Maryland Children in Foster Care Given Powerful Psychotropics

Most Of the Time, They Do Not Even Have a Psychiatric Diagnosis.

2023 has hardly started, and we just filed our second lawsuit of the year. This case was brought against the state of Maryland for its woeful lack of oversight in the administration of powerful psychotropic medications to children in foster care. The State routinely administers these medications are routinely given to children against their will, with many suffering serious side effects as a result.

Maryland is the third state where we are calling out the government for its dangerous failure to serve as adequate custodians for the children in its care. Every child has the right to physical and mental health care and youth—and those who love them—deserve to be involved in decisions about their healthNo child should live in a chemical straightjacket. No child should be unnecessarily drugged.

Listen to Their Stories

Sixteen-year-old Y.A., one of the named plaintiffs in the case, has been separated from his mother and in the custody of Maryland’s foster care system for two years. Since being placed into foster care, Y.A. has cycled between hospitalizations and temporary motel stays, eventually ending up in a residential treatment facility. While placed in a motel, Y.A. overdosed on his medications when left without supervision with unlocked medications. He was hospitalized for a week and was placed back in a motel where he a subsequently overdosed and was again hospitalized.

Right now, he is in a residential treatment facility. He suffers severe side effects known to be caused by the multiple psychotropic medications he is given, including extreme weight gain, difficulty walking, dizziness, and fatigue. Neither Y.A. nor his mother has been given adequate information about his medications, and no adult with authority to consent to his medications regularly attends Y.A.’s psychiatric appointments with him. He believes that DHS “doesn’t pay attention” to him.

Y.B., a sixteen-year-old Black child, has been in Maryland’s foster system since 2013. He has churned through twelve different placements in 10 years—eight of them were residential facilities. During this time, DHS has allowed Y.B. to be placed on as many as five psychotropic medications at once, resulting in repeated hospitalizations.

Because of this instability, he has had little continuity in the oversight of his medications or his medical providers. While on these medications, he has engaged in self-harming behaviors, including ingesting laundry detergent and threatening to jump off of a roof. Additionally, Y.B. has experienced significant weight gain, gaining over 50 pounds in 11 months, and has high blood pressure. At the time of filing, he was on multiple psychotropics and in a residential treatment center.

Calling on Change to Defend Their Rights

For over ten years, state officials in Maryland have recognized the serious harm associated with giving psychotropic medications to children without adequate oversight. But this acknowledgment has not resulted in action to ensure the well-being of kids like Y.A. and Y.B.

As many as 34% of children in Maryland’s foster care system are given psychotropics—with most prescribed more than one. Because of the instability of being in foster care, children often don’t have a dedicated adult or physician overseeing their health and well-being. According to recent Maryland data, nearly 75% of the children do not even have a psychiatric diagnosis, despite being on these drugs. 

The reality is even starker for Black children, who are more likely to be diagnosed with more serious mental health disorders and placed on psychotropic medications, often as a chemical restraint to sedate them and suppress their ability to move or think.

It is time for meaningful change in Maryland to safeguard the rights of children in foster care and protect their health and well-being. It is time they listen to the voices of youth.

Katie Simon is a staff attorney at Children’s Rights. Click here to read more about the case.

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