California courts step up oversight of psychotropic medication use in foster care

April 15, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO -- California's judicial leaders on Friday took a major step toward reversing the foster care system's rampant use of psychiatric drugs, approving a slate of new safeguards to make juvenile courts here the country's most careful and inquisitive monitors of psychiatric care for abused and neglected children.

Beginning as soon as July, doctors will have to make a more convincing case to receive court approval to prescribe the powerful drugs too often used to control difficult behaviors in traumatized children. And for the first time, foster children will be offered greater opportunity to speak for themselves about how the medications make them feel.


"Why do these children need medication? Is there something else we can do?" Judge Jerilyn Borack of Sacramento's juvenile court, who helped craft the new rules, told the state's Judicial Council, which approved them Friday. "That's what we've tried to address.

The new rules are part of a series of sweeping reforms and legislation following this newspaper's investigative series "Drugging Our Kids."

California is the only state that requires court approval for all psych meds prescribed to foster children. But too often, the approval process works more like a rubber stamp, with prescription request forms only partially filled out by physicians, and objections rarely heard. Judges say they lack the expertise to question medical professionals, and in most courts there is no avenue for a timely second opinion.