Bill to Safeguard Kids in Foster Care from Psych Drugs Stalled
Tallahassee, FL – Gabriel Myers died on April 16th last year, an apparent suicide, living in foster care and on two psychotropic drugs. As Margie Menzel reports, a bill that would provide more safeguards for foster kids on medication is moving in the Senate - but the House still hasn't taken it up.
"Members, Senate Bill 2718, the psychotropic medication bill, was born out of the death of little Gabriel Myers," said Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
"Little Gabriel Myers was seven years old and was placed on multiple psychotropic drugs that have a black-box warning. He - at seven years old - committed suicide by hanging himself."
Storms is backing a bill that would protect children in foster care from being placed on psychotropic drugs without a Guardian ad Litem or a treatment plan. Her measure is based on the report of the Gabriel Myers Work Group, established by Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon after the child's death. Work Group Chairman Jim Sewell, former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement:
"What we saw in Gabriel's case, and I don't think it was unique, was that we had folks at the treatment level, particularly case managers and supervisors in this case, that were simply not doing their job," Sewell said. "They were not making sure that things were in place. They were not following through with a lot of the recommendations that had been made in [Gabriel's] comprehensive behavioral assessment. So those kinds of issues are the ones we're concerned about."
Storms' bill was passed unanimously and adopted as a committee substitute by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee on March 18th. On Tuesday, it passed Senate Judiciary, its second stop, also as a committee substitute. But it hasn't been heard in the House, said Rep. Faye Culp, R-Tampa and the House sponsor.
"Now there are lots of things that can happen for a bill on the way to the floor, and it could possibly be added on to another bill at some point," said Culp. "I don't know exactly what leadership is planning to do with that bill. This is a DCF bill."
Culp said Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda and chair of the bill's first committee of reference, the House Health Care Services Policy Committee, had agreed to a plan to move it forward.
"That committee has finished meeting," she said. "They will not be meeting any more, but he is willing to withdraw that bill and have it heard in the councils, which would be either Denise Grimsley's council or Ed Homan's council, which is the last in the reference for that."
Kreegel's office confirmed that he'd signed a form withdrawing the measure from his committee. But bills that haven't been heard in committee can't be withdrawn by the chair, says Jill Chamberlin, spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Cretul. And Homan agreed.
"If it's never been heard in the first committee," he said, "then it's dead."
Meanwhile, members of the foster-youth advocacy group Florida Youth SHINE were working the bill Tuesday. Mez Pierre, a former foster youth and member of the Gabriel Myers Work Group, told the members of Senate Judiciary he'd been medicated until he was 18, to the detriment of his health.
"I ask you all, as my team and I fight and advocate for kids in the system, that you help this bill. We support it. A life is worth so much. My life is worth so much. Gabriel's life was worth so much, but someone didn't see it like that. And they neglected their responsibilities. And this bill brings awareness to everyone that's going to be involved in a child's life."
Sewell says he and Sheldon are working with House leaders to get the bill heard. Culp could make a motion on the floor to hear it, but that would require a two-thirds vote.