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Tag Archives: Florida Department of Children & Families

Time of reckoning for mom


Zahid’s mother goes on trial for manslaughter on Friday

Nicole Brewington, accused of allowing her boyfriend to beat her son Zahid Jones Jr. to death in 2007 in Cape Coral, will go to trial Friday.

Attorneys were in court Monday afternoon to discuss any outstanding issues that remain before Friday, when attorneys will select a jury for Brewington, who is charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child. Zahid, 3, was beaten to death by Brewington’s boyfriend Kashon Scott and died May 29, 2007.

Brewington, 34, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the first-degree felony. The trial is expected to last most of next week.

In court Monday, Assistant Public Defender Karen Elizabeth Miller told Lee Circuit Judge Mark Steinbeck she wants to call Scott as a witness. Attorneys will dispute Thursday whether Scott’s statement to Cape Coral police should be part of the trial.

“My goal is to play Mr. Scott’s statement for the jury,” she told Steinbeck.

Scott, who was convicted in 2008 of aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse and was sentenced to 60 years in prison, is being held at the Florida State Prison West Unit in Raiford. Steinbeck signed an order to transport Scott back to the Lee County Jail for the trial next week.

Also discussed Monday was a decision to have prospective jurors fill out a form of basic questions before they get to Steinbeck’s courtroom to save time on jury selection, which is expected to last most of the day Friday. They will be asked individually if they have followed the case in the media and formed opinions about Brewington’s guilt based on news reports and if they have had any experiences with child abuse or with the Florida Department of Children And Families.

The department was criticized after removing Zahid and his two siblings amid allegations of abuse and neglect and returning them to their mother two months before the toddler’s death. Scott was not supposed to be living at the house when Zahid was killed.

Also Thursday, attorneys will debate whether Brewington will be able to rely on a defense of battered spouse syndrome. Assistant State Attorney Carrie Pollock said Monday she is opposed to Brewington using the defense at trial.

State panel implicates foster care workers in South Florida 7-year-old’s suicide

By Kris Hundley, Times Staff Writer

In Print: Friday, August 21, 2009

Foster care workers at all levels routinely ignored policies designed to protect children in their care from being given psychotropic drugs without proper consent or monitoring.

That was the conclusion of a panel looking into the April suicide of Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old foster child who killed himself in Margate, South Florida, while taking two psychotropic medications.

The 26-page report, released Thursday, highlighted a lack of communication, inadequate supervision and inaccurate information in the Department of Children and Families’ handling of Myers’ case. About 15 percent of foster children in out of home care are on at least one psychotropic medication.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon said he looks forward to hearing the work group’s recommendations. Among the options: a second-party review of all foster children on psychotropic drugs regardless of the diagnosis.

Drugs and Foster Care: Myers Report Critical of DCF




Gabriel Myers: picture from Florida DCF webpage

Gabriel Myers: picture from Florida DCF webpage

News Service of Florida – Aug 14th, 2009

A draft report written by a work group investigating the April 2009 suicide of a Margate boy says children in state care are often being given mind-altering drugs for behavioral problems instead of being treated.

The draft report, released Thursday, stems from the death of Gabriel Myers, a 7-year-old who hanged himself with a shower hose in his Broward County foster home. A DCF investigation found that Myers had been on psychotropic drugs, but that proper consent had not been obtained regarding the treatment and that the prescribed drugs were not accurately reflected in his case files.

Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon appointed a work group to study the Myers death and the use of psychotropic drugs on foster kids. Earlier this summer, the department revealed that 3,020 of 19,761, or about 15 percent, of foster children were found to be on the high power drugs.

And now, the Myers work group is saying that many children might be receiving drugs unnecessarily.

“Psychotherapeutic medications are often being used to help parents, teachers, and other caregivers calm and manage, rather than treat children,” the report reads.

Sheldon told reporters earlier this year that he was not anti-drug, but that the Myers’ work group findings regarding the number of foster children on psychotropic drugs raised serious questions.

In Myers’ case, the group found that no individual was looking out for his needs and that there were numerous red flags signaling problems. However, they were not addressed. The report also criticizes the individuals and agencies involved in Myers’ cares.

“Reports on his behavior, medication, and life changes were not fully and regularly shared among those charged with ensuring his welfare,” it reads.

The draft report made nine suggestions, including that the doctor prescribing the medicine should have ongoing communication with the child. It also suggests that youth and families be consistently provided with continuous information regarding mental health disorders and treatments.

“These principles should be accepted and clearly articulated as necessary and appropriate for the treatment of children within Florida’s child welfare system,” the report concluded.


Report: Fla. child welfare lacks accountability


Associated Press Writer

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The head of the state’s child welfare agency is recommending stricter rules for prescribing powerful anti-depressants and other drugs to foster children after a 7-year-old in state care committed suicide.

George Sheldon, the secretary of the Department of Children and Families, said Thursday he might consider recommending additional review for all children in state custody on such medications and the appointment of a new in-house state medical director to keep tabs on cases.

The department released a 55-page preliminary finding in the case Thursday, four months after Gabriel Myers hung himself with a retractable showerhead at his foster home.

“If you (prescribe psychotropic meds) there’s got to be a treatment plan in place, there’s got to be an end date in place and there’s got to be ongoing dialogue,” Sheldon told The Associated Press.

The new report found a lack of accountability and inadequate supervision in every step of Gabriel’s case.

The state has been struggling to admit and fix such problems since 2002, when a 4-year-old girl went missing for a year before state officials realized it. She is presumed dead.

“If everybody is responsible for your children then no one is responsible,” Jim Sewell, Former Assistant Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said at one meeting of the task force that issued the report.

In Gabriel’s case and others like it, workers did not use procedures adopted years ago, such as keeping a form that included his diagnosis and medications. Gabriel was on several psychiatric drugs linked by federal regulators to potentially dangerous side effects, including suicide, but the risks may not have been adequately communicated to his foster parents.

A records check after he died found nearly 2,700 children, 13 percent of all those in out-of-home foster care, taking psychotropic drugs, compared with an estimated 4 to 5 percent in the general population.

“Psychotherapeutic medications are often being used to help parents, teachers and other child workers quiet and manage, rather than treat, children,” the report says.

The records check showed that 433 of those children, or 16 percent, had not had their drugs approved by parents or court orders. Even if they had, people on the task force said, such approvals was often just a rubber stamp from judges with little understanding of such drugs and their side effects.

Sheldon also said cases need to be reviewed again after an initial diagnosis when a child enters foster care.

“When a child comes into care, that’s when they’re the most traumatized, probably sad, bordering on depression, should we be making a long-term assessment at that point that will follow them for the rest of their care?” he asked.

Those assessments need to be re-evaluted a month or 90 days later, Sheldon said.

In Gabriel’s case, Sheldon said, he was flooded with services, therapuetic sessions, medical evaluations and psychiatric appointments, “but nobody in the case was acting as a parent.”

The report found that caseworkers didn’t talk to doctors. Teachers didn’t talk to caseworkers. Caseworkers and the psychiatrist made the same cookie cutter notes in Gabriel’s file nearly every visit, despite his increasingly troubled behavior. Nearly every opportunity to help him instead became a symbol of the department’s inefficencies and blame shifting.

Red flags were repeatedly ignored, the panel found.

Myers choked himself so badly he once left red marks on his neck. He stole knives at his foster home, telling classmates he would kill them and repeatedly touching classmates’ private parts. He later told a therapist he had been sexually abused by a 12-year-old boy while living in Ohio with his grandparents.

A Florida therapist recommended the state place Myers in a residential program that deals with abused children, but that never happened.

Task force member Dr. Rajiv Tandon, a psychiatrist with the University of Florida, called Myers case a “10 in terms of a red flag for a child who is crying out….but this information was not all pulled together.”

Kimberly Foster, who was on psychotropic medications every day during a decade in foster care, hopes the department will make changes to help children like her. She told the panel that children in state care are overmedicated.

“They looked at me as a troublemaker instead of a child who is coming out of a troubled environment, said Foster, now 25. “If you cry, you’re depressed. If you act out in school, you’re a behavior problem. We’re so quick to put these diagnoses on children.”

System faulted in boy’s death in foster care


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Child-welfare doctors and case managers routinely failed to complete legally required treatment plans, share information or properly document the prescribing of powerful psychiatric drugs for children, according to a new state study of 6- and 7-year-olds medicated in state care.

One of the 268 children was Gabriel Myers. The troubled 7-year-old, medicated with an adult anti-depressant known to cause suicides in children, hanged himself in April in his Margate foster home.

But the state study, which documents how many times caseworkers and doctors followed child-welfare rules and laws, shows that it would be a mistake to blame Gabriel’s death solely on the drug, Symbyax, said Florida’s drug czar, William Janes.

”It wasn’t just the medications,” said Janes, who sits on a committee investigating ways to prevent cases like Gabriel’s. “It was the system and his world. His environment just collapsed on him. And there was no one there to really put their arms around him.”

The Department of Children and Families study, presented Monday to the committee, indicates that a number of rules and laws on medication for children in state care weren’t followed for all 6- and 7-year-olds:

• In 86 percent of cases, the prescribing physician didn’t complete what’s known as a Psychotherapeutic Medication Treatment Plan, which helps case workers, legal guardians, judges and other physicians determine a child’s mental well being.

• In 75 percent of the cases, the case workers did not provide physicians with pertinent medical information about the child.

• In 76 percent of the cases, the case worker didn’t provide parents with information about the psychotropic drugs their kids were being prescribed. Nor did the case worker help arrange transportation or phone conversations between the doctor and the child’s guardian.

• In 58 percent of the cases, the case manager didn’t attempt to speak with or meet the parent or guardian prior to seeking a court order to medicate the child.

• In 89 percent of the cases where parental consent wasn’t obtained to medicate children, case managers failed to inform state lawyers that they were seeking a court order to administer the medication.

The DCF study also found numerous record-keeping and data discrepancies in the state’s child-tracking system, Florida Safe Families Network. The study follows a similar review last month concerning the drugging of children in state care under the age of 6. DCF is now studying other age groups.

Dr. R. Scott Benson, former head of the American Psychiatric Association, pointed out the difficulties physicians have in meeting all the state record-keeping requirements.

Benson, who doesn’t treat children in state care, said he found it ”horribly troubling” that physicians weren’t given all the pertinent medical information about the children prior to making a prescription. But, he said, he wasn’t surprised because of the complicated nature of child-welfare cases and clients.

The committee probing the child-welfare system plans to issue a report by Aug. 20.

It is only touching on Gabriel’s case, which is the subject of a Margate police investigation. Some doctors and case workers — all of whom work for privatized agencies under contract with the state — might face sanctions, depending on what the report finds.

The DCF study, as well as Gabriel’s case, show the troubles with 2005 legislation designed to curb the prescribing of mental-health drugs to kids in state care.

Among its requirements, the law mandates more information sharing, parental involvement and second-party review of doctors’ prescriptions for the youngest children.

One committee member, Dr. Rajiv Tandon, pushed for a simple electronic record system that physicians and case workers can share.

He said the system also needs to be ”tweaked” to clarify who’s in charge and who needs to do what.

”There’s only so much we can do. There’s no substitute for common sense,” Tandon said. “There’s no substitute for people doing the right thing. Sadly, in this case, the right thing wasn’t done by some people.”

Kids need care, not pills, ex-foster children tell panel


A state group looking at the suicide of a young foster child met Thursday to discuss ways to improve care and listened to adults who said they were overmedicated in the foster-care system.


As Florida child-welfare administrators study failures in the foster-care system believed to have led a 7-year-old boy to kill himself in April, they turned Thursday to experts they don’t often consult: young adults who came of age in state care.

Mez Pierre, 22, and Kimberly Foster, 25, both from Broward County, told the group that mental health drugs — already at the center of the investigation of Gabriel Myers’s tragic death — aren’t the answer for many foster youth. Children need caring adults who will look at the causes of their difficult behavior, they said — not simply write prescriptions in an attempt to control it.

Foster said doctors prescribed medication when she got upset about being removed from her home. She was ultimately placed in facilities with locked windows and restraints.

”They were trying to control the symptoms I had from being put into the system. . . . How I reacted was normal,” Foster said. “I was sad. I was taken away from my home. Because of that they felt medication was the right way to treat me.”

Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) administrators and child advocates who formed a work group to study Gabriel’s death held their third meeting Thursday in Fort Lauderdale. Gabriel hanged himself in the bathroom of his Margate foster home in April. He had been prescribed several psychiatric drugs during his nine months in foster care.

Workgroup members spent much of the day talking about issues such as how to improve communication between various professionals who care for foster kids. The leaders discussed various forms and documents collected for each child, and the potential roadblocks in gathering the data — sometimes as simple as a fax not going through.

Anne Wells, pharmacy director for the state Agency for Health Care Administration, questioned how some of these efforts will help children in foster care. .

”I don’t mean to criticize, but I have listened to improvements, and checked boxes, forms and paperwork. I’m sorry. I just don’t get it,” she said. “Where does all of this stuff head off the outcome that Gabriel had?”

Wells also questioned whether administrators were too quick to blame medication for Gabriel’s death, rather than talking about what led to his being medicated in the first place.


But both Pierre and Foster told the group that they were over-medicated as foster children.

”To hear a story about a foster youth who lost his life, I take that very, very personally,” said Pierre, who choked back tears during his presentation. “I went through a lot of things that Gabriel went through and to see one loss is very painful.”

Gabriel ‘wasn’t being cared for. He was just told `you have problems,’ ” Pierre said.

Pierre added that he was first prescribed medications when he entered the foster-care system at age 5. He was given multiple pills and various diagnoses, including attention deficit/hyperactivity and bipolar disorders.

”When I was on medications, I always felt like a zombie,” he said. “I felt drowsy. I didn’t feel human. I felt like I was an animal on a farm being tested.”

Today, Pierre is doing what many told him he couldn’t do: living a successful life without medications. Pierre, who lives in Deerfield Beach, said he has a job, attends Broward College and hopes to become a lawyer.

”Consider the lives . . . even though it’s a difficult job,” he told the group. “That doesn’t mean to neglect your responsibility and to not work together.”


Foster said she took herself off the medications when she was 18 and pregnant. She now lives in Pompano Beach with her husband and son.


”I have never displayed any suicidal ideations, no mutilations, no disorientations,” Foster said. ‘We are lost if we send a message to youth, `if you cry you are depressed.’ We are so quick to put diagnoses on a child for a lot of times being a normal adolescent.”

Both Pierre and Foster are active in a group called Florida Youth Shine which, among other things, testifies in Tallahassee about foster-care issues.

A Miami Herald article that showed Gabriel had been on several drugs, including anti-depressants associated with a higher risk of suicide, prompted DCF to investigate the prescribing of mental health drugs to children.

DCF Secretary George Sheldon formed the work group as part of the wide-ranging investigation.

The group Thursday discussed a recent state review of more than 100 foster children age 5 or younger receiving psychiatric drugs. The study revealed that child welfare administrators are ignoring rules designed to protect the children.

In the majority of cases, for example, there was no documentation to show that case managers coordinated with the prescribing practitioner to obtain a psychiatric evaluation.

Broward County’s top child-welfare judge, Circuit Judge John A. Frusciante, read a statement that he recently wrote to ChildNet, Broward’s private foster care agency, in response to child advocates in recent hearings who had no knowledge about the existence of ”black box warnings” on medications. He called for more education of case workers.

”It is deeply disturbing that child advocates have no knowledge of the FDA’s highest warnings for possibly life-threatening adverse effects of medications,” he wrote.

DCF officials discuss suicide of 7-year-old Margate boy

Gabriel Myers: picture from Florida DCF webpage

Gabriel Myers: picture from Florida DCF webpage


A group of officials from the Department of Children & Families and other child advocates are holding a daylong public meeting Thursday in the aftermath of the hanging death of a child in foster care. The work group will listen to the experiences of two young adults who spent time in the foster care system.

A medical director at a school in Massachusetts is also expected to speak at the meeting in Fort Lauderdale. He will discuss the best practices for mental health in child welfare. DCF secretary George Sheldon formed the work group as part of the investigation into Gabriel Myers’ death and the practices of prescribing powerful drugs to foster children.

Gabriel, 7, hung himself in the bathroom of his Margate foster home in April. He had been prescribed several psychiatric drugs during his nine-month stay in foster care.

A Miami Herald article that showed Gabriel had been on several drugs, including anti-depressants associated with suicide risk, prompted DCF to investigate the practices of prescribing such drugs to children.

A recent state review of more than 100 foster care children receiving psychiatric drugs revealed that child welfare administrators are ignoring rules designed to protect the children. For example, caseworkers have failed to seek a second opinion from a psychiatrist before administering mental-health drugs to children younger than 6.

Four years ago legislators passed a law to reduce the amount of psychiatric drugs prescribed to children in state care. That law requires consent from a parent or judge, among other rules.

The work group will next meet July 6 in Tallahassee.

Mother pleads not guilty in drowning death of baby


Staff writer

DAYTONA BEACH — Drug allegations were part of the life of a Volusia County mother long before her 4-month-old son drowned in her mobile home’s bathtub, state records show.

Christal Giachetti, 30, pleaded not guilty Thursday to aggravated manslaughter of a child in the death of her infant son Trenton Giachetti and remained held on $150,000 bail. She faces 30 years in prison if convicted.

After the boy drowned April 6, the mother gave deputies varying accounts about Trenton’s death in the mobile home on Avenue H, outside Ormond Beach. But she ultimately admitted to placing the baby inside the tub with running water and then stepping away to use another bathroom, according to Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reports.

Christal Giachetti — who uses several prescription drugs for back pain — told police she forgot he was in the tub and went to sleep.

According to Department of Children & Families records obtained after a judge granted a petition by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Christal Giachetti was the subject of several calls to the state’s abuse hot line years before Trenton’s birth.

The complaints — dating back more than 10 years — alleged drug use and the dealing of drugs out of her home when she cared for her older son, Kevin Giachetti, records show. None of the complaints was substantiated by state workers, though in some cases counseling and education were offered to the family.

More recently, Christal Giachetti was taking prescription pain pills, she told DCF, because of back pain after falling off a mechanical bull more than four years ago. She told investigators she would inject pain medication in between her toes.

According to reports, relatives and friends told investigators in Trenton’s death that she had previously told them she hated Trenton and “she sometimes felt like putting the baby in the tub, turning on the water and leaving.”

The morning of Trenton’s death, the mother was slurring her words and staggering in front of the home as deputies sorted out the situation inside.

DCF records show six prior calls to the state’s abuse hot line, including one when Trenton was born because Christal Giachetti tested positive for painkillers. Since she had prescriptions, DCF found no evidence of abuse and offered her services, but she declined.

In 1997 and 1998, three calls were made to the state’s abuse hot line surrounding either allegations of medical neglect or allegations of drug use, selling drugs, and hazardous conditions at the family’s house, records show.

The medical neglect involved older son Kevin, now 13, who the DCF report said had epileptic seizures. But, in all three of the cases, investigators found no proof to substantiate any of the claims.

Hot line callers claimed drugs were being sold from the Giachetti home; the complaints included people being seen going into the house with money and leaving with bags believed to contain drugs, the report states. Christal Giachetti and her oldest son’s father, Stephen Giachetti, denied the allegations and investigators found no proof.

Christal Giachetti told investigators she and her husband did not use or sell drugs and if they did “they sure as hell would not be living in a trailer and would have a condo on the beach.” They said because they have friends with long hair and are young, people assume they are on drugs.

Both Christal Giachetti and the child’s father were offered parenting classes and family counseling but refused, the report states.

In 2001, there was another allegation to the hot line regarding drugs being sold by the father, but DCF could not substantiate the claims and closed the case.

In the various cases, DCF investigators reported Giachetti’s home was “clean and appropriate and hazardous free.”

Reggie Williams, local DCF administrator, said frequently the state has reports of alleged drug abuse or misuse that can’t be supported. He said services are typically offered, but parents don’t have to accept unless evidence is found, a dependency case is opened and a judge orders treatment.

A death review committee is still going over the details of Trenton’s death and will look at whether there were things DCF missed or could improve on, Williams said. DCF’s investigation is done, but won’t be closed until the death review is completed.

Two adult abuse reports about Christal Giachetti were also filed to DCF.

Those complaints, in 2001 and 2007, involved her frail grandparents, whom she cared for at one time. One report claimed Christal Giachetti was verbally and physically abusive to her grandparents, but investigators found no evidence of abuse, though the grandmother said the two often argued.

— Staff Writers Jay Stapleton and Lyda Longa contributed to this report.

Child’s Death in Overcrowded Foster Home Highlights Statewide Problem’ Advocates Call for Strike For

I found this article, believe it or not, on one of those adoption pages that show foster children who are available for adoption…I have no idea how old it is, but I do know that the foster care concerns mentioned in this article, are still occurring.  I thought I would post it here.  I am sure this death occurred at least a year ago, although again, I am not sure of the date of this article…One thing I am sure of….HOW MANY WAKE UP CALLS DOES THE STATE OF FLORIDA NEED…This article was apparently a while before Gabriel Myer’s committed suicide, yet even in it they are calling for a strike force to investigate, “over crowded foster homes”, when what they need to do is abolish the entire system and start fresh with a different program that might actually work.

The lawsuit was filed in 2000, so the state of Florida has been aware of this issue for a long time, hell, am I the only person who remembers years ago when Florida didn’t even know where the children in its care were????  Yet this corruption and government abuse is not just happening in Florida, it is everywhere…every time I read the news there is yet another dead foster child,  dead adopted child, or a child killed by their parents…who were being or had been investigated before by CPS… I mean first the state of  Florida don’t know where the children are…and now they don’t know how many are illegally being prescribed drugs…great parenting by the state of Florida….You should all be charged with Child Abuse and neglect…your behavior in many of these cases are worse then the parents  you removed the children from.  Who protects the children from you, who investigates you, and removes children from your care?  Florida needs the children in their custody removed and their rights to these children terminated~~~~~!

How many children have to die, before the United States Government realizes that America’s CPS system is corrupt and broken beyond repair.  How many children have to suffer abuse at the hands of “trained foster parents, group home staff, CPS workers,” before something is done to protect children from the people who are supposed to protect them?

Read the article below…


Following the death of a 17-month-old child in an overcrowded foster home in Florida and the arrest of her foster mother for first-degree murder, national and local child advocacy groups are calling for an independent federal investigative Strike Force. The Strike Force would immediately investigate all foster homes with more than five children and monitor the safety of children placed in overcrowded foster homes by Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF). The coalition of child advocates says the conditions surrounding the toddler’s death in foster care are not isolated but symptomatic of a failure by DCF to protect and care for foster children throughout the state. A federal audit of the Florida foster care system by the Department of Human Service begins this month.

Foster child Latiana Hamilton was found beaten and drowned in a bathtub on July 18. Her foster mother, Lena Cumberbatch, was arrested on July 27 for first-degree murder. Eight children (four foster children and four biological children of Cumberbatch’s), ranging in age from 2 months to 10 years, were living in the home. The biological children told police about a history of abuse by Cumberbatch since the foster children arrived. One child witnessed the drowning of Latiana.

“The death of this toddler must be a wake-up call to the citizens of Florida about the dangerous conditions facing all children who enter foster care in our state,” said Deborah Schroth of Florida Legal Services, a statewide non-profit organization that is part of a federal class action lawsuit, Bonnie L v. Jeb Bush, charging Florida’s foster care system with violating the federal constitutional and statutory rights of children in their care. “These children, in need of the protection of the State, are suffering emotional, physical and even sexual abuse while in the very homes intended to protect them. Other tragedies like Latiana’s death are waiting to happen throughout the state.”

There are more children in Florida’s foster care than ever before (an estimated 18,000 in foster homes, group homes and other facilities). A February 2001 state report on overcrowding found that:

*Out of 4,242 foster homes, 16% of foster homes are over their licensed capacity even though 52% of foster homes are under their licensed capacity.

*There are currently 62 foster homes with more than 10 children.

A recent DCF report states that ” there may be a substantial number of homes that are over the five-child limit during any given point in time” and that “foster parents who must deal with too many children…are prime targets for stress which may result in maltreatment.”

“This death is on the state’s hands,” stated Karen Gievers, an attorney in Tallahassee who initiated the Bonnie L. lawsuit. “State officials, being aware of the increased risk of maltreatment that comes with homes having more than 5 children, are only examining homes with over 10 children. That is not good enough. Foster children are abused daily in overcrowded homes and now a little girl has been killed. We are calling for an independent federal Strike Force to begin an immediate investigation into all foster homes with more than five children. It must also examine all foster homes that are underutilized to determine if they are capable of caring for children safely.”

“The rate of maltreatment of children in Florida foster care is 2,000 times the maximum permissible rate set by the federal government,” stated Rose Firestein, an attorney at Children’s Rights, a national non-profit child advocacy group that is co-counsel on the Bonnie L. lawsuit. “In the fiscal year 1999-2000, a shockingly high 81 out of every thousand children in Florida’s foster care system were neglected or abused by their foster parents or by the staff at a foster care facility. In contrast, 18.9 out of every thousand children in Florida’s general population were the subjects of a confirmed report of neglect or abuse at the hands of their biological parents or custodians. Unlike the biological parents who maltreated their children, the foster caregivers were selected, trained, approved and paid by DCF (or its agents) to provide a safe place for children to live.”

Background on Bonnie L. v. Jeb Bush

The Bonnie L. v. Jeb Bush federal lawsuit was filed in 2000 on behalf of 23 named plaintiffs- children who have suffered serious physical and psychological harm while in the care of DCF and on behalf of the approximately 15,000 foster care children who are currently dependent on DCF for their care and protection. The defendants in the suit include Governor Jeb Bush and Kathleen Kearney, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Key facts and claims in the lawsuit regarding overcrowding of foster homes state that:

*DCF’s continued overcrowding and inadequately supervised foster homes and other out-of-home care facilities expose children in DCF’s custody to the imminent risk of sexual and other abuse, neglect and other dangers while they remain in DCF’s care.

*DCF has put children in foster care placements that were dangerous, abusive, neglectful, overcrowded or wholly inappropriate and incapable of meeting the children’s individual needs.

A federal magistrate in Florida, the Hon. Robert Dubé, recently upheld the legal claims in the lawsuit even thought the state had moved to have all of the legal claims dismissed. He recommended to the district court judge, the Hon. Federico Moreno, that the case proceed as a class action on behalf of all the children in the state. His recommendations are now under consideration by the federal judge and a hearing is scheduled for August 28, 2001.

Media contacts throughout Florida:

Jacksonville: Deborah Schroth: 904-355-5200; Wayne Hogan: 904-632-2424

West Palm: Ted Babbit: 561-684-2500 and Robert Montgomery: 561-832-2880

Miami: Carolyn Salisbury: 305-284-4321; Greg Samms: 305-573-2444:

Orlando: Kevin Cannon: 407-839-1040

Tampa/St. Petersburg: Neil Spector: 813-229-0900

Sarasota: Susan Stockham: 941-957-0094

Pensacola: Bob Kerrigan: 850-444-4444

Gainesville: Claudia Wright: 352-392-0412

Ft. Lauderdale: Chris Zawisza: 954-262-6027

Daytona Beach: Bill Chanfrau: 800-969-7313 or 904-258-7313

Children’s Rights works throughout the United States in partnership with national and local experts, advocates and government officials to document the needs of children in the care of child welfare systems. Children’s Rights helps develop realistic solutions and, where necessary, uses the power of litigation to ensure that reform takes place.

Death of Gabriel Myers raises concern about psychotropic drugs.,0,2212606.story

THE ISSUE: Death raises concern about psychotropic drugs.

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

June 8, 2009

Gabriel Myers committed suicide in a Margate foster home, and his death resurrects a problem many thought had been addressed by state law — the misuse of psychotropic medication.

Unfortunately, too many youths in Florida’s foster care system — 2,669 at last count — are still on potentially dangerous, mood-altering medication. Almost one of every six of those youngsters is given these drugs without court order or parental consent.

State lawmakers might be forgiven for thinking that they’ve been there, done that on this controversy. In 2005, the Legislature approved SB 1090, a bill that tightened state procedures to make sure that psychotropic drugs weren’t prescribed to minors without proper oversight. The law stressed physicians’ need to get consent or a court order before dispensing the drugs.

The lawmakers did their job; Myers’ tragedy suggests the child welfare officials who run community based foster care services apparently didn’t do theirs.

At the time of his death, Myers had been prescribed Symbyax and Vyvanse, two mood-altering drugs that had not been approved by either the boy’s parents or a judge. Symbyax carries a “black box” warning that the drug may increase suicidal thoughts or behavior in children. Vyvanse’s warning says the medication carries arisk of aggressive behavior, strange thoughts and mania.

The fact that Myers is the new face for an ongoing problem shows a flaw in the state’s child welfare program, which has undergone its own reforms. Local community-based nonprofits now run foster-care services, but the fact that Myers died tragically under the care of a local bureaucracy instead of a state one is no reason to think the state’s safety net is rock solid.

The investigation continues, and child welfare officials are, again, fending off allegations they use drugs designed for serious mental disorders to subdue behavior. Lawmakers undoubtedly will propose new bills to strengthen laws already on the books.

New legislation is fine. The trick now is to make sure all the rules are being followed.

BOTTOM LINE: Rules must be followed.

Panel To Investigate Boy’s Death In Foster Care

Reporting John MacLauchlan

E-mail TAMPA


An investigative panel formed by Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon to look into what led up to the death of a Margate boy living in foster home will convene Monday in Tampa.

Gabriel Myers, 7, died April 16th after he apparently hanged himself from a shower rod.

Sheldon has asked the group to conduct a full inquiry into the events that led up to the boy’s death including case management, judicial decisions and the contributing effects that psychotropic drugs and sexual abuse had.

“It is incomprehensible to me—even now—to understand how a child so young may have deliberately and consciously made a decision to end his life,” said Sheldon last month during a press conference on psychotropic drug among foster children. “Anyone who heard of Gabriel’s story was in disbelief; and parents everywhere are wondering to themselves: how could this happen?”

The panel is being chaired by Dr. Jim Sewell, a former assistant commissioner of FDLE.

Sheldon said he’s been disturbed by some of the initial findings of the work group in the case.

“Gabriel’s physician had prescribed several psychotherapeutic drugs, but this information was not reflected in our database,” said Sheldon. “There also was no evidence in Gabriel’s files that the statutorily required parental consent or a court order where obtained.”

According to documents released by the DCF, Myers was taken from his drug-abusing mother less than a year ago. He had apparently been sexually abused and exposed to adult videos since the age of three. Teachers had reported that he had exposed himself, and touched other children inappropriately.

The Margate foster home where Gabriel Myers allegedly took his life was the third for the boy in less than a year. The DCF documents obtained by the CBS4 I-Team show he first entered the foster care system on June 29, 2008.

He was placed in a licensed home through Kids in Distress. Some days later, he was moved to the home of his aunt and uncle. He lived there for some three months until Broward Sheriff’s Office investigators received a report alleging sexual and physical abuse.

While investigators found no signs of sexual abuse, the uncle revealed he “did try corporal punishment” and hit the child with a belt. A Broward County judge issued an emergency order and moved Gabriel Myers back to the licensed home.

According to the documents, when Gabriel first entered the system, he had with him a prescription bottle of Adderall XR, a drug typically taken for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The medication appeared melted. A new prescription was filled, but ultimately stopped. The DCF documents show Gabriel began seeing a psychiatrist soon after entering the system.

The psychiatrist later prescribed Lexapro, a drug for depression and anxiety, and Vyvanse for the child’s ADHD. In March, doctors took Gabriel off Lexapro, and put him on Symbyax, also for depression and possible schizophrenia.

All three of the drugs have an FDA-mandated “black box” warning — a statement on the prescription’s box which describes its possible adverse reactions, including suicidal thoughts.


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