Maryland’s foster system sued over administration of psychotropic drugs in children
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Children’s Rights is reforming systems responsible for the care and safety of children to end the reckless and harmful administration of psychotropic medications without adequate oversight and coordination.
Psychotropic medications unadvisedly prescribed or administered can have devastating and life-altering effects on children and young adults. More extreme side effects may include chronic diseases such as diabetes, irreversible movement disorders, hallucinations, weight gain, organ damage, and suicidal thoughts. While these drugs, when properly administered, do offer benefits to children with diagnosed mental health conditions, the most commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people under 18.
I was a zombie. I was on seven psychotropic medications when I was 14 years old. Kids in foster care don’t need all these drugs. What they need is time.”
The use of psychotropic medications on children in foster care and federal immigration systems is far too frequent, and these powerful drugs are often prescribed at unacceptable dosages and in risky combinations. The federal government itself coined the phrase—“too much, too many, too young”— to describe the pervasive use of psychotropic medicines among young people in foster care.
Children in government systems frequently exhibit behaviors stemming from the abuse and trauma they have endured. Rather than receiving therapeutic counseling to treat diagnosed mental health conditions, kids are frequently given psychotropic medications as a form of “chemical restraint” to control their behavior, often without proper oversight. Health care professionals and child welfare advocates widely agree that psychotropic drugs should never be administered without a rigorous informed consent process involving physicians, caregivers, and youth. For too many children in government systems, this does not happen. One former foster youth described his experience with psychotropic drugs this way: “I was like a walking zombie.”
Without mental health treatment plans and adequate monitoring of a child’s prescribed medications, hundreds of children, some as young as preschoolers, remain at unreasonable risk of serious harm.
Children’s Rights is holding governments accountable for creating meaningful oversight systems to protect the health and well-being of children in their care. Our groundbreaking lawsuit in Missouri was the first federal class-action lawsuit in the United States to focus singularly on reforming the often ill-advised use of psychotropic medications among youth in foster care. The case is a model for other states to adopt.
Pledge to advocate for the mental health needs of our children
As we continue to struggle with a global health crisis, our children are not okay. In the US, more than 250,000 children had lost a parent or caregiver to a pandemic-related cause. This loss puts children at elevated risk of traumatic grief, depression, poor educational outcomes, and unintentional death or suicide, consequences that can persist into adulthood.
Children’s mental health problems are real and common, but they are also treatable. One in seven children in the US — nearly 7.7 million children and teenagers — have at least one diagnosable mental health issue, but because of a lack of funding, a national shortage of child psychiatrists, and the stigma attached to mental illness, half of the children who need treatment do not receive help.
Call on Policymakers to Stop Prison Pipelines and Fund Community Services
In communities across the nation, police – not a trained health professional, are the first to respond to a child’s mental health or social crisis. This is especially true for Black and Latinx youth, resulting in the criminalization of countless youth, exacerbating existing mental health symptoms, and contributing to the creation of a school-to-prison pipeline.
Join us in demanding the removal of law enforcement from institutions meant to serve our youth and calling for an investment in community mental health services that will allow young people to develop and heal. This is a wrong we have to right, and it begins with you.
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