Five Years After Foster Care Child’s Suicide, Findings Could Resurface

February 9, 2014

The suicide of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers in foster care shocked the child-welfare system in 2009. It led to a series of recommendations about Florida’s use of psychotropic medications on foster kids and how to protect already-traumatized children from sexual abuse by other abused children.

But nearly five years after Gabriel hung himself in the shower of his foster home in Margate, the findings that followed his death are mostly unfulfilled.

Children’s advocates haven’t given up, though, and will try to move several measures forward during the 2014 legislative session.

In 2008, when he was 6 years old, Gabriel was found in a car with his mother, who was passed out with drugs at her side, authorities said. He was placed in foster care. Documentation in his case files showed that, while living in Ohio before moving to Florida, he had been sexually abused by an older child and shown pornography by an adult relative. Gabriel exhibited sexual behavior problems at school and had lost one foster placement due to his troubling behavior.

“One of the major things we learned was that the reason he was so disturbed was that he had been sexually abused himself,” said attorney Howard Talenfeld, president of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First. “As a victim of sexual abuse, he was acting out. This was a significant part of his problem that went unaddressed.”

Gabriel was also taking two psychotropic medications when he died, and a Department of Children and Families investigation found that neither his parents nor a judge had approved them, nor was the medication he took reflected in his case files.

Then-DCF Secretary George Sheldon appointed two work groups in 2009 and 2010 to study and make recommendations about the use of psychotropic medications on foster children and about child-on-child sexual abuse.

One of the groups learned that in 2009, about 5 percent of all U.S. children were treated with psychotropic medications, but in Florida’s foster care system, 15.2 percent of children received at least one such medication. Of these, more than 16 percent were being medicated without the consent of a parent, guardian or judge.

Five years out, the verdict is that more progress has been made on the psychotropic medication issue than on the issue of child-on-child sexual abuse.

“I think we’re a lot better. I think we’re a lot better than most states,” said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of Florida’s Children First, who served on the workgroup on psychotropic medications. “But I think more can be done on alternatives (to medication) and on really making sure that parents give informed consent and that courts have a true understanding of what it means.”

Talenfeld charges that while extensive recommendations were offered to address both psychotropic medications and child-on-child sex abuse, they were dropped in January 2011, when Gov. Rick Scott took office and tapped David Wilkins as the new secretary.

“This report was abandoned, and nothing was done to implement any of the recommendations,” Talenfeld said. “And they were very, very significant.”

In July, when Esther Jacobo became DCF’s interim secretary, Florida’s Children First contacted her and, Talenfeld said, began drafting legislation addressing key recommendations, such as mandatory reporting to the abuse hotline of the sexual abuse of children in state care and a tracking, placement and quality assurance system.

The group is also pushing to eliminate the age distinction for children who act out sexually in the foster care system. Currently, those 13 and over are reported to the sheriff’s office as sex offenders. Talenfeld —- who also hopes lawmakers will pass a claims bill for a client of his who was sexually abused by a foster child — says all child victims should be treated for the abuse they’ve endured, even if the symptoms involve acting out.

Another key recommendation was that the Legislature should provide funding to ensure that each child in the care of the state is assigned a guardian ad litem — an advocate for abused and neglected children in the court system.

“Nothing will get better unless the Legislature fully funds guardians ad litem for every trial,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman. “We are still far behind in that most important recommendation.”

By the terms of both state and federal law, the program should be fully funded, said Alan Abramowitz, executive director of Florida Guardian ad Litem. Currently, there are 29,285 children under court supervision statewide, of whom 76 percent have a guardian ad litem.

This year, Scott recommended an increase that would extend coverage to all children in out-of-home care and 77 percent of those under court supervision. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, in a work plan for the session, said they hoped to fully fund the program over the next several years.

Abramowitz said the guardian ad litem program will need about $6.1 million in Fiscal Year 2014-15 and additional funds in the following three years to achieve 100 percent representation of all dependent children.

He also said the program “has made psychotropic medication a priority. Our standards require our program to prioritize children on psychotropic medication.”

As to how DCF is handling the psychotropic medication issue five years after Gabriel’s death, Rosenberg said “the state put a pretty good system in place, as far as creating a rule to be followed and attempting to ascertain whether at least a legal authority is there.”

But as a foster parent, she said, she’s also seen the other end of the process.

“I think we still kind of default to ‘If a doctor prescribed it, then it must be what the kid needs’ — and not enough questions about what information was provided, what did the doctor look at and what else has been tried? …I’m not convinced that everyone on the front line has an in-depth understanding to the extent that they need in order to get good decisions made for each child,” Rosenberg said.

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida


9 Responses to “Five Years After Foster Care Child’s Suicide, Findings Could Resurface”

  1. Molassis on February 11th, 2014 1:54 am

    Unbelievable, you are just a tad ‘out there’ aren’t you? Do you even know what you are ranting about?

  2. Anastasia on February 10th, 2014 9:07 am

    This article really disturbes me. I just cannot get past the fact that he was only 7.

  3. Amanda on February 10th, 2014 8:07 am

    If the judge & parents neither one approved the meds he was taking, where did they come from?

  4. Jane on February 10th, 2014 5:40 am

    Even though I am not fully aware of this entire situation, I have to agree with David. Why has it taken 5 years for them to start talking about this? This system is like the animal control system…full of abuse and no solutions. While I am sure there are some good foster parents out there I know there are others that are not. And I know the system is not a good one.

  5. Shelia on February 10th, 2014 4:00 am

    I have a difficult time believing that a child of this age, would/ could Hang Himself. I would bet that there is by far more to this case than we are being told. The entire system for Children is a FAILURE. Social Workers are overworked, and they system in many cases, places the child right back into the dangers they removed the child from.

  6. Unbelievable on February 9th, 2014 5:28 pm

    People ought to do some serious internet reading and research before you attach this “ball and chain, blood sucking leach” FOR PROFIT organization through all of their interlooped referal programs,to any probaly already under-privledged strugling young American family that you suposedly care about. You only thought-think that our health care system needs reformation. Countless state social workers and many other unintellectual presiding officers of the court are already serving prision and jail sentencing for failure of Fiduciary Duties, Extrinsic Fruadulent Acts, Missuse of Special Skills and “ABUSES OF TRUST”. FAILURE FAILURE FAILURE resulting to DRUGING innocent vulnerable children. Completely understandable that in this deteriorating moral and ethical society that there are undeniable families that need help or some type of intervention. In MORE cases than not DCF and its affiliates have become easily accessible TOOLS for a cowerdly protected “Anonymous” 1-800# calling torturous,malice, recidivus. Personally know of a situation where a young family with 5 beautiful kids filed suit against local FDCF in Federal Court and leave to proceed was granted, meaning that a Federal lawsuit was ongoing. Durring that time a “tip” to the 1-800# child abuse hotline, remember callers idenity is protected, reported that this young, beautiful family, strugling in some aspects of life, is “SELLING THIER CHILDREN FOR DRUGS”. WOW… What happens subsiquently is this family stands trial in this local backward backwoods good ole boy local level court setting. PERSECUTAED by broken “oaths” without any real relavent factual findings and only fake sham testimony of “WANTON TORT” from foe adversaries. GOD forbid that this be that this be the final chapter in this young familys’ existance. Whatever hurdles laid front of them, now is a prolific myraid of complexities.

  7. melodies4us on February 9th, 2014 1:18 pm

    I don’t believe that this boy killed himself. I’ve been a mom for 31 years and was the “kool ade” mom of the neighborhood. I just don’t think that a 7 year old is capable of hanging themselves.

  8. angela on February 9th, 2014 8:04 am

    I AGREE WITH DAVID 110%…its sad that this baby killed himself…SO SAD!!!

  9. David on February 9th, 2014 1:57 am

    I have a problem with a system that 5 years later is no better off- with the comment like ““I think we’re a lot better. I think we’re a lot better than most states,” said Robin Rosenberg, deputy director of Florida’s Children”
    That statement in itself also says we are worse off than many states in itself by that comment.
    You dont grade yourself against the “other states” as a witch hunt conclusion that you are heading in the right direction.
    Its like saying, ” at least my truck dont run like a Ford as an example– ” and not really address “how good are we supposed to run?”

    You grade by results- not by each state.
    I am offended by the comments-”Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, in a work plan for the session, said they hoped to fully fund the program over the next several years.”

    Ok, 5 years have passed and you are doing a ” work plan”
    Did you just wake up 5 years later and decide election year is coming so I need to toot my horn like I have not the past 5 years.

    I see a long past 5 years and no one has done anything but ” make recommendations, give personal input and commit a ton of money for the past 5 years coming into paychecks simply say ” we did studies–but we did nothing–we found we need money- and you dont want to give it up– you gave back yard percentages and ratios and you still have not done a ^%$%$ thing but talk talk talk.

    Therein lies the problem.
    5 years ago our state started running its mouth and flapping its gums—and 5 years today you are still ” talking”

    Now do you know after this what the real problem is concerning ” recommendations, and being in a coma for the past 5 years…and not doing

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