Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a law that will require the monitoring of prescriptions for psychotropic medications to foster children in Texas.
The bill was drafted to address concerns that many children in foster care are prescribed psychotropic medications – prescription drugs used to treat a psychiatric condition – in excess. It would provide stricter oversight on psychotropic medications prescribed to foster youth by requiring parental notification when children are placed on psychotropic medications or their dosage changes.
Children prescribed psychotropic medications would have mandatory follow-up visits with a physician at least every 90 days to monitor side effects of the medication, and attorneys would be mandated to advise a child 16 years of age or older of his or her right to request court approval to consent to their own medical care.
“We are really pleased that this bill passed with bipartisan support,” said Katherine Kerr, a spokeswoman for Texas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a statewide network of CASA programs that train volunteer advocates foster youth.
In Texas and across the country, the overmedication of foster youth with psychotropic drugs has been a hotly contested issue.
“Children in the child welfare system are given psychotropic medication at rates approximately three times higher than children and adolescents in the general population,” according to a recent report by the Carsey Institute, a University of New Hampshire policy center that researches vulnerable children and families,
A 2011 report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 32 percent of foster youth in Texas were prescribed psychotropic drugs—the second-highest rate in the nation, just behind Massachusetts.
Advocates say the medication process can be used as a “quick fix” to manage children’s behavior at the expensive of providing long-term trauma-informed treatments and care. Instead, they come of age heavily medicated and dependent on drugs, without addressing the root causes of their behavior: neglect, abuse, trauma, and a constant shuffling from home to home.
“This bill brings new safeguards into the way we care for children in foster care,” said State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R), in apress release. “I’ve been working with CASA to change the approach the state uses to treat the mental health needs of our most vulnerable children. Sometimes a hug is more powerful than a pill.”
Erica Hellerstein is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and graduate student in Journalism at University of California-Berkeley