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Couple puts focus on 'chemical restraint' of kids in Florida's care

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Charlie Crist barnstormed the state to boast about a record number of adoptions in Florida, two adoptive parents urged him Tuesday to go a step further and stop what they called the "chemical restraint'' of overmedicated children in state care.

Mirko and Regina Ceska told Crist that when they adopted their two 12-year-old children last year, each was taking 11 pills daily, including the powerful antipsychotic drug Seroquel.

"These girls were overdosed and would fall asleep right in front of us several times a day," said Mirko Ceska.

"It seems to be a prerequisite for foster children to be on medication," he added.

The Crawfordville couple weaned the girls off their medication, and their behavior markedly improved, they said.

Crist thanked the Ceskas for their story but focused his comments on declaring July 22 "Explore Adoption Day'' and touting the record-breaking number of adoptions last year in Florida: 3,700.

Crist also appeared to soften his support for Florida's ban on gay adoptions, by saying he'd "have to see'' whether he'd support legislation that would lift the ban.

Shortly after the Ceskas spoke, Crist's head of the Department of Children and Families, George Sheldon, asked them to testify Friday in Tampa before a special panel that's investigating the April suicide of a Margate 7-year-old, Gabriel Myers.

Like the Ceskas' adopted children, Gabriel was prescribed a number of medications including a psychotropic drug. One of the drugs, the antidepressant Symbyax, isn't supposed to be prescribed to children and has been linked to suicidal behavior.

The committee's findings — and testimony such as the Ceskas' — could form the backbone of legislation aimed at improving the monitoring of prescription drugs for minors in state care.

Of the 20,000 children in state care, about 3,100 — or 15.5 percent — are medicated, primarily with psychotropic drugs, Sheldon said. In the general population, he said, about 4 to 5 percent of children are on some form of medication.

A DCF study of the 268 6- and 7-year-olds medicated while in state care found that child-welfare doctors and case managers routinely failed to complete legally required treatment plans, share information or properly document the prescribing of powerful psychiatric drugs.

"Nobody has studied the interactions of those drugs children are being prescribed, which makes it a very frightening situation," said Andrea Moore, a Broward attorney and child advocate.

Sheldon said children in the foster-care system might require more medication, but it's not clear how many kids are being overprescribed psychotropic drugs. He said the testimony of the Ceskas helps shed light on the problem.

"Regrettably, the story they're telling is far too common," Sheldon said. "We need to do better."

Marc Caputo can be reached at mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

CORRECTION: Broward attorney and child advocate Andrea Moore's name was misspelled in earlier versions of this story.

Couple puts focus on 'chemical restraint' of kids in Florida's care 07/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 9:21am]
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