Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on the high societal and financial costs of over medicating our nation’s foster youth. CCAI would like to commend Chairman Thomas Carper and Ranking Member Scott Brown for their leadership in addressing such an important issue. While the findings of the GAO are shocking to say the least, it is sadly not surprising to learn that youth in our Nation’s foster care are being victimized in this way. We not only can, but we must, do better. Issues such as the overuse of psychotropic drugs and the lack of quality mental health care are ones that have come up time and time again in the past four years of Foster Youth Intern Reports. These wise young leaders have identified several factors which contribute to the disturbing trends revealed by yesterday’s hearing.
First, it is important to bear in mind how the federal government currently finances the foster care system. Under the law today, states on average receive a high level of reimbursement for a child who has special needs and for children who are in congregate care. The rationale behind such policies is that it stands to reason that the care of such children would in fact be higher than a child without special needs or who could be cared for in an individual family. Yet, without proper screening methods and controls, it is quite possible for states to improperly label children so that they can receive the highest level of funds available for the care of a child. This is not to suggest that states are purposely lying about the needs kids have, but there is evidence to suggest that financing and budget decisions are playing a role in the care decisions being made on their behalf.
Secondly, many CCAI Foster Youth Interns (FYIs) report that their experience in receiving mental health services while in foster care was suboptimal. They are right to point out that the professionals (doctors, therapists, etc.) they are in the care of are often new to the profession and least likely to be trained in state of the art treatments specific to the needs of youth in care. This is due in part to the fact that they are most often receiving these services through Medicaid. So in essence, these kids, who are acknowledged by all to have some of the most complex mental health issues to grapple with, are being treated by those least likely to have the training and skills necessary to treat them.
Thirdly, the fact remains that there is only one foster family for every four children who need foster care. What this means is that children in foster care are being cared for in group homes and by foster families that are often stretched to the brink. In these settings, the use of mind altering medication can become a way to “keep control” of kids behavior. Year in and year out, FYIs have called on the federal government to increase its efforts to promote the recruitment and training of foster parents so that each and every child can have a family to give them the love and support they need to help them heal.
And finally, as the stories of the two children profiled by Diane Sawyer yet again prove the best medicine we can give these children is the family that they need and deserve. As Keonte said yesterday, it was his adoptive parents who made him feel safe and loved enough to sort through the issues he faced because of his past. It was his adoptive parents who sought out the top of the line treatment that has helped him heal. And it was his adoptive parents who sat by his side as he stood before the US Congress to demand that this no longer be the case for other children.
Catch ABC’s 20/20 special tonight continuing the story on this topic.