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Reichert Opening Statement: Caring for Our Kids: Are We Overmedicating Children in Foster Care?

May 29, 2014

Welcome to today’s hearing on the very important topic of whether youth in foster care are being prescribed medications appropriately. As we will hear from our witnesses, too often the answer is no.

We know from research that foster children are prescribed mind-altering, psychotropic drugs at very high rates – far higher than other children. CRS found that between 2008 and 2010, nearly one out of every four children in foster care was using a psychotropic medication on any given day. That’s more than four times the rate among children overall.

In too many cases, government programs may be trying to medicate away the troubles these youth have experienced, troubles that will remain with them long after the medications end. Dawna Hovenier is a young woman who was recently in foster care in my home State of Washington. She was unnecessarily medicated with a number of mind-altering drugs and will explain how that helps no one – least of all the youth who need it. Dr. Phil McGraw will second this assertion – that one of the most critical reasons to address the problem of overmedication is to ensure children receive proper treatment and not just “chemical straitjackets” that keep them from acting out.

Congress has taken a number of steps in recent years to highlight this issue, and we expect States to continue focusing more attention on prevention as a result of these changes. Federal laws passed in 2006, 2008, and 2011 sharpened the focus of States on the medical needs of foster youth, including the need to develop protocols preventing the overprescribing of psychotropic medications. Illinois is a leading example. As we will hear from Dr. Michael Naylor, whose office reviews all psychotropic medication requests for children in foster care in Illinois, this effort has prevented overmedication of children, likely saving taxpayers money but more importantly resulting in better care for children. Other States, including Texas and Connecticut, have similarly successful programs. Part of our task is to ensure all States are taking the necessary steps and learning from each other’s best practices.

Ultimately, the best solution for children is to be in a permanent, loving home with parents who watch out for them every day. This subcommittee knows that, and has focused its efforts during the past year on getting more foster youth into those sorts of permanent, loving homes. H.R. 3205, the Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act, passed the House last year and incentivizes States to move more children—especially older children—into adoptive homes sooner. And just last week the House passed H.R. 4058, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act, which requires States to more quickly move children out of foster care into permanent families. I am hopeful we will enact these bills this year. That will help more children move from foster care into loving homes, improving their lives in many ways and vastly decreasing their likelihood of using—or needing—psychotropic medications.

We welcome all of our witnesses today, and look forward to their testimony.