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Psychiatric drugging of foster care 'travesty' 'chemical straitjacket'

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CBS News
18 October 2006

Byron Pitts looks into allegations that kids in foster care are being over-medicated on anti-psychotic drugs:

CONROE, Texas, Oct. 18, 2006 (CBS) Colby Holcomb's mom concedes that the 8-year-old, who's been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, can be a handful at home. But does such behavior merit the treatment Colby received in foster care?

Andrea Holcomb lost custody of her son when he was 7, after her ex-husband made allegations of sexual abuse, CBS News national correspondent Byron Pittsreports. These allegations later proved false - but in the meantime, Colby was placed in the Texas foster care system. For 18 months, he was in at least five foster homes. It's a time that still haunts Colby and his family.

Andrea says Colby was on at least 20 different drugs when he was in foster care. Yet, she says she has "no idea" why and says it was never explained to her.

While in foster care, Colby was also diagnosed as bipolar. According to his medical records, he was taking as many as four medications at the same time that gave him seizures.

"I woke up at the hospital with something stuck in my arm," Colby says.

He is not alone.

"I found babies, 2-year olds, 3-year olds being given mind-altering drugs," says Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Texas' state comptroller.

Strayhorn conducted her own two-year investigation into allegations that foster kids in Texas are overmedicated.

"Children in foster care in Texas are dying. Children in foster care are being drugged," Strayhorn says.

There are similar allegations being made in California, Ohio and Florida.

"In Florida, for example, foster kids younger than 5 years old were treated with psychiatric medications at a rate nearly four times higher than the general population of children receiving Medicaid.

Gwen Olsen, a former pharmaceuticals representative who quit her job and wrote the book, "Confessions Of A Prescription Drug Pusher," knows firsthand about the impact of anti-psychotic drugs on children.

"They clamp down on the central nervous system. In effect, they reduce your mobility and that sort of thing, so they are sort of like a chemical straitjacket," she says.

Psychiatrist Christopher Correll is leading a nationwide study on the impact of anti-psychotic drugs have on all children.

"It is a serious step to use an anti-psychotic, there's no doubt about it. But I think it is also very important to realize that these medications are used under very serious circumstances to actually help patients who have serious symptoms," Correll says.

But if the foster care system is designed to protect children who've been harmed, why would they engage in this if in anyway it was harmful to children?

"To me, the true travesty of the situation is that we take children who just got a bum rap in life to begin with and they get into the system and are further abused chemically," Olsen says.

Colby Holcomb is home and feeling better. He is no longer taking any medications - but his mother worries how many Colbys might still be in the system.

A Look At Foster Care

NEW YORK, Oct. 18, 2006 (CBS) What is foster care?

Foster family care is temporary care for children who are unable to remain in their own homes and are placed in the custody of the county children and youth agency by the courts. Foster parents are individuals who are committed to providing a safe, temporary home for children who have been abused and neglected and are unable to remain living in their own homes.

How many children are in foster care?

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, over 500,000 children in the U.S. currently reside in some form of foster care as of last year. Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people "age out" of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old. The average age of a foster child is 10.

How long do children stay in foster care?

There is no set length for a foster placement. It depends on the circumstances of the child and his/her birth family. But for the children in foster care on September 30, 2004, the average amount of time they had been in the system was 30 months. 29 percent of children leaving care in 2004 had been away from home for a year or longer. 53 percent of the young people leaving the system were reunified with their birth parents or primary caregivers.

What are some of the challenges kids in foster care face?

Being removed from their home and placed in foster care is a difficult and stressful experience for any child. Many of these children have suffered some form of serious abuse or neglect. About 30 percent of children in foster care have severe emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

To learn more about foster care:

* After a year-long study, the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care recently issued a set of prescriptions for reform designed to prevent unnecessary placements and to speed the movement of children out of foster care. You can read more about them here.

* For more information about foster care from the National Foster Parent Association.

* Click here to read some statistics about foster care from the Administration for Children and Families.

* Casey Family Programs' mission is to provide and improve - and ultimately to eliminate the need for - foster care by providing direct services and promoting advances in child-welfare practice and policy.

- end of CBS report -

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