National Center for Youth Law

Press Releases

California Expands Efforts to Curb the Misuse of Psychotropic Medications on Children in Foster Care

October 3, 2016
Anna Johnson: (510) 899-6567 or cell (920) 471-8177

Sacramento, CA – Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills sponsored by The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), designed to reduce the misuse of psychotropic drugs on children in foster care. The two bills, SB 1174 and SB 1291, build on NCYL sponsored legislation approved in 2015 to create a clear system of oversight for the administration of these powerful medications to children in the state’s care. The Governor vetoed a third bill, SB 253, that would have established standards for the courts to apply when deciding whether or not to authorize psychotropic medications, ensuring a single point of accountability for this system of oversight that spans multiple agencies and stakeholders.

SB 1174 subjects prescribing physicians to heightened scrutiny by enabling the Medical Board of California to collect and analyze data, and, where warranted, conduct investigations of physicians who frequently prescribe outside recognized safety parameters for children. SB 1291 will monitor counties to see that they offer mental health services for children in foster care that include non-drug treatments. Legislation signed by the Governor last year provides for training, data collection, and systems for identifying high risk practices; provides public health nurses increased access to medical records to improve monitoring of foster children prescribed psychotropic medications; and identifies the group homes that are most over-reliant on the riskiest psychotropic medication treatments and requires these homes to develop corrective action plans that are monitored for progress.

Taken together these bills represent one of the most comprehensive state efforts to rein in the misuse of psychotropic medications in foster care, a national problem highlighted by the federal government in 2011. According to a Government Accounting Office report that year, nearly one in four children in foster care are receiving powerful psychotropic drugs which can have debilitating side effects.

NCYL’s Executive Director Jesse Hahnel says the legislation will make a significant difference in the lives of the children. “Although we are pleased that the Governor has signed SB 1174 (McGuire) and SB 1291 (Beall) to support greater oversight and transparency to the mental health treatment of children in foster care, we are disappointed that he vetoed SB 253 (Monning) which was the primary accountability mechanism bill in NCYL’s Psychotropic Medication Bill package.

According to NCYL Senior Attorney Bill Grimm, the breadth of these legislative efforts is a necessary response to a system where many disparate actors play a role in the administration of these drugs. “SB 253 was designed to address this fragmented system by assigning a judge the role of the parent. The one person making sure that the child’s interests are being served,” Grimm said. “In vetoing SB 253 the Governor listened to the wrong people. Instead of listening to the youth whose lives have been devastated by the inappropriate prescribing of psychotropic medications, he listened to those whose actions and inaction contributed to the irreversible harm suffered by our foster children.”

NCYL Policy analyst Anna Johnson says that as important as it is to end harmful practices a major accomplishment of this legislation is that it will help shift the focus to what foster children really need. “As we begin to review the mental services provided by counties, we’ll gain a better understanding of how to provide the services that help foster youth deal with trauma, abuse and neglect.”