Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, hopes to pass a bill that would change child welfare caseworker laws, giving more resources to help foster care children, and requires that the state operate a psychotropic medication oversight program for DCS custody children.
Floor sponsor, Rep. Edward H. Redd, R-Logan, presented the bill in front of the House Health and Human Services Committee March 3, noting the importance of making sure that the foster care children are taken care of in the state and receive the help they don’t always get.
“It’s important that the DCS (Department of Child Services) children receive an appropriate amount of psychiatric intervention,” Redd said. “They have this condition that requires medication and therapy to overcome.”
Brent Platt, director of the Division of Family Services, presented on the bill, and spoke of their purposes behind the bill, seeking to help the more than 2,700 foster kids in Utah.
“The critical piece for this bill is, nationally, children in foster care are prescribed psychotropic medications at a much higher rate than children in the general population,” Platt said. “What we’ve been working on is to really focus on the kids…overmedicating these kids is something that we just need to be paying more attention to.”
“The whole goal of this pilot is for us to figure out a way to better respond to these kids and make sure they are getting the right kind of support, and the right kind of services while they’re in care,” Platt continued.
On top of the psychiatric oversight program, the bill modifies requirements for completing background checks in emergency placement for kids, allowing them to stay with family, or close friends. It also requires more transparency within the process, to family, and to the courts.
“It (the bill) requires us to really justify to the courts why a child should be in care over a long period of time,” Platt said. “Every aspect of this bill helps us become a better system.”
Dr. Brooks Keeshin, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah, also spoke on the importance that this bill carries for care workers who help the children out.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to develop a program that is supportive of the local clinicians who are really doing the hard work in caring for these kids,” Keeshin said. “This is not meant to be something that is punitive, or curtailing the capacity of clinicians, but rather to enhance and support what they are already doing.”
According to Keeshin, nearly 30 percent of the kids in the foster care system are taking at least one psychotropic medication, and over the last four years, the number of those that are taking at least three psychotropic medications has jumped from 20 percent of that 30 percent, to 40 percent, nearly half, of the 30 percent taking psychotropic medications.
“You have a significant increase in the psychiatric complexity of these kids, and the clinicians are doing all they can with limited resources,” Keeshin said. “This is a way for Utah to start to figure out how to best serve these kids.”
Redd is hopeful that this new program implemented can help those children in dire need of assistance.
“Some of these kids have really complicated problems, and so this is a really wonderful intervention to do a better job of helping these kids become successful children and successful adults,” Redd said.