Watchdog slams safeguards for foster kids on psych drugs
WASHINGTON — Thousands of foster children may be getting powerful psychiatric drugs prescribed to them without basic safeguards, says a federal watchdog agency that found a failure to care for youngsters whose lives have already been disrupted.
A report released on Sept. 17 by the Health and Human Services inspector general’s office found that about 1 in 3 foster kids from a sample of states were prescribed psychiatric drugs without treatment plans or follow-up, standard steps in sound medical care.
Kids getting mood-altering drugs they don’t need is only part of the problem. Investigators also said children who need medication to help them function at school or get along in social settings may be going untreated.
The drugs include medications for attention deficit disorder, anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Foster kids are much more likely to get psychiatric drugs than children overall.
“We are worried about the gap in compliance because it has an immediate, real-world impact on children’s lives,” said Ann Maxwell, an assistant inspector general.
Among the situations investigators encountered was the case of a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD, learning and speech disorders, outbursts of temper and defiance, and hair-pulling disorder. He had been put on four psychiatric drugs.
But a medication review questioned the need for some of the medications. Of the four, two were discontinued and one was reduced in dosage, investigators said. Two different medications were then prescribed.
Investigators found no evidence that a treatment plan for the boy had been developed in the first place, before starting him on medication.
In another case, an 11-year-old boy had been put on two medications after being diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and behavior problems. But over a three-month period his foster mother had problems getting prescription refills. By the fourth month, the boy’s life was out of control. His decline included stealing, lying, bullying and an in-school suspension.
Investigators found there was no requirement in that state for case workers to follow up with foster parents about medications. The lack of effective follow-up contributed to the boy’s downward spiral.
“These children are at greater risk of not getting the medications they need, but equally important, they are at risk of getting powerful medications that they do not need,” Maxwell said.
A federal watchdog agency says thousands of foster children may be getting powerful psychiatric drugs prescribed to them without required safeguards.