July 22, 2011
For a long list of reasons, the day-to-day life of a child in foster care can be challenging. Foster parents are often stretched thin and overburdened, foster children often wrestle with emotional issues that can go misdiagnosed, unrecognized or misunderstood, and qualified medical care for this vulnerable population is constantly in short supply.
These challenges are now being compounded by an additional concern: the over-administration of psychotropic drugs. Psychotropic medications are intended to combat or ease the symptoms of behavioral and mental health problems, but among children in foster care, these drugs are being prescribed at excessive levels and often for inappropriate reasons.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute, about 4 percent of the general youth population has received prescriptions for these drugs during the past decade. By comparison, the numbers for children in foster care fall between 13 and 52 percent. This study corroborates the findings of similar studies conducted in Texas and Georgia during the same time period.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
There are several debatable factors that can explain the disparity in prescription rates between children in foster care and the general youth population. While foster children may appear to suffer from a higher rate of behavioral and mental health concerns, many of these behavioral issues arise as a natural response to trauma and domestic stress, and are being improperly diagnosed as mental health disorders.
Due to the time and financial constraints placed on care-givers and a lack of access to qualified medical professionals, it seems likely that many of these inappropriate prescriptions are written for the sake of convenience.
The reasons behind the trend may be simple, but the consequences of inappropriate prescription drug use can be tragic. Researchers cite many cases of children in the foster care system who are grossly overmedicated, irresponsibly medicated, or feel imprisoned rather than cared for while being regularly dosed with an indiscriminate cocktail of psychotropic drugs.
While medication can be a valuable tool in the management of serious mental health disorders, prescriptions for children should be carefully monitored and adjusted and should be used in conjunction with other therapeutic treatments applied by trained professionals. While children in the general population often receive this individual attention, children in foster care are frequently subject to indiscriminate treatment plans with weak or limited follow-up.
Juvenile courts must stay closely involved in the foster care process to ensure that an individual child’s interests are being served.