In an historic ruling, United States District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey has granted class certification to all Missouri foster children “who presently are, or in the future will be, prescribed or administered one or more psychotropic medications while in state care.” The ruling in M.B. v. Tidball represents the first case in the country in any court – federal or state – in which the court has certified a civil rights class action on behalf of foster children who are administered psychotropic medication.
“Missouri’s failure to maintain adequate oversight of the administration of psychotropic drugs to children in the state’s care is systemic,” says Leecia Welch, Senior Director for Legal Advocacy and Child Welfare at the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL). “We are gratified that Judge Laughrey has given us the opportunity to pursue a remedy of behalf of all the children at risk from these dangerous practices.”
In her ruling, Judge Laughrey emphasized that powerful psychotropic drugs expose children to serious side effects, adding that the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services “is aware that the lack of a reasonable system of oversight and monitoring of the administration of psychotropic medications to children in its custody poses a substantial and ongoing risk of harm to the children.”
NCYL, Children’s Rights, Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Law Legal Clinics and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed the lawsuit in June of 2017 alleging longstanding, dangerous, unlawful and deliberately indifferent practices by the defendants, the State Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services and the Director of its Children’s Division, including:
- failure to ensure that powerful psychotropic drugs are administered to children safely and only when necessary;
- failure to maintain complete and current medical records for children in foster care and to provide those records to foster parents and health providers to ensure effective and well-informed treatment; and
- failure to maintain a secondary review system to identify and address high risk and outlier prescriptions to children when they occur.
“We have presented the Court with unrebutted evidence that the Children’s Division is failing in its responsibility to maintain medical records for the children in its care,” said NCYL Senior Attorney Poonam Juneja, adding “that our evidence also shows that the Children’s Division has acknowledged that oversight of the administration of psychotropic medication is necessary, even though they fail to provide such oversight.”
This is the first civil rights lawsuit on behalf of foster children jointly filed by Children’s Rights and NCYL. The two organizations have a significant record of reforming state child welfare systems through litigation in which they established that public child welfare agencies who fail to protect foster children from harm violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.