America’s Foster Care System: Test Lab For Big Pharma, Cash Cow For Caretakers?

It's estimated that more than half of America's foster children are on some sort of psychiatric drug.
By @katierucke |
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    "Tristen," a former foster child, tells of his experience being overprescribed psychiatric drugs as a child, during a Foster Care Alumni of American meeting. (Photo/screen grab via YouTube)

    “Tristen,” a former foster child, tells of his experience being overprescribed psychiatric drugs as a child, during a Foster Care Alumni of American meeting. (Photo/screen grab via YouTube)

    Hours after Texas Child Protective Services removed 5-year-old Tristen from the care of his mother and placed him in a foster home, Tristen’s foster parents took him to see a psychiatrist, citing concerns the young boy was depressed. That day, a psychiatrist prescribed Tristen three medications: one for anger, one for depression and one to help the 5-year-old relax.

    Now an adult and out of the foster care system, Tristen says he recognizes he was depressed that day, but he says he never needed any medication — his feelings were only natural given the circumstances.

    “They just took the thing that meant the most to me,” he said. “My family.”

    Passed from foster home to foster home all over the state of Texas, Tristen says no one ever asked him how the pills made him feel, despite the fact that he would often spend time in his room crying because he felt his medicines were slowly tearing his chest apart.

    Doctors also never tested Tristen to see whether the drugs were working or whether the combination of medications he was on was safe. And whenever he asked his case worker or foster parents if he could stop using the drugs, they threatened to call the police, take him to a psychiatric hospital or kick him out of the foster care system.

    Unfortunately, stories like Tristen’s are all too common in the U.S.

    Of the more than 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system, it’s estimated that more than 50 percent are on some sort of psychiatric drug.

    Money is part of the reason. Foster parents are paid more to take care of a child with mental health issues.

    On average, a foster family earns about $17 a day for taking in a child who needs a basic level of care. But a child who is taking drugs such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, anxiety medications or anticonvulsant medications is worth around $1,000 a day.

    And foster parents are not responsible for paying for the medicines, either, as they are covered by Social Security.

    Many child and human rights advocates are concerned about the dramatic number of children who are classified as “special needs” after entering the foster care system. One reason doctors, psychiatrists and therapists may not be speaking out against the unnecessary drugging of these children is because those who prescribe the drugs often benefit financially, receiving big payouts from pharmaceutical companies.

    But for foster care alumni like Tristen, placing children on several different medications is a common practice that needs to change, especially since the “medication only makes foster parents richer” at the expense of a child.


    Medicine or poison?

    Dr. John Breeding is a psychologist who has long spoken out against prescribing children psychiatric drugs. He calls the increased reliance on pharmaceuticals to keep kids in line “institutionalized child abuse,” and says these medicines are as damaging as hitting a child on the head with a pipe.

    He says children are being used as experimental guinea pigs and “as profit points for a corrupt, cynical, evil industry,” referring to big pharmaceutical companies.

    “It’s a shame and disgrace,” Breeding said.

    According to Breeding, in 2011, psychiatric drugs were prescribed to 12 percent of children age 5 and under, 55 percent of children ages 6-12, and 67 percent of children ages 13-17 in the Texas foster care system. Of those children, 73 percent were taking two or more drugs, while 42 percent were taking three or more drugs.

    National statistics are not available on the number of foster kids on psychiatric drugs because each state is responsible for overseeing its own foster care program. However, many speculate the numbers would be similar to those in Texas, since despite the fact that only 3 percent of the U.S. population has a medical condition that would benefit or require the use of antipsychotics, that type of drug is the top seller in the U.S.

    Despite protests from medical experts like Breeding and testimony from foster care alumni, some medical professionals say there is nothing wrong with prescribing psychotropic drugs to children.

    At a 2004 Texas committee hearing on psychotropic drugs and foster care children, psychiatrist Joe Burkett said he prescribed the medications to kids partly because “they are very sick” and “come from a bad gene pool.”

    Breeding, who was in attendance at the hearing, said many like Burkett view mental illness as a genetic brain disease and therefore justify prescribing the pills.

    Since activists such as Breeding began calling for change, some states, such as Texas, have begun to see legal changes regarding medicating children. Breeding told Mint Press News that while foster kids are the hardest-hit group of kids when it comes to use of psychiatric drugs, the number of kids on multiple drugs has declined.

    Still, many foster care alumni remain concerned about kids “being drugged to the gills,” especially since most of the kids get off the medications once they age out of the system.


    Drugging epidemic

    Aisha was in foster care for 15 years and spent a great deal of time in a home with her brother and 13 other children. Of the children in Aisha’s home, she says everyone was on medication when she arrived — except for her. But the first time she was taken to the doctor, she was prescribed 200 milligrams of Prozac to help her depression, as well as 200 milligrams of Seroquel so she could sleep at night.

    “Foster parents should not be allowed to diagnose foster children,” Aisha said.

    While Aisha was taking two medications, the other children in the foster home were taking at least five pills each. She said some kids took as many as 13 pills and were so accustomed to medication that they would swallow all of them at once.

    “It’s absolutely tragic,” Breeding said, “We’re killing these kids. This is poison; this is not medical treatment. This is not an illness. These drugs are not medicine. They’re toxic poisons that disable and kill — physically many times, psychologically always.”

    When 14-year-old Elnita was taken away from her family by Texas Child Protective Services and placed in a foster home, she was given a medication for depression that she says she did not need.

    “I was a shy person,” Elnita explained, adding that she was struggling to get used to her new living environment, which was filled with several other young girls and caretakers she didn’t know. “I wasn’t ready for that.”

    But like Tristen, she was forced to take the medication.

    Elnita was prescribed 500 milligrams of an antidepressant and said every time she or one of the other girls in her foster care home cried or screamed out of frustration, they were put into an isolation room or given more drugs to calm down.

    While in foster care, Elnita was on four different kinds of depression pills. Despite the fact that the medicines made her slow, caused her to struggle to focus at school and gave her terrible nightmares, her foster parents and her social worker denied her request to be taken off the high dosage.


    Foster parents

    While each state has its own version of Child Protective Services with its own rules and policies, the general requirements to become a foster parent are similar throughout the U.S. Foster parents are required to be at least 18 years old, be healthy physically and mentally, and live in an environment that protects and promotes the well-being of children. Single people and married couples are eligible to apply.

    Elnita said the behavior of children in foster care is often “not normal because of what we’ve been through and what we’ve seen.” But all children in the foster care system are normal, she said — they just have “a little bit of extra problems.”

    Elnita said that a problem with the current system is that foster parents “treat us like we’re only there for the money.”

    “They don’t love us,” she said.

    Judge Janson A. Kauser is a retired municipal court judge, attorney, Guardian ad Litem for abused and neglected children, and former police officer who investigated suspected child abuse and neglect cases. He agrees with Elnita that the current foster system isn’t working and told Mint Press News that he doesn’t see much value in the current program.

    While Kauser recognizes many Child Protective Services agents are well-intentioned individuals, he says based on his experience, they are doing loads of work without the necessary qualifications. Most of the agents “couldn’t spell investigation much less handle” one, he said.

    Elnita is out of the foster care system now and has been off her depression medications for a year. She says she feels better and has found she can fit in with other people. She realized that what she needed all along was a person to talk to.

    Ciara Jackson, a foster care alumni from Colorado, agrees. She said that when she first entered the system at 13, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Until she was 17, Jackson fought with her foster parents and caseworker after realizing the drugs were making her slow mentally and physically. But she says the more she refused the drugs, “the more defiant social services labeled me and the angrier I became.”

    When she emancipated herself at the age of 18, Jackson says she refused her medication and discovered that she was not bipolar, but had a mood disorder.

    “If you had been in my surroundings and seen the things that I witnessed, your moods would change rapidly too,” she said.

    Pleading with current and future foster parents, Tristen said foster parents need to recognize that the children in the system are already dealing with a life that has been halfway destroyed. He said the best thing a foster parent can do is not medicate a child, but ask him or her how she’s doing, how he’s feeling.

    “Take the time to talk to them,” he said. “It’s going to shock you.”

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    • jean de oro

      It’s an Plague that’s has been used on the most innocent of all , the children , then we wonder why we have a pill popping generation taking place .

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    • stmccrea

      I work as an advocate for kids in the foster care system (I am a supervisor for the CASA program). I can tell you there are many reasons why this continues to be a problem. Foster parents are sometimes a big part of it, and sometimes they’re great advocates for getting kids off and aren’t listened to. The biggest problem is that the mental health system does not appear to be competent to help kids with multiple traumas in their backgrounds and no stable home to rely on. Some kids REALLY need the help of the foster system, but it fails them much too often. Most culpable are the psychiatrists themselves, who are all to ready to put a kid on drugs for normal behavioral reactions to a very bizarre and extreme situation of being abused at home and placed in foster care. Foster kids are also held to strangely higher standards of behavior, and things that are considered not rare or even pretty common for teens are often identified as behavioral problems (such as staying out too late, not following school rules, or smoking cigarettes or marijuana).

      There are a lot of problems with the foster system, but this particular one has to be owned by the mental health system and the psychiatrists who are at the head of it. Foster parents couldn’t get inappropriate prescriptions if the doctors didn’t write them. The medical and mental health communities need to come up with a better answer if we’re going to see any real change.

    • YouKnowMe

      If I had a foster child they wanted to drug, I’d let them give me the drugs, I’d clue the kid in, and we’d conspire to not take them. Dump ’em down the toilet–if there’s so little oversight how will they know?

      • mollycruz

        While not taking them is a good plan…Dumping them down the toilet will only contribute to what I have read is a huge pollution problem in the oceans; hard to say what affect they might have on the marine animals taking them without prescriptions! Perhaps just burn them? Bury them? Boil them away?


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    • Bisley

      There should be no such thing as foster care. If the parents are unfit their rights should be terminated and the kids institutionalized, pending possible adoption. Foster care is a waste of money and a de-stabilizing, detrimental thing for kids, as it is ordinarily a temporary thing and precarious, even if it stretches into permanence. If the foster parents are good and they and the children become attached to one another, they are always subject to government interference and possible termination of the arrangement at any time. Either leave kids with their parents (if they aren’t totally worthless, or dangerous), put them in an orphanage, or adopt them out; they need some sort of permanence, that they can find a way to deal with, rather than never knowing where they might be tomorrow (which will contribute to problems). The system we have today is for the benefit of those who make a living from running it, not the kids.

    • Justin Olsen

      So I grew up in foster care, and when I was 16 I was doing very well. I was enrolled in college classes and had bright plans for my future. I was living in a group home and at the end of the summer I was planning on moving in with friends and going to college. One day a dr. came and talked to all of the kids where I was and decided to put me on Anti depressants. Within a week or two I had insomnia and strange thoughts. My life completely unraveled and instead of going to live with friends and going to school I ended up in jail. There was no reason to put me on the drugs in the first place and the adults that were supposed to be taking care of me allowed all of this to happen. Now I am 30 years old and my 3 children are in foster care and I am on probation for dealing drugs. I believe that had I never been forced to take that medication my life would have turned out much differently.

      • Justin Olsen

        Also mysons that they took from me were such good kids I never had any behavior problems with them and now they are in a foster home and on ADHD medication. Because they “have had trouble adapting to not being with their family”

        • Shelby Ruth Chapel

          BTW: Your message is clear. You write well. I hope you’re in school. If you have the time start researching the drugs you or your kids are on. Ritalin/methelphenidate is cocaine with a tweak. It’s pushed on parents by teachers. Highly addictive. Produced in China. 90% sold to US. Why? Causes bizarre behavior and suicide. TELL YOUR STORY FAR AND WIDE!

      • Shelby Ruth Chapel

        Justin I am so sorry this happened to you. Go to school board meetings and tell your story. Start a blog. Don’t be ashamed. You and your children have been caught in a very powerful system that is destroying this country.

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    • thestormy

      Most children who are considered as ADD & hyper active children. do not need drugs.Their eyes do not work together. When they try to read or write they get frustrated & nervous as anyone would when the eyes do not function properly.This can be corrected by a pediatric eye specialist with glasses & eye exercises. Children who are put on drugs they do not need become aggressive, depressed & suicidal.

      • AS WELL AS MURDEROUS! Most if not all kids (people) who go off on a shooting rampage have been or are on all these psycho drugs! Do a google on this and you will see the truth!

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    • goof

      it should not be law that we have to have this .

    • For Shame!

      Forcing psychiatric tranquilizer drugs on these children shows that the foster system should be simply called the foster system, not the foster ‘care’ system. Forced drugging is not ‘care’, it is a human rights abuse. For shame!

      • Judith1960

        It should be called a baby business because that is what it is. Or the new welfare system which it is.

    • FutureFosterMama

      There are so many good foster parents! I know hundreds of couples that have the child’s best interest in mind at all times. This is not all foster families. While I will admit it happens do not think bad on all of us. I know families that will do everything they can to help. Unfortunatly even our hands are tied to a point. If a child comes to us with medication we can not just stop it, and often times we have no choice over what a Dr. will prescribe. In some ways I think that the best foster parents do not stay foster parents, because they love the kids so much they end up adopting leaving them with no room to keep fostering.

    • Lori Heeren

      There are a lot more than a few who are ruining the system. The Corruption and fraud is pervasive. As a foster parent I was ordered to bring the 3 children I had to psyc evals and the drugged them with 3 different drugs that did nothing but make them worse I complained and got now where. The children are now with their grandmother and we both agreed that they need to be off those meds, I have also watched helplessly as my own grandchildren in foster in Michigan have been drugged and they have continued to refuse me custody even though I am well qualified. My grandchildren should have been with me a long time ago. I am registered nurse, foster parent, grandparent and victim of child welfare corruption, fraud and abuse!

      • Saydi

        What amazes me about MI is I had a family member who was abusing her children, threw a 5yr old down a flight of stairs, choking, was having the pediatrician drug the younger one, upping his meds because she “couldn’t handle him”. He could barley speak the dose was so high, then when he would get home fr school she would send him to his room all night so she wouldn’t have to “deal with him”, sweet kid too. When reported the answer was always “we don’t have any GROUNDS to investigate. Yet people who stood their child in a corner are having their children taken away. Are you in Hillsdale County?

      • MJ Darling

        May you get your grandchildren. Until then, If you can talk to the foster parents, ask them if they will take the children off the medication, but tell no one. If they have to go in for testing, give them the drugs a day in advance, then take them off the drugs again…until we can stop Big Pharma murderers for cash.

    • Carlo

      This is quite an epidemic within foster care. Unfortunately there are always a few people that can ruin any organization or government run system such as foster care. The same goes for foster parents as well. Not all foster parents are bad as an article like this can lead you to believe. My wife and I have adopted 6 children out of foster care and love each of them as our own. The financial reimbursement was just an added bonus and helped us to expose to them to richer and fuller life experiences.

      -Foster Parent of 6

      • songbird

        That’s just great and I am sure you have the manpower and financial backing to house these kids. What the reall issue here that you are all missing the boat on is the CAFRA and UBC, the money made off of them, and how they get the “right ones” in positions where they have full control of the entire system. This includes continued care for older kids and young adults, even arresting them as run away kids and court ordering them back in the systems continue to the age of 21- and older. Then there is the start of it all, where they educate and mind control, counselors, social workers and mental health for good sheeple bachelors and masters degree workers for the system and the professors who monitor “their type of worker they want”……..follow the trail and you will see how dirty it all is, the foster parent is just one part of it all………..