HOW WIDESPREAD A PROBLEM?
One of the most comprehensive surveys of abuse in foster care was conducted in conjunction with a Baltimore lawsuit. Trudy Festinger, head of the Department of Research at the New York University School of Social Work, determined that over 28 per cent of the children in state care had been abused while in the system.
Reviewed cases depicted “a pattern of physical, sexual and emotional abuses” inflicted upon children in the custody of the Baltimore Department.
Cases reviewed as the trial progressed revealed children who had suffered continuous sexual and physical abuse or neglect in foster homes known to be inadequate by the Department. Cases included that of sexual abuse of young girls by their foster fathers, and that of a young girl who contracted gonorrhea of the throat as a result of sexual abuse in an unlicenced foster home.
In Louisiana, a study conducted in conjunction with a civil suit found that 21 percent of abuse or neglect cases involved foster homes.
In another Louisiana case, one in which thousands of pages of evidence were reviewed, and extensive testimony and depositions were taken, it was discovered that hundreds of foster children had been shipped out of the state to Texas.
Stephen Berzon of the Children’s Defense Fund explained the shocking findings of the court before a Congressional subcommitte, saying: “children were physically abused, handcuffed, beaten, chained, and tied up, kept in cages, and overdrugged with psychotropic medication for institutional convenience.”
In Missouri, a 1981 study found that 57 percent of the sample children were placed in foster care settings that put them “at the very least at a high risk of abuse or neglect.”
A later report issued in 1987 found that 25 percent of the children in the Missouri sample group had been victims of “abuse or inappropriate punishment.”
Children’s Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry described the findings of the Missouri review before the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families:
The most troubling result of the Kansas City review was the level of abuse, undetected or unreported, in foster homes. 25% of the children in the sample were the subject of abuse or inappropriate punishment. 88% of those reports were not properly investigated.
A recent class action lawsuit filed on behalf of foster children in the State of Arizona serves well to indicate the extent of sexual abuse of children in state care.
The suit alleges that over 500 of an estimated 4,000 foster children, a figure representing at least 12.5 percent of the state’s foster care population, have been sexually abused while in state care.
The action also charged that “the acts and omissions of Defendants were done in bad faith, with malice, intent or deliberate indifference to and/or reckless disregard for the health, safety and rights of the Plaintiffs.”
But the problems associated with foster placements in Arizona are not limited to sexual abuse. During a recent two year period, one foster child died on average every seven and a half weeks in the state of Arizona. Four of them were reported as having been “viciously beaten to death” by their foster parents.
The sexual abuse of children in government custody would appear to be a particularly widespread problem.
In Maryland, a 1992 study found that substantiated allegations of sexual abuse in foster care are four times higher than that found among the general population.
In Kentucky, sex abuse in foster care was “all over the newspapers,” according to department head Larry Michalczyk.
The former Commissioner explained that within a few years of time, his state saw a child die while in residential placement, a lawsuit filed against a DSS staff member on behalf of a foster child, and legislative inquiries into its child protection system.
Kentucky would prove to be a problematic state, as case reviewers would find that only 55 percent of the children in the state’s care had the legally mandated case plans.
Perhaps the most significant indicator of the true extent of sexual abuse in foster care was a survey of alumni of what was described as an “exemplary” and “model” program in the Pacific Northwest, argues University professor Richard Wexler.
“In this lavishly-funded program caseloads were kept low and both workers and foster parents got special training. This was not ordinary foster care, this was Cadillac Foster Care,” he explained.
In this “exemplary” program, 24 percent of the girls responding to a survey said they were victims of actual or attempted sexual abuse in the one home in which they had stayed the longest. Significantly, they were not even asked about the other foster homes in which they had stayed.
The Children’s Rights Project has initiated a number of successful civil suits against foster care and child welfare systems. One such landmark suit was brought against the Illinois foster care system. Attorney Benjamin Wolf instituted the legal action after concluding that the states foster care system functioned as “a laboratory experiment to produce the sexual abuse of children.”
Yet by many accounts, the sexual abuse of children in the state’s care has increased along with the increase in placements, successful lawsuits notwithstanding. Even Patrick Murphy, the outspoken Cook County Public Guardian, admits that sexual abuse of children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has probably increased.
According to an Associated Press investigation, in nearly half the states, cases take years to come to completion as agencies repeatedly fail to investigate abuse reports in a timely fashion, find permanent homes for children, or even keep track of those children under their care and custody.
For various reasons, ranging from failure to provide adequate supervision and oversight of workers, to failure to provide safe child care facilities, 22 states and the District of Columbia have been ruled inadequate by the courts and now operate under some form of judicial supervision.
But the reader should not be reassured that such problems are isolated only to those states which have been successfully litigated against. As Children’s Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explained to a Congressional subcommittee: “We have turned down requests from a number of other states to institute additional lawsuits, solely because of a lack of resources.”
A 1986 survey conducted by the National Foster Care Education Project found that foster children were 10 times more likely to be abused than children among the general population. A follow-up study in 1990 by the same group produced similar results.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Children’s Rights Project similarly estimates that a child in the care of the state is ten times more likely to be abused than one in the care of his parents.
In a legal action brought by the Children’s Rights Project against the District of Columbia child welfare system, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that:
because of the appalling manner in which the system is managed, children remain subject to continuing abuse and neglect at the hands of heartless parents and guardians, even after the DHS has received reports of their predicaments. The court also found that youngsters who have been taken into the custody of the District’s foster-care system languish in inappropriate placements, with scarce hope of returning to their families or being adopted. The Court also found that the agency entrusted with the care of children “has consistently evaded numerous responsibilities placed on it by local and federal statutes.” Among the deficiencies cited was “failure to provide services to families to prevent the placement of children in foster care.”
Frustrated by the lack of progress after years of litigation, child advocates succeeded in placing the District of Columbia child welfare system into full receivership in 1995, making it the first such system in the nation to come under the direct control of the Court.
In a Pennsylvania case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit wrote in a 1994 decision: “It is a matter of common knowledge (and it is not disputed here) that in recent years the system run by DHS and overseen by DPW has repeatedly failed to fulfill its mandates, and unfortunately has often jeopardized the welfare of the children in its care.”
The original complaint, filed by the Children’s Rights Project on April 4, 1990, alleged that systemic deficiencies prevent the Pennsylvania department from performing needed services, and that it consistently violates the due process rights of both parents and children:
Specifically, plaintiffs claim that these amendments confer the right not to be deprived of a family relationship; the right not to be harmed while in state custody; the right to placement in the least restrictive, most appropriate placement; the right to medical and psychiatric treatment; the right to care consistent with competent professional judgment; and the right not to be deprived of liberty or property interests without due process of law.
One of the plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania suit was “Tara M.” on whose behalf the ACLU charged the city of Philadelphia with neglect. Human Services Commissioner Joan Reeves guaranteed the young girl an adoptive home with specially trained parents.
In August of 1996, Tara M. would make the headlines once again, as her new foster parents were sentenced for “one of the most appalling cases of child abuse” Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn E. Temin said she had ever heard.
Nine-year-old Tara has had three skin grafts and wears a protective stocking in recovery from burns over more than half her body. Police said the foster parents punished the girl by stripping her, forcing her into the bathtub and dousing her with buckets of scalding water. This was the very best of care the city could provide for Tara, a girl who had already endured years of physical and sexual abuse in the several foster homes into which she had been placed over the years.
The Children’s Rights Project has also been involved in suits against child welfare systems in the states of Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, and the cities of Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Milwaukee, and New York City.
Says Children’s Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry: “There are a lot of injuries, a lot of abuse. The most significant thing is the psychological death of so many of these kids. Kids are being destroyed every day, destroyed by a government-funded system set out to help them.”
In California, as of 1989 Los Angeles County alone had paid $18 million in settlements to children who had been abused while in its custody.
One such case involved a nine-year-old boy who weighed only 28 lbs., and who could hardly speak after the suicides of his parents. County social workers failed to visit him in his foster home for four months.
During that time, he was beaten, sodomized, burned on his genitals and nearly drowned by his foster parents. He became a spastic paraplegic. By 1990 the state was threatening to take over Los Angeles County’s child welfare system.
The California-based Little Hoover Commission, in examining the functioning of the foster care system determined: “That children can come to harm–and even die–while supposedly under the protection of foster care is not in dispute.” Some cases cited by the Commission included:
A foster mother arrested in Los Angeles on charges of beating to death her 23-month-old foster son, allegedly over toilet training problems.
A Los Angeles woman arrested for the attempted murder of a 19-month-old foster child who she said fell from a jungle gym. Doctors believed the severe head injuries, which may result in blindness, could only have come from abuse.
A Sacramento woman who was injured in a car accident who voluntarily placed her daughter in a foster care facility. During a tantrum by the child, an employee of the facility wrapped her in a blanket and squatted on her. She was later discovered dead.
MINIMIZING THE ABUSES
Child welfare departments are rarely forthcoming with information about the actual extent of harm that comes to children in their care. It is largely through audits and casereadings associated with legal actions that the actual extent of abuses in the foster care system come to light.
The reasons for this may not be as complex as they are often made to appear.
Child welfare officials who have managed to entrench themselves in lifetime civil service positions in the more desirable nooks and crannies of the child welfare system have a vested interest to protect, and those who run public bureaucracies have devised their own “rationalized myths” to protect their interests, argues sociologist John Hagedorn.
The myths of “doing good” benefit those who are advantaged by existing institutional arrangements. Even as politicians are constantly criticizing “bureaucracy” and “bureaucrats,” they approve millions of dollars worth of public funds to keep the bureaucracies running. As Hagedorn succinctly explains:
It’s simply too risky for bureaucrats to admit that their agency may not be “doing good.” The erosion of that myth may lead someone to investigate them or even propose cutting their budgets.
But if there is one thing that is riskier for bureaucrats than admitting that their system may not be doing good, it is that it is doing far more harm than good.
Thus we find situations such as that in which the California Department’s legal division discovered a “secret room” in the Los Angeles Department containing 15 filing cabinets holding approximately 3,000 case files on foster care facilities that had problems which were not reported to the state.
In one case, ten foster children slept on the floor of a garage, while ten more were crammed into an upstairs bedroom. Three had been abused, one with a fractured skull and two broken limbs. Yet the home was not closed until months after the conditions were discovered.
Thus we find caseworkers in a Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services office running files relating to a botched investigation through a paper-shredder.
Thus we find a New York City caseworker indicating as “unfounded” the repeated rapes of a young girl in institutional care, notwithstanding the testimony of credible witnesses.
Thus we find an agency administrator in Oklahoma quietly dismissing two agency employees accused of the sexual abuse of foster children without so much as a blot on their records.
Thus we find what was described as a “whitewash of wrongdoing” in an edited audit of a child welfare office in Utah, and death threats made against the rare brave legislator who dared to push for the public release of the unexpurgated document.
Thus we find a report of system-wide abuses at the Columbus-Maryville “shelter” in Illinois suppressed by Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy.
THE QUIET ABUSES
With the high rate of multiple placements that most foster children endure, the possibility that they may experience overt physical or sexual abuse becomes an increasing certainty with each move. Yet even those children who are not subjected to overt physical or sexual abuse in state care often endure conditions tantamount to abuse.
Due to the overuse of foster care, the high number of children in custody often results in children being placed on a bed-available basis.
The number of conventional foster homes in the public sector has dropped from 125,000 in 1988 to 100,000 today–and the “exodus continues,” says Gordon Evans, information director for the National Foster Parent Association in Houston.
Evans notes that the average number of children per home is 3.7–up from about 1.4 in 1983–and he estimates that “tens of thousands” care for six, seven, and eight youngsters at a time.
Because of the shortage of conventional foster homes, and due in no small measure to the unwillingness of child welfare agencies to provide meaningful services to families, children continue to be shuttled off to institutional or residential placements on a bed-available basis.
Julie and her twin brother Juan were two such children. They were placed with their grandmother who tried to obtain needed services for them. The agency neglected to provide services, instead shuttling them in and out of five placements in which they often failed to receive proper medical care for their health problems.
The agency then sent Julie and Juan, at the age of two, to an institution for adolescent boys. When their grandmother visited them she discovered that Julie had been physically abused. The twins were then placed with a foster mother who again abused them, while failing to provide proper medical care.
Juan, after suffering a great deal of pain, died at age 3 before he could be returned to his grandmother. Julie’s condition worsened after her brother’s death, and she died at age four. The advocacy group Children’s Rights sued the city of New York for damages, and a jury awarded $87,500 to Julie’s estate. Her surviving sister plans to use the money to attend college.
Julie and Juan’s story is in many respects typical. Because of the shortage of conventional foster homes due to the high number of children being unnecessarily placed in care, children often have labels assigned arbitrarily for purposes of placement.
Children may end up in a place like the Hegeman Diagnostic Center in Brooklyn, where a twelve-year-old girl who had been raped in a foster home was brought–only to be sexually abused by other girls at the center.
“We believe that assaults, sexual and otherwise, occur daily at the center,” said Karen Freedman of Lawyers for Children.
Or they may wind up in a private residential treatment center like Indian Oaks in Manteno, Illinois, on the grounds of what used to be the state mental institution.
“Indian Oaks occupies one building, but the rest is desolate, empty, broken buildings,” says Peter Schmiedel, supervising attorney of the Special Litigations Team in the Office of the Public Guardian. “It’s something out of a bad, eerie movie.”
Says Schmiedel: “If ever you want to see something terrible, go to the DCFS intake shelter at Columbus-Maryville. Go downstairs where they keep the teenagers. The place used to be a morgue. It’s a room without windows, crowded, wall-to-wall beds.”
These beds were created in response to DCFS saying they need more beds, adds Schmiedel. “It’s market-driven forces, children as industry.”
Part of Schmiedel’s job is to go through unusual incident reports. “We must get two or three hundred a week,” he says, some of which include serious reports of physical and sexual abuse in treatment centers and foster homes. “It’s frightening–we don’t know which cases are the most serious.”
“You see what some parents do to their kids, but then you see what happens to kids who are removed from their homes and put into foster homes… I mean, the stories are grotesque.”
Or consider the plight of those foster wards locked in detention in the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center Facility–maintained in small locked cells alongside alleged juvenile offenders who are themselves awaiting adjudication of their cases. A grand jury found the conditions endured by these children to be far worse than that endured by adult criminals in the County prison.
THE SILENT NEGLECT
Even for those fortunate enough not to find themselves warehoused in glorified prisons, mental hospitals or congregate care facilities, overcrowding, medical and educational neglect are still the norm for many of the nation’s foster children.
A 1993 action filed in Utah is in many ways typical. The National Center for Youth Law filed the class-action on behalf of about 1,400 children in foster care and another 10,000 alleged to have been abused and neglected.
The action charged that the state failed to provide adequately trained caseworkers, medical treatment and education to children in its care, that it used unlicensed foster homes and homes that did not meet federal standards. It also alleged that children bounce around in the system and languish in foster care. A subsequent legislative audit largely confirmed the allegations.
By 1994, the Utah legislature approved what the Governor called a “SWAT Team approach” to handling the system wide deficiencies in its foster care and child protective services programs.
By 1995 it had established “Judicial M*A*S*H units,” courtrooms with temporary judges to handle the backlog of hundreds of children waiting for rulings on their cases.
Also typical of recent actions is a Youth Law Center suit in California which accused Eloise Anderson, director of the Department of Social Services, of refusing to carry out state and federal laws which require audits of county child welfare programs.
Among the deficiencies cited in the lawsuit: “children in California’s child welfare system have been subjected to inadequate supervision, substandard conditions and inadequate health care and education.”
On a national level, the General Accounting Office recently examined the issue of whether the nation’s foster children were being adequately serviced with respect to their health care needs. The GAO found that:
despite foster care agency regulations requiring comprehensive routine health care, an estimated 12 percent of young foster children receive no routine health care, 34 percent receive no immunizations, and 32 percent have some identified health needs that are not met
an estimated 78 percent of young foster children are at high risk for human immunodeficiency virus as a result of parental drug abuse, yet only about 9 percent of foster children are tested for HIV
young foster children placed with relatives receive fewer health-related services than children placed with non-relative foster parents, possibly since relative caregivers receive less monitoring and assistance from caseworkers
that the Department of Health and Human Services has not designated any technical assistance to assist states with health-related programs for foster children and does not audit states’ compliance with health-related safeguards for foster children.
As for the educational needs of children in state care, the situation is equally as distressing.
Miami attorney Karen Gievers, former President of the Florida Bar Association, filed a lawsuit in 1996, alleging that while 73 percent of Florida children among the general population graduate from high school or get an equivalent diploma, less than half of the state’s foster children do.
In 1995, a suit was filed in Florida against its Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The suit sought to shut down the Department, forcing HRS to stop taking children into foster care until it could better aid the 9,300 children already under its supervision. According to Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law:
You could carbon-copy the lawsuit filed in Florida in every state. . . We have a child welfare system that’s near collapse.
Even for those children who are not necessarily subjected to overt physical or sexual while in state care, life in state care often fails to provide them with permanence or stability.
The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation reports that most foster care placements bear no resemblence to the ideal short term stay on the way to family reunification. Rather, “the devastating norm for foster children is multiple moves, extended stays, and no stable family ties.”
Or, as Bruce Boyer, supervising attorney for the Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern Law School notes, “there are a set of harms that follow a kid in foster care even if they are treated as well as the foster care system is capable of treating children. For those kinds of harms there is no mechanism for holding decision makers accountable; the only one who suffers is the child.”
The most tragic aspect of all this is that most of the children subjected to the abuses of foster care don’t need to be there. And, it is largely because the system is flooded with so many children that don’t belong in care that these abuses continue to mount.
The situation is perhaps best summarized by a California based Santa Clara County Grand Jury report. “The Grand Jury did not see clear and convincing evidence that the foster care system operates with the best interest of the child in mind. It did find that the interest of the child often took a back seat to the interest of others.
On Psychiatry and Child Protective Services in the United States:
Child Abuse is Child Protection is Mental Health Treatment is Drugging Children
Fred Baughman, Jr., MD
John Breeding, PhD
The mission of the US Dept of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, has always been some notion of protecting our nation’s children from abuse and neglect. The federal state, as parens patriae, has gradually come to embrace, through evolution of our moral code and attendant law concerning the rights of children, its duty to assure these children’s rights. Each of these United States has an agency anointed to fulfill this mission, commonly known as Child Protective Services (CPS).
At one point during a meeting of “interested parties” to discuss a CPS reform bill this year in the Texas legislature, the CPS legal counsel clarified for someone who thought that it might help to have a police officer act in concert with a CPS worker in certain situations, “CPS IS THE LAW.” Child Protective Services acts with the authority of law. So just as with the importance of oversight and monitoring to ensure that needed police services do not go over that slippery slope into experiences of violation of civil liberties or police brutality, so is oversight and monitoring of Child Protective Services necessary.
Many think that state Child Protective Services have evolved into rogue agencies. This article will briefly mention the general practices of overzealous intervention, which have resulted in this charge being levelled at CPS. The main purpose of this essay, however, is to discuss a very specific concern. We believe that CPS agencies are doing consistent grievous harm to children and families, beyond the general dynamics of overzealous interention. We believe that many thousands of families are being threatened, coerced and broken, not only for possible physical and sexual abuse, but for reasons having to do with the enforcement of the pseudoscientific beliefs and attendant tragic and dangerous practices of our nation’s mental health system. The power of the state is enforcing the false beliefs and dictates of biological psychiatry, pressuring, coercing and breaking up the families of parents who reject the psychiatric diagnoses and psychotropic drugs for their children. Furthermore, the state, through CPS and foster care, is wreaking havoc on the children who it is supposed to be removing from harm’s way and making safe by systematically placing them on toxic, dangerous, addictive drugs. We will provide general background and specific examples to illustrate our assertion. First, however, a very brief history of Child Protective Services.
The history of foster care as child protection is quite recent, expanding into its modern core component as a result of a law passed by Congress in 1961. As the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) points out in a Child Welfare Timeline on their website (www.nccpr.org), this law allowed AFDC payments to follow a child into foster care. As such payments were previously made only to children in their own homes, this made foster care much cheaper for states and localities. This shift in funding facilitated a rapid growth in foster care. Another effect, perhaps unintended, was to undermine any emphasis on family preservation and restoration. By the late 1970s the number of children in foster care had reached 503,000. In 1980, Congress passed one of the last initiatives of the Carter Administration, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. The law worked so well that within a few years, this first federal effort to deal with foster care by encouraging permanence—including, but not restricted to keeping families together—cut the foster care population by more than half to 243,000.
As the NCCPR timeline clearly reveals, this tension between placing children out of the home and preserving and restoring the family has proven to be the decisive struggle in Child Protection. As a result of decisions made during the Presidencies of Reagan and the senior Bush, undermining of support for family preservation and strengthening of incentives for foster care placement effectively reversed the trend just described. The result is that as of September 2001, we have an estimated 542,000 children in foster care. The rate has continued to grow despite a decrease in statistics reporting incidence of crime and child abuse. NCCPR position paper # 5, “Who Is In The System—And Why,” reports 2001 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data that, “Out of every 100 children investigated as possible victims of abuse, six are â€˜substantiated’ victims of all forms of physical abuse, from the most minor to the most severe, about three more are victims of sexual abuse. Many of the rest are false allegations or cases in which a family’s poverty has been confused with neglect.”
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was not repealed, but its intent has been destroyed. CPS still offers rhetoric emphasizing family restoration as central to its mission, but practice across the country shows that it is very clearly not a priority—so much so that there is now a growing public outcry and outrage. Victims and critics report that the CPS structure is set up as preemptive, adversarial and denying of even minimal protections and safeguards for families. They say that CPS agencies do little if anything to support the possibility and reality of family preservation and restoration. A host of activist groups are challenging CPS. Perhaps the clearest and most thorough work detailing the structural and practical problems of CPS is being done by the National Coalition of Child Protection Reform, led by Attorney Richard Wexler (www.nccpr.org).
Consider that the CPS agencies in four of our nation’s largest population states are being investigated as evidence of this crisis in Child Protection.
Richard Wexler reports Florida Department of Child and Family Services data that there were only 8,467 foster children at the end of Fiscal Year 1998, rising to 10,431 a year later. By January 2000, the figure already had risen to 13,862. The 2001 figure is between 15,000 and 18,000. Over 3 years, the increase is between 75 percent and 112 percent. NCCPR attributes this dramatic increase to a phenomenon dubbed “Child Abuse Panic,’ whereby whenever a child is killed who CPS was aware of but not able to intervene, there results a panicked, zealous going after children. The resultant situation in Florida has been horrendous. (http://www.nccpr.org/reports/lengtheningshadow.htm). The system is overwhelmed, and children in foster care are being hurt and neglected in many ways. The state is reeling as more and more of the abuses are being revealed. Here are just a few of the results described in the NCCPR report on Florida:
■Caseworkers wound up carrying up to eight times the recommended caseloads. One foster care counselor had 135 cases.
■Foster parents took in as many as ten children at a time. Ivor Groves, the nationally-recognized child welfare expert, said in a sworn affidavit that the Broward system “is dangerously out of controlâ€¦These are the worst conditions I am aware of in a child welfare systemâ€¦”
And what is happening to these children?
■A three-year-old girl, left alone in a crowded foster home, was beaten so badly she suffered a concussion. Her attacker was a 14-year-old boy with a history of violence.
■In another foster home, the same child’s older brother, age seven, was molested.
■An 11-year-old was lured away from her foster home by another foster child, then gang-raped by three men.
■An eight-year-old was sexually abused in his ninth foster home placement, an overcrowded home with at least 11 children who ranged in age from 14 months to 14 years old. He had been moved after the previous foster mother allegedly told her own children to hit the boy with coat hangers on his legs and buttocks â€“ so the marks wouldn’t show.
Wendy McElroy of Fox News (Tuesday, October 14, 2003) reports that “The California child welfare system is such a disaster that even the state’s Department of Social Services admits families are aggressively torn apart and children unnecessarily placed in foster care.” The agency director, Rita Saenz, is quoted in a Sept. 25 press release as saying that, “The original vision for supporting and healing families through the child welfare system has deteriorated into an adversarial and coercive approach.” McElroy reports: “The result is that in L.A. County alone, more than 160,000 children â€˜came into contact’ with Child Welfare in 2002; 30,000 are in foster homes—only one form of foster care. David Sanders, head of the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, reports that as many as half of those foster children could have stayed at home with â€˜appropriate services’ rather than removal. Thus, an L.A. Daily News headline declared that children are being â€˜rushed into foster care,’ where many remain.” Due to legal intervention, led in part by lawyers from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (http://www.bazelon.org/newsroom/3-17-03katiea.htm), an attempt at sweeping reforms is underway.
In the Spring of 2003, one of us witnessed a legislative hearing in Texas, during consideration of a major reform bill for CPS. Though the bill did not pass, many parents told stories of abuse and coercion; the hearing was a scathing indictment that CPS was out of control in a way very similar to the manner in which Rita Saenz described her California agency above. On the financial side, consider the October 19, 2003, report by Doug Swanson in the Dallas Morning News. He revealed the most recent foster care scandal, regarding a group called Daystar, which appears to be amassing huge profits while providing very inadequate care for children. The state Department of Protective and Regulatory Services oversight and monitoring of this foster care situation reveals a very problematic pattern. State Representative Suzanna Gratia Hupp is quoted in the article, as saying simply “There’s no accountability.” What is very clear is that the money flows are huge: Daystar received 3.5 million dollars from the state of Texas last year, and 3.9 million from California. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Carole Strayhorn, is now conducting a Review of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. This should be a very interesting investigation. As Swanson reported, the state of Texas pays treatment centers as much as $101,105 a year per child.
This last piece of data is the key to understanding the shift toward placing ever more children in foster care, and less and less emphasis on family preservation and restoration. Observers of this trend attribute it to the fact that a county will only continue to receive funding for the period it keeps the child in its care. In various states, there is a “perverse financial incentive” to place and retain children in foster care rather than leave them in the home. Incentives are set up for maximum intervention. NCCPR issue paper # 5 informs us that, “The National Commission on Children found that children often are removed from their families â€˜prematurely or unnecessarily’ because federal aid formulas give states â€˜a strong financial incentive’ to do so rather than provide services to keep families together.”
Child Protective Services and Psychiatry
There is one more very significant piece to this ugly puzzle of child protection turned family destruction and state havoc and unaccountability. It is not limited to the domain of child protection, but it certainly saturates that field. By definition, children taken under state care are having a hard time, or will be as soon as they are separated from family. In the United States today, young people in trouble are mostly characterized in one simple way. They are considered to be “mentally ill”—emotionally disturbed, suffering from some sort of psychiatric disorder like ADHD or conduct disorder, or depression, or bipolar disorder, or any of a host of other diagnoses. And since our mental health system of institutionalized psychiatry believes that mental illness is biologically or genetically based, the solution of using powerful psychotropic drugs to “treat” these mental illnesses is called the practice of medicine.
We are observing that a very high percentage of children in foster care are placed on psychiatric drugs. It is hard to get the precise data because it has not been routinely collected, but here is a glimpse from two of our more populous states.
The Miami Herald (Carol Miller, 9-17-02) reports that the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council (an arm of the Department of Children and Families) conducted a two-year investigation of 1,180 foster children. The Council’s report found that more than 50% of the children—including 17 preschoolers—were on psychiatric drugs that had not been approved by the FDA as safe for children. Incredibly, 44% of these mostly Medicaid children had not been seen by a doctor, and 59 children had no diagnosis, while another 143 children had a diagnosis described as “other.”
New York is one more state whose child protective services are in disarray and controversy. Their agency, called Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) has recently undergone a state audit. Doug Montero (New York Post, 4-22-01) reports that ACS (apparently like all states) doesn’t know how many of its children are on psychiatric drugs. Nevertheless, also like other states, complaints arise on a regular basis. Montero writes that a state audit of 401 randomly selected children found that more than half were being treated for “mental problems.” In today’s mental health climate, that almost always means drugs. Again, according to Montero, advocates say that the rate of psychiatric drug treatment for foster children is closer to 90%.
Where data is reported, we get rates of over 50% of children in foster care on psychiatric drugs. Many think the actual incidence is considerably higher than 50%. Considering that a pretty good estimate of the incidence of psychiatric drug use in the overall school age population in the United States is about 8,000,000 children, which is approximately 15% of our children, these rates are not so surprising (Breeding, 2000). The numbers are shocking, nevertheless, especially when one confronts the indisputable truth that there is no scientific evidence that allows for an objective test of a specific physical or chemical abnormality for any of these alleged psychiatric illnesses. As one example of the truth of this assertion, the NIH Consensus Conference Report (November 18, 1998) on the most popular of child psychiatric diagnoses concluded that, “…we do not have an independent, valid test for ADHD, and there are no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunction.” Incredibly, the involvement of psychiatry and foster care goes beyond the ubiquitous presence of psychiatric labels and drugs for our children. To truly understand the depth of the entanglement, it is necessary to address the concept of custody relinquishment.
Custody Relinquishment refers to the situation whereby a parent “voluntarily” relinquishes or turns over the custody of a child to the state. One would think that a parent’s decision to voluntarily give up a child would be extremely rare, occurring only under severe hardship and duress. According to a report in Clinical Psychiatry News (May 2000), however, it is actually quite common, supposedly because gaining access to mental health care for children is so difficult that parents give up custody to ensure care. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health reports, “Approximately 2-4.1 million children, aged 9-17 years have a serious mental or emotional disorder. Last year, 23% of parents of children with behavioral disorders were told that they needed to relinquish custody to obtain intensive mental health services of their children; 20% actually gave up custody.” (italics ours)
Two years later, the same newsletter (Clinical Psychiatry News, June 2003) reported that, “Thousands of US families have been forced to choose between obtaining mental health services and relinquishing custody of their children with mental or emotional disorders, according to a new report by the General Accounting Office. The GAO estimated that in fiscal year 2001, 12,700 children in 19 states and 30 counties were placed into the child welfare or juvenile justice systems so they could receive mental health services. This understates the extent of the problem, since officials of 32 states did not provide the GAO with data.”
This second report says “thousands of US families” while the earlier one said that “approximately 2.1-4.1 million children” have a serious psychiatric disorder, and that 23% of these parents “were told that they needed to relinquish custody to obtain intensive mental health services for their children; 20% actually gave up custody.” At the time, then, .483 million to .82 million were told they needed to relinquish custody and relinquished custody. This suggests that hundreds of thousands to a million or more U. S. families have been told they should relinquish custody, and many have done so.
The term relinquishment implies voluntary action on the part of the parents, with informed consent and understanding of the facts of the situation. These assumptions cannot actually be met for a number of reasons, having to do both with the structure of Child Protective Services, and with the “customary and usual” practice of child psychiatry. The structure of Child Protective Services is such that parents are on the defensive. We repeat the quote cited above from California child welfare director, Rita Saenz said, “The original vision for supporting and healing families through the child welfare system has deteriorated into an adversarial and coercive approach.” There is good reason to be distrustful of any nice sounding rhetoric of voluntariness.
An even greater threat to the family, however, is the flawed assumptions and dangerous practices of psychiatry. The psychiatric industry makes two basic claims, both of which are completely unproven. They claim (1) that children with the likes of Attention Deficit Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder—DSM psychiatric diagnoses—have actual diseases. They claim (2) that these “diseases” require necessary “treatment,” (i.e., psychiatrists and drugs.) Further, they claim that if parents cannot afford such necessary treatment, and if such treatment can only be gotten for the child by a government or government-affiliated payer scheme (such as Medicaid) that requires that the child be a ward of the state, then the only responsible thing for the simply-biologic parent to do, would be to relinquish custody. Such action puts the payer on line to reimburse those who utilized the billing bible of psychiatry—the DSM—and who prescribe the psychopharmaceutical “medicines”.
We have written in detail elsewhere about informed consent and the psychiatric drugging of children (Breeding & Baughman, 2001, 2003)—about the denial and minimization of harmful effects of psychotropic drugs, about the inadequacy and bias of FDA drug testing, and about the real dynamics of pragmatics and power that drive the engine of psychiatry. The biggest violation, however, remains the lie that occurs every time a parent is told their child has an actual disease (or its euphemistic equivalents like disorder). In order to clearly understand how informed consent is systematically violated, one must be fully aware, regarding psychiatry and psychopharmaceuticals, that were it not for presumption of “diseases” (for which there exists today no scientific evidence in the form of an objective indicator validated in the scientific literature), there could be no medical psychiatry. Instead, we would be speaking only of normal human beings and of their humane care and nurturing. Without the presumption of disease, we would be talking of a tyrannical state kidnapping children and drugging those normal children. Following are several examples of this phenomenon.
Although coercion of families to drug their children is happening all over the country, we will begin this section with the stories of four New York families that can attest to the fact that parents are increasingly being accused of child abuse or neglect and threatened with removal of their child from the home if they refuse to give their child prescribed psychiatric drugs. Jill and Michael Carroll were concerned that their son, Kyle, was sleeping only five hours a night and eating only one meal a day. So they told school officials they wanted to take Kyle off the Ritalin for two weeks to see if that helped. Sounds reasonable, but that’s when they got a call, and then a visit, from a Child Protective Services worker, based on a complaint from Kyle’s school guidance counselor. The charge was “Child Abuse,” in the form of “medical neglect.” The Albany Times Union (May 7, 2000) reported that the Carrolls were placed on a statewide list of alleged child abusers, and found themselves “thrust into an Orwellian family court battle to clear their name and ensure their child isn’t removed from their home.” Two months later (July 19) the Albany paper made it clear that the court had ordered the Carrolls to resume giving their 7-year old son Ritalin. The county Department of Social Services, which had filed child abuse charges on grounds of medical neglect, dropped the charges when the Carrolls agreed to put Michael back on the drug. In another case the next year, Tammy Kubiak of Buffalo, New York, lost custody of her 12-year-old son for taking him off of three psychiatric drugs which she reports were making him “zombie-like.” The court took custody of her son based on the allegation she is incompetent because she rejected the existence of ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) as actual diseases. She subsequently lost all of her children to the State.
The third story of New York parents being threatened and coerced by Child Protective Services and the courts was reported on MSNBC on (August 23rd, 2003) : “When Patricia Weathers decided to take her son off Ritalin, school officials dismissed him from school and called Child Protective Services to investigate her family for medical neglect and truancy.” The article goes on to validate the fact that, “she is not alone. A growing number of parents are finding themselves pressured by teachers and administrators to keep their children medicated or keep them out of the school.” The Weathers agreed to put their son, Michael, on “medication;” he was on Dexedrine and Paxil. When Michael began experiencing hallucinations from the Paxil, a drug that has been recalled in Ireland, banned in the United Kingdom, and banned for under age 18 in Connecticut, they took him off of that. The school continued to insist that Michael be kept on the Dexedrine, but the Weathers consulted with Dr. Mary Ann Block, author of No More Ritalin, and a physician who helps many families get their children off psychiatric drugs. They discovered their son was anemic and had certain allergies. They told school officials that they were no longer going to medicate their son, and the school called CPS. A full investigation was launched, but the Weather’s documented material from Dr. Block was enough to back them off. On July 2, 2003, United States Federal Judge of the Southern District of New York, Judge William Conner, ruled that the Weathers’ lawsuit against the schools and the doctors will be heard in federal court (see Doug Montero, New York Post, 8-7-02).
The story of Cindy Gallagher and her son, Daniel also begins in New York. The first part of her story is quite similar to that of the others. It was a variation on the theme of schools pressuring a parent to label and drug a child, and calling in Child Protective Services on accusations of medical neglect when the parent resists or refuses. In Cindy Gallagher’s case, she took her children out of New York and started homeschooling Daniel. According to Ms. Gallagher, “he not only blossomed, but started to become a joy to have around, easy to handle, and a normal child.” Would that the story would go on in such a happy way. In a March 27, 2003 note to Dr. Baughman, however, she reports the following:
“Last Thursday, sir, I took my boys back to New York to visit their sister, and the law guardian demanded I leave my sons in New York pending a psychiatric revue and medication of my son. Even though I proved that I was providing my son with homeschooling and working with the Roanoke School systems for Daniel, the law guardian refused to listen, stating I was an unfit mother, endangering Daniel’s psychiatric welfare by not drugging him and having him in counseling with a psychiatrist.
“Sir, there is nothing wrong with my son. He was a victim of brain damage and needed a different kind of teaching, that’s all. He is a JOY to have around now, yet New York Child Protective and the law guardian snatched my boys from me and gave sole custody to their abusive father who’s already crying uncle and begging me to take them back. The law guardian, Frank Filetto, refuses to allow my sons to come home to Roanoke where they are happy, healthy, fed, clothed, and under excellent care. My heart is completely broken now, I’ve fought this school system and Child Protective for five years. IS THERE ANYTHING you can do to help me? I KNOW my son is NOT a psychiatric patient, he’s NOT in need of psychiatric care or medications. He simply needed boundaries that we gave him. Surely there must be a law that is on the side of the parents? Surely a law guardian cannot have that much pull to keep children away from a mother who doesn’t beat them, mistreat them and wants nothing to do with medications, and has proven her child is not in need of it? “
It is very clear from these cases that failure to accept psychiatric labeling and drugging of your child will be called “negligent” and very possibly lead to loss of custody of your child, or—as with Tammie Marie Kubiac of Buffalo, NY—all of your children. This is our government and courts at all levels. We believe it is clearly driven by the economics of Big Pharma (see references). There are very many more stories we could share of parents who have been coerced to drug their children, and of families broken up when parents refuse to drug their children. The story of Diane Booth and her son, Vincent, is one of the worst.
This story has been previously published in the March 26, 2003 Education News (http://adhdfraud.com/frameit.asp?src=commentary.htm).
The ordeal of Vincent Booth and his mother, Diane, began as it almost always does, in every school district in the US—with teachers diagnosing ADHD, presently the number one “disease” in the country. Teachers from the Sunnyvale School District decided not only that 6-year-old Vincent had ADHD, but that he needed Ritalin as well. Not only did teachers, never having been to medical school, make the diagnosis, they presumed it was their right, duty, and competence, as well, to designate the medication he needed—in this case, an addictive, dangerous, sometimes lethal medication—Ritalin. When Diane, the natural, legal, mother rejected their diagnosis and treatment, they called in Child Protective Services, and pronounced her “negligent.” By order of the juvenile court, they made Vincent a ward of the State of California (case # JD 1110), institutionalized, diagnosed, and drugged him. Vincent was six years old, and, up to that point, healthy and normal.
Vincent was held at the Eastfield Ming Quong, a locked, children’s holding facility at one time used to force social services on California’s Chinese immigrant children. Placed on Ritalin, Vincent developed tics—involuntary movements—a complication of Ritalin, never witnessed in him previously. He also had bruises and bumps—signs of physical abuse. Diane complained, but to no avail. Next, she took matters into her own hands. In desperation, and at her son’s request, she fled to Canada with him on July 5, 2000, and applied for refugee status. Two months later the FBI apprehended them in British Columbia and tore Vincent from her side while he screamed for help that his mother wasn’t allowed to give him. For the past 2 years Vincent has been a child of the State of California, held at the Eastfield Ming Quong, getting treatment for the multiple “diseases” psychiatry says he has with the multiple drugs psychiatry says he needs.
Throughout the 2 years no member of Diane’s family was allowed to have contact with Vincent, and Diane remained a fugitive until she tired of life on the run and turned herself in to authorities in Okanagan, Washington, in January, 2003. Diane has since been extradited to Santa Clara County where she has been unable to make bail and remains incarcerated at the Elmwood Correctional Center for Women. While the FBI has seen fit to drop all charges against her, Santa Clara County, not wishing to be charged themselves, still presses felony, child endangerment and child stealing charges against her, that could result in up to 8 years in prison—all of it, mind you, for loving and her only child, her normal son, Vincent.
Diane began to correspond with Dr. Baughman through his web site, http://www.adhdfraud.com , about two years ago when she was still in Canada, seeking refugee status there. Based on her description of events (a scenario repeated in every school, in every state, every single day) and medical records, there is no doubt that Vincent was a medically, neurologically normal child at the time psychiatric diagnosing and labeling began, and until the always-injurious, psychiatric drugging began. Vincent’s psychiatric incarceration, ordered by his new “parent,” Judge Leonard P. Edwards (parens patriae), assured it would always be thus.
In the summer of 2002, his diagnoses—all psychiatric, not actual diseases, were Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (DSM-IV 309.81), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (313.81) with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (300.82), ADHD, and episodic enuresis (314.01). As is usual in psychiatry, not only did Vincent have multiple “diseases,” but he was administered multiple psychiatric medications as well—each known to be brain damaging, none known to target a proven brain abnormality/disease. They were Buspar, Zoloft and Respirdal, an antipsychotic—an especially potent brain poison toxin. As of June, 2002 Vincent was said to display “tics (author’s note: probably a persisting side effect of Ritalin, but Respirdal commonly causes involuntary movements, as well, known as tardive dyskinesias), severe anxiety, fearfulness, impulsivity, hyper-vigilance, poor adult-child relationships, tantrums and aggression toward staff and peers.”
Furthermore, a case manager wrote: “Vincent is socially immature and often functions in a regressed, primitive, unsociable manner, sometimes at a 2 or 3 year level.” What if Vincent had been normal and free, living in the protective, loving care of his natural mother, Diane? What if he had been allowed to be the normal child he was, not imprisoned and drugged—a psychiatric patient-in-perpetuity?
To illustrate the difficulty in challenging this coercive system, consider the following.
On December 10, 2002, before Diane’s desperate return to the US, Baughman wrote to Judge Edwards:
” Having said to parents or authorities with jurisdiction over a child (parens patriae) that ADHD is a disease; one requiring medication, without which the child’s health and life are at risk, abrogates the informed consent rights of this child and his mother, and, in fact, the informed consent rights of the judge/court adjudicating this case. For it’s part, the judge/court had a duty to ascertain not just the prevailing practice in the community, but the state of the science concerning so-called ADHD, before enforcing dangerous, addictive, medications and separating physically normal children from their natural parents. What was done to this child in 1999, and is still being done, in Santa Clara County, in the State of California in the name of psychiatric “treatment” has been nothing but psychologically and physically damaging.
â€¦All treatments for diagnoses not those of real, verifiable, diseases, should be â€¦withdrawn. At the same timeâ€¦Vincent should be returned to his motherâ€¦ who has shown no inability to care for him and make responsible health care decisionsâ€¦All physicians and professionals who have misrepresented the true nature of ADHD and any other psychiatric “diseases” to this parent and child (Diane and Vincent Booth) and to yourself, having had parens patriae responsibility for Vincent, should be reported to the Medical Board of California for having â€¦abrogated their rights to informed consent; this being tantamount, in the instance of physicians to medical malpractice; and in the instance of educational personnel and other non-physicians (psychologists) to the practice of medicine without a license.”
Baughman ended his letter thus:
“Do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further help to you in this or related matters.”
Judge Edwards did not reply.
Therefore, Baughman wrote to him a second time, February 6, 2003, making both letters to him the substance of a State of California, “Suspected Child Abuse Report” charging not that Diane Booth was guilty of abusing her son, Vincent, but that Santa Clara County and the State of California and all their agents and agencies were. Baughman wrote:
“From 1970 to the present, the US Congress has sequentially held hearings and passed laws that have legitimized calling psychological/psychiatric/mental symptoms—diseases—when they are not, resulting in the needless medicalization of the lives of 8-10 million US children—Vincent Booth just one of them. In all of these hearings, our Congressmen heard testimony from members of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the NIH, NIMH, and NIDA and chose to believe their every incredible, anti-scientific, claim that psychiatric/psychological/mental conditions were medical/physical/organic abnormalities–actual diseases.
Never once in all of these 32 years did they look beyond the incredible claim for physical proof, as surely they would do, were it there own child, in the privacy of their own physician’s office.â€¦ Vincent, his mother and her family are just one of the six or so million ADHD patients in the US who have been lead by mainstream psychiatry, pediatrics and medicine, to believe that ADHD is an actual disease, a life-long disease, one for which they absolutely must be treated with one psycho stimulant or another. Like all the rest, Vincent, his mother and family are victims-still of what is the greatest health care fraud of modern history. I truly hope that some court will see and acknowledge the terrible wrongs and injuries done here and summarily free Vincent and his mother and reconcile them. The damage done can never be undone but at least this will be a start.”
Again, there has been no response from Judge Edwards. Nor has the “SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE REPORT” been acknowledged. Neither has the declaration on behalf of Diane Booth (BOOKING# 03007942, PFN# DPN183, P.O. Box 60910, Elmwood Correctional Center for Women, Milpitas, CA) submitted to the court, been accepted by the court.
So we have a neurologically normal child, now on several dangerous, damaging drugs for a long time, and torn away from his mother. And we have a mother in jail for her effort to defend her son—all in the name of child protection.
The pattern has become tragically familiar—families unnecessarily broken, children suppressed and neurologically damaged by psychotropic drugs, addicted, and more seriously disturbed than when CPS became involved. The CPS mission of family restoration is left in forsaken shambles.
A Texas Case
Consider the case of Evan, for which one of us (Breeding) is now acting as the family psychologist. He was removed from his mother, Mary, in the summer of 2001, along with his brother, Ricky, on charges of neglect. The CPS argument is highly debatable, and it was highly debated as Mary found a lawyer who helped them. We are not discussing Evan’s case, however, as another example of zealous overreaching by CPS; we hope we have made that point already. Rather, we wish to illustrate another, related consequence of the customary and usual CPS practice of placing a very high percentage of children in foster care on psychiatric drugs.
Ricky was returned to Mary’s mother, Pam, within a few months, and a little later to Mary, but Evan was kept in foster care, ostensibly because mother and grandmother could not handle him. After two years, he was released into the grandmother’s care on a trial basis, but kept under CPS custody. CPS was monitoring the situation, with a placement hearing scheduled in 5 months.
This is a very common scenario, and it has a few special features. The most obvious is, of course, the oversight of CPS, and their retained power to remove Evan from the home at any time; there is tremendous pressure on all of the family, and ongoing fear that something might go wrong. As with most children in this situation, Evan was on three different psychiatric drugs, and had been for the entire time he was in foster care. He was taking 18 milligrams of Concerta in the morning, a long acting form of methylphenidate, even though his last doctor suggested he did not have ADHD. He was on 1000 mg of Depakote, said to be a mood stabilizer for so-called bipolar disorder, taking 500mg in the morning and 500mg at night. And he was on 1 mg of Risperdal, an “antipsychotic”, taking .5mg in the morning and .5 mg at night. This is higher than the recommended dosage for an adult!
This was an extremely difficult situation. For the therapist, the immediate danger condition was the long-term drug use. Methylphenidate is bad enough as it is well known to stunt growth (and Evan is short for his age), and affects virtually every organ system of the body (Eberstadt, 1999), and many have actually dropped dead after several years of Ritalin use. There were almost 200 Ritalin-related deaths (mostly cardiovascular) reported to the FDA in the 1990s. This voluntary reporting system is estimated by experts to reflect only 1 to 10% of the actual incidence, which means up to 20,000 Ritalin-related deaths in the last decade.
Depakote is considered a very dangerous drug; regular blood tests are recommended as liver damage is a well-known effect of the drug. Worst of all is the Risperdal. This class of neuroleptics (eg., Risperdal, Thorazine, Haldol and Zyprexa) is proven to have unleashed the largest epidemic of neurological disease in history in the form of Tardive Dyskinesia and related syndromes such as neurological malignancy, seen in hundreds of thousands of adult mental patients who have been taking drugs like Thorazine (Breggin, 1991).
In his recent new book, Mad in America, Robert Whitaker puts forward the latest powerful wakeup call on the sordid tale of systematic brain damage for the sake of profit. It is absolutely shocking to see the data reported by Dorsey Griffith in the Sacramento Bee (6-23-02): a 281% increase, from 329,000 to 1,253,000 in the number of prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs for children. We are giving stronger and stronger psychiatric drugs to more and more children, even infants and toddlers. And CPS is playing a big part in this disgrace.
As a therapist or ally to this child and his family, the drugs are the prime danger condition. Yet the source of this danger is the agency whose mission is to protect the child. To Nevyn, Evan and his family, the main danger is the lingering threat of CPS and another breakup of the family. Nothing that might trigger Nevyn’s Evan’s removal may be risked, and CPS and its contracted psychiatrist think Evan needs to be on all these drugs. And as described above, they mean it!
Any movement to wean Evan off of these drugs must be approached with caution, and there are further complications. Although Evan was sent home on all these drugs, there was no arrangement with a physician to monitor his well-being, no arranged blood tests to check on his liver function. The CPS psychiatrist who prescribed the drugs could barely be reached, after some persistence, to get a refill on a couple of the drugs. The family is on Medicaid, and many doctors will not accept Medicaid. Many pediatricians who do accept Medicaid, will still not go near messing with a dangerous drug cocktail like this. Grandmother Pam took Evan to at least one pediatrician who would not touch the challenge of supporting Evan’s drug withdrawal. Yet Evan cannot be weaned without an MD approval and oversight, or else the family risks CPS taking him back for acting without a doctor. Finally, after Evan had been home for over two months, Pam got an appointment with a neurologist, who agreed to help, and a gradual drug withdrawal was begun.
But it is even more complicated, because there are always the expected major challenges with transition to home and school—all the relationship challenges at school and family, all the unprocessed feelings, all the adjustments on every level. And Evan had his share. With all the pressure and fear, it is exceedingly difficult. Every wrong move, every trouble sign at home or school, especially at school, triggers fear, and the understandable tendency is to come down on Evan. And his understandable tendency is to get defensive. Or the tendency is to blame any problem on the alleged mental illnesses and immediately ask whether he has taken his drugs today. Like most young people we have worked with, Evan has been known to “hop” his pills. They make him sleepy, or queasy, or he gets fed up and doesn’t want them. And he happens to act up on one of these days. Maybe it is an effect of not taking the drugs that day…who knows for sure?
What we do know is that biopsychiatry has pulled off an incredible magic trick, whereby once individuals are labeled mentally ill, they and everyone around them are absolved of responsibility. A child who is not acting right in whatever fashion is immediately asked, “Have you taken your Ritalin (or whatever drugs) today?” The family, schools, community, CPS, psychiatrists, everyone is absolved, because the problem is explained—the child has a genetic or biological defect, that is the source of the problem, and the best we can do is keep it under control with “medicine.” Everyone stops thinking, and the tough issues are avoided.
Evan’s is a very difficult situation, with immense pressure on every angle, even without the drug issue. The fact that this boy is on a polypharmaceutical cocktail of toxic, brain-disabling drugs, makes it excruciatingly difficult. It is actually impossible to separate any of Evan’s behavior from the effects of the drugs he is taking. Edginess, restlessness, aggression, sleepiness, irritability, impulsiveness, difficulty concentrating—you name it; all are known effects of these drugs. And drug withdrawal is difficult under the best of circumstances, much less under pressure and duress. Doctors and lay people alike tend to interpret effects of drug withdrawal as evidence of the “mental illness” and need to be on the drugs. Yet to leave him on all these drugs is an outright dangerous. Evan’s story is still in process, but at least he is off the Risperdal.
An estimated 8 million school age children in the United States are on psychiatric drugs today. That means we are giving very powerful, extremely dangerous psychotropic substances to about 15 % of our country’s children between the ages of 5 and 19. The drugging of children first came to the country’s attention in 1970 when the U. S Congress was alarmed enough by the news that 200,000 school children were taking Ritalin to call for an investigative hearing on the issue. Since that time, we have witnessed a 4000% increase in the number of children on psychiatric drugs in the U.S. The trend of the last few years to use these drugs on preschoolers and toddlers, even one-year-olds, further reveals the unconscionable disgrace we are witnessing in this country. Regardless of the extent to which our leaders and large segments of our general population have become so numbed and confused by the constant onslaught of psychopharmaceutical propaganda celebrating the alleged medical necessity of giving psychoactive drugs to children, these numbers are astounding.
We also know that the primary conduit of children into psychiatry is through the schools. Not only are school employees affected by psychiatric propaganda just like anyone else in this country, but also they are specifically trained to look for “diseases” like ADHD. They select children out, pressure parents to get a psychiatric evaluation and get their child on a psychoactive drug. We have seen a growing incidence of parents being threatened with accusations of medical neglect when they resist or refuse psychiatric intervention, and we have seen what happens when Child Protective Services is called in and violates a family’s life. We know that psychiatry is coercive at its root, and that this coercion has taken root in the schools and Child Protective Services.
Our systems are still mostly broken and wrong-headed. Nevertheless, we see hopeful signs. There is very good news available for those interested in CPS reform. We highly recommend the NCCPR website for an overview of the issues, and recommended reforms. The states of Michigan and Alabama, and the Allegheny county run system in the area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are wonderful examples of highly successful family preservation programs.
Good news is also available on the coercive psychiatry front. There has been a huge wave of political activity across the country in the last four years as a result of committed activists, and especially due to the influence of aggrieved parents who have decided to fight back for themselves and on behalf of all families. An inspiring example of this is the coalition of parents who formed a group called Parents for a Label and Drug Free Education. Four parents started this group. Sheila Matthews was pressured by a Connecticut school to label and drug her child, fought back and led the charge for a precedent-setting legislation in Connecticut in 2001 that not only prevents school personnel from coercing or recommending that parents drug their children, but also backs off CPS from being able to accuse parents of medical neglect simply because they refuse to drug their child. Another eight related bills were introduced the next year.
Patty Weathers was coerced to drug her child in New York, fought back, was threatened by Child Protective Services, fought back, got support, went on national television, eventually won and has taken leadership in the fight to protect other children and families. Larry Smith and his wife Kelly were bullied and harassed for years by psychiatry and the schools. In March of 2000, they lost their son, Matthew, to heart failure due to several years of Ritalin usage. Larry’s website, http://www.ritalindeath.com, has educated countless people on the dangers of psychiatric drugs to children. In February of 2001, Vicki Dunkle’s beloved 8-year-old daughter, Shaina, died in her arms of Desipramine toxicity (prescribed for “ADHD”) as she and her husband Steve watched helplessly. Now they are fierce activists, appearing on national television and testifying to political leaders in Washington. There are others in this group, and all have a story. The Able Child parents, together with allies around the world, are determined to stop the psychiatric drugging of children, and all the lies and coercion that go with such an ugly business. See the website, http://www.ablechild.org, for information about these brave leaders, their activism, and a record of political actions around the country.
The political activity started as a result of the leadership of Patti Johnson in 1999, a member of the Colorado State Board of Education who convinced her fellow Board members to pass a precedent setting Resolution, which asked school personnel to use academic solutions to resolve problems with behavior, attention and learning, rather than psychotropic drugs. Since then, enormous progress has been made on the issue of protecting children and their families from forced psychiatric labeling and drugging, and to monitor the prescription rate of stimulants and other psychiatric drugs for children. Through 2002, there have been 46 state bills or Resolutions; including the Colorado Resolution, in 28 states that have either passed, or are still pending action, across the United States. Connecticut, Minnesota, and Texas have passed laws explicitly stating that a parent’s refusal to consent to the administration of a psychotropic drug to a child does not constitute neglect, therefore is not in itself grounds for CPS investigation. Other states have passed related laws either monitoring or curbing CPS policy in this area. Many states are pursuing related legislation as the wave of activity continues to expand. Many of these laws relate to prohibiting coercion in schools to have a child put on psychiatric drugs; several establish investigations and/or tracking systems for children being psychiatrically labeled and drugged; others increase parental consent rights; still others eliminate the threat of parents being criminally charged with “medical neglect” if they refuse to place their child on a psychiatric drug.
We conclude this essay with a piece of exciting news. A new federal bill is drawing nationwide attention to the psychiatric drugging of children. If passed into law, the Child Medication Safety Act (H.R. 1170) would prohibit schools from coercing parents to drug their children. The U.S. Congress is considering this historic legislation largely as a result of the wave of activism in state legislatures around the country. This act has already passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming 428-1. The Senate is now considering H.R. 1170. All of these efforts are reflective of a push to back off the coercion, and restore common sense and thoughtful care and support to our nation’s children and families.
Breeding, J. (2000) Does ADHD Even Exist? The Ritalin Sham. Mothering, July/August, pp. 43-47.
Breeding, J. & Baughman, F., Jr. (2001) The Ethics of Informed Parental Consent to the Psychiatric Drugging of Children. Ethical Human Sciences and Services, 3,3,
Breeding, J. & Baughman, F., Jr. (2003) Informed Consent and the Psychiatric Drugging Of Children. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 43,2, 50-64.
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