Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE
TALLAHASSEE - As a task force examining the use of psychiatric drugs by foster children draws nearer to issuing its report, caseworkers across the state are working to get parents or courts to approve the use of the medications to treat hundreds of children.
And while the number of foster children reported to be taking the medicines has risen from 2,669 in early June to 3,100 in numbers released Thursday, the proportion doing so without consent has dropped steeply, from 16.2 percent to 6.1 percent.
Even so, some advocates are worried that the rush to generate a paper trail for children already taking the medicines might mean some permission is being given without a full understanding of the drug's purpose and possible side-effects.
"They've been working very hard to get paper files that reflect consent," said Robin Rosenberg, interim director of Florida's Children First and a member of the state's Gabriel Myers Work Group. "But that is different than informed consent."
The work group began its investigation in the wake of the death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, a foster child in South Florida who police say hanged himself April 16.
Myers was taking psychiatric medicines, and the Department of Children and Families later found that local caseworkers had not obtained proper consent for him to use the drugs.
Psychiatric drugs, particularly antidepressants, have become controversial because of worries that they might increase thoughts of suicide in children, prompting the FDA to put a "black box" warning on the medications.
State figures show 488 children in the agency's 19-county Northeast Region - which includes Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Flagler and Baker counties - are taking the medicines. In June, about 22 children - about 5 percent of those taking the drugs at the time - did not have consent; that number is now 18 children, about 3.7 percent.
CONSENT FROM COURTS
Much of the shift, though, has taken place by obtaining consent from courts. For example, 46 percent of children in the Northeast Region taking the drugs in June had consent from parents, with 44. …