Gov. Brown Signs Sen. Beall's Bill to Stop Over-medication of Foster Care Youth

September 29, 2016

SACRAMENTO –Legislation by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, calling for expanded oversight of crucial mental health services for foster care children was signed into law today by Gov. Brown.

The ratification of Senate Bill 1291 represents another significant step toward reforming the foster care system. Since 2015, Beall and several senators have passed a series of bills to stop the over-prescription of powerful psychotropic drugs to control foster youth with behavioral problems. These medications can trigger dangerous side effects such as diabetes, obesity, lethargy, depression, and tremors.

“We cannot allow our foster care system to strictly rely on dosing foster children with mind-altering medications to manage their behavior,’’ Beall said. “We must ensure that less invasive and safer available treatments are the first options for our children rather than a pill. The system must provide foster youth with the services that address their trauma instead of depending on drugs to mask their trauma.’’

Beall’s legislation responds to state audit findings that revealed the foster care system has failed to adequately oversee the use of psychotropic drugs to children.  Among the many factors contributing to this failure was an inherent institutional flaw – the state’s fragmented oversight structure of the child welfare system that contributed to weaknesses in the monitoring of the medications.

Under SB 1291, data already collected by a variety of existing sources – such as child welfare services and Medi-Cal billing – would be disaggregated for information related to foster youth and be incorporated into an existing review process. The distilled information would make it easier and faster for the Department of Health Care Services to analyze foster care outcomes to find deficiencies.

SB 1291 follows up on legislation passed by Beall last year -- Senate Bills 319 and 484, which both sought to reduce the high use of potent drugs on foster youth.

SB 319 allowed counties with public health nurses to have the authority to monitor the use of psychotropic drugs given to foster care children. It also permitted public health nurses to obtain a foster youth’s medication records from a medical provider or social worker, giving an additional layer of oversight.

SB Bill 484 increased reporting requirements to detect group homes that rely on psychotropic drugs as the main or only method of treatment. The bill calls for Department of Social Services, the Department of Health Care, and stakeholders to establish a methodology to identify group homes that have disproportionately high levels of psychotropic drug medication.

The use of drugs as a method to control children was found to be highly prevalent, according to the state audit. Almost 12 percent of the nearly 80,000 children in the system were prescribed psychotropic drugs in 2014-15. The audit also found some of the children received dosages that exceeded state guidelines. The drugs were given sometimes without court or parental approval as required by law.