Life for children in the foster care system can be tough. Not only is there a lot of moving around between homes, facilities and schools, there's the emotional impact of being separated from family and siblings.
That instability and childhood trauma can lead to kids acting out in ways that are tough for caregivers to handle. An investigation in 2014 revealed that an inordinate number of kids in the foster system were prescribed strong psychotropics not recommended for young children, often in dangerous combinations. Coupled with a lack of supervision from doctors or caregivers, the investigation found taht too many children in foster care were inappropriately medicated causing considerable, and sometimes permanent, side effects.
“They felt like zombies. They had lifelong side effects from being given dangerous combinations of medications," says Anna Johnson with the National Center for Youth Law. "When they refused to take the medications, particularly in group home settings, they were… punished, put into isolation when really they were trying to say that this wasn’t working for them.”
Legislation was created to reduce overprescription and mandate proper oversight for children who are taking medications. Laws encouraged providing treatment for trauma or abuse outside of medication.
By effect, California has reduced the number of foster kids on serious psychiatric drugs by about half since 2014. That's a reduction Johnson says is unprecedented in the country.
Some doctors have complained that the policies now make it too difficult to prescribe for kids who truly need medication. Johnson says there's a state-funded structure in place to aid with added paper work. "Public health nurses who will assist the doctors with getting the paperwork, getting the foster care records and histories of medical treatment, so they can not be prescribing in the dark, " Johnson says. "We think that its very reasonable to ask a doctor to fill out a piece of paper before taking a psychotropic medication in a child’s body when they have not been studied on children."