Senators Highlight New GAO Report on Improper Prescribing of Psychotropic Drugs to Foster Children

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,  held a press conference to release a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the ongoing risk of improper prescribing of psychotropic drugs to America’s foster children.

This GAO report was requested by Sen. Carper, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The report is a follow-up to GAO’s 2011 study that found that psychotropic drugs may be overly prescribed to our nation’s foster youth. Today’s report contains case studies highlighting individual children’s medical and psychological treatment while in foster care and concludes that additional efforts may be needed to address the problem.

“Today’s GAO  report reminds us that improper prescribing of mind-altering medications to our nation’s foster youth has not gone away,” said Chairman Carper. “For some problems, medications simply are not the only solution. Often times, foster children are suffering through the after-effects of deeply traumatic experiences such as abuse and neglect. It is critical that we understand and address these underlying problems first, and not simply hope the problem will go away with medication.  I am encouraged that the Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services kept its word and worked with states to help curb this problem, but this report showed that more work remains. I will continue our Committee’s oversight on this issue and work with the Administration, states, and stakeholders like Casey Family Programs to ensure that we focus like a laser on getting these children the support they need.”

“It’s clear that too little is being done to oversee the use of psychotropic medication among kids in foster care,” Sen. Wyden said. “These children are often victims of intense trauma, and their pain cannot just be prescribed away. A number of states and advocacy groups are working hard to better serve children in foster care, and it’s time to build upon those efforts to make sure every child’s unique needs are appropriately addressed.”

“We have a fundamental responsibility to provide for the health and well-being of the children in foster care in the United States,” said Senator Collins.  “This includes ensuring that they are not inundated with unnecessary medications.  It is encouraging that, as a result of a law passed by Congress in 2011, this report finds that states have begun implementing policies to better regulate the use of psychotropic medications for foster children.  We must, however, continue to provide strong oversight of the care provided to children in foster care.”

“The federal Department of Health and Human Services should build on its prior work and lead the states in getting good results for foster youth in this area,” Senator Grassley said.  “The federal government should issue guidance, as recommended, and help states share best practices with each other.  It can be a clearinghouse for solutions that states can use to help both foster youth and their own Medicaid budgets.”

Christine Calpin of Casey Family Programs, and Jen Hope Radimaker and Dashun Jackson, two former foster youths, joined Chairmen Carper and Wyden in highlighting the challenges facing the foster care system.

“At Casey Family Programs, we believe there is a tremendous opportunity today to improve our nation’s approach to financing child welfare so we can better support the kinds of specialized therapies that are proven to lead to better outcomes and enable more children to remain at home safely with their families,” said Christine Calpin.

“Often times, the type of therapy treatment that I was given only focused on my behaviors,” said Jen Hope Radimaker, a former foster child.  “Foster youth often have trauma in their lives that is never addressed.  I look at it like a weed.  Therapy and meds focus on pulling off the leaves and pulling at the stem but if you don’t get to the root of the problem- the trauma- then it will keep growing back.”

The GAO report concludes that while the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has endeavored to provide guidance regarding oversight of psychotropic medications for foster youths, additional guidance is needed, particularly on oversight of prescription drugs through managed-care organizations, which are being utilized by an increasing number of states.

For a full copy of the most recent GAO report, click here.

For a full copy of the 2011 GAO report, click here.