychotropics in his drug regime) gained 30 pounds, developed
breasts and began lactating. Last year, Florida prescribed
antipsychotic drugs to 5,722 foster children under 10.
But the outrageous treatment of foster kids no longer outrages.
The outrageous has become the ordinary. Failures of the foster
system have become its most familiar characteristic. And stories
exploring those failures have become variations of an old theme. The
state's foster system has been sued or its failures cataloged by
national child advocates organizations, grand juries and the federal
And nobody gets shocked anymore.
Kids on ``chemical restraints'' was a story I forced myself to
read, though my inclination, ``Oh no, another foster-care horror
story,'' was to retreat to the sports page, where news of failure
doesn't numb the soul. Maybe, for most of us, the problems seem too
overwhelming. ``It's overwhelming to us who are actively involved,''
said Howard Talenfeld, who represents more than 1,000 Broward County
foster kids in a lawsuit against the state Department of Children
``I think it's so overwhelming, whether it's the department, the
public, even the advocates, that we sometimes forget that these are
individual children here, who were all victimized before they came
into the system,'' said Andrea L. Moore, the child advocate and
lawyer who blew the whistle on the administration of powerful drugs
like Risperdal, used by a system ``so overwhelmed that it's forced
to [use] quick and easy solutions.''
CRYING OUT FOR HELP
Advocates like Jack Levine, president of the Center for Florida's
Children, rail that drugs are another cheapskate strategy for a
state that pays foster parents less to care for children ($11.74 a
day) than kennels receive for boarding dogs.
``You can confine a child emotionally by telling him he's
worthless or shackle him to a bed or put him in a jail, but there's
something very insidious about chemical shackles . . .
especially Risperdal, for any age child.'' He said it was worthy of
a third-world tyranny.
Andrea Moore would like a bit of outrage to inspire more
volunteers for the critically understaffed guardian ad litem program
to represent abused and neglected children or, at least, in a few
tutors for foster kids. ``Some of these kids don't own a book. They
have no one to read to them.''
But we're overwhelmed. We shake our heads, sadly, and shrug.