The dialog over foster youth and the use of psychotropic medication runs deep with emotion and history. In an effort to understand where California is going, you must understand where we have been in our journey to improve the lives of children entrusted in the care of the state.
In 1999, California took a step forward as the first state to require judicial approval for the prescription of psychotropic medications for foster youth. That policy is still in place today; however the state, counties, child advocates and other stakeholders all agree that system needs improvement, and inclusive policy development practices are currently moving forward.
Last year, under the leadership of the California Department of Social Services and the California Department of Health Care Services, an expert panel was convened to provide advice and guidance regarding the development of a state protocol that includes standards to improve the oversight and monitoring of psychotropic medication use in children and youth in foster care. The expert panel includes physical, mental and behavioral health experts, current and former foster youth and child advocates.
The work being accomplished is thoughtful and intended to allow for independence in treatment or care while at the same time providing medication information, training and educational resources to foster care children and youth, parents, families, caregivers, pharmacists, providers and social workers. The identification of common data elements and agreements to share individual information will provide county social workers and other decision makers with client-level reports not previously available.
Additionally, the refinement of best practices will recognize that psychotropic medications are one element in a comprehensive treatment that must include other psychosocial and environmental interventions and monitoring parameters which mitigate potentially serious adverse effects of these drugs.
Once the panel’s recommendations are complete, additional support for this project will be needed to define legal standards which ensure youth being prescribed psychotropic medications receive the minimum number of prescriptions necessary in the lowest therapeutic doses for the appropriate age.
Lastly, we must resist any distractions that do not positively contribute to the success of this effort. There will be much more benefit to the foster children and youth who require this level of care when a solution is implemented that pushes aside agendas and focuses on what really matters, the development of explicit policies and practices that minimize incidences of overuse, underuse or the inappropriate use of psychotropic medications.