Everybody wants a quick fix. The Monroe County, NY, Department of Social Services medicated a 2 year old foster child over the birth mother's objections for the child's temper tantrums until Family Court Judge Marilyn O'Conner put a stop to it and told DSS that they had no right to medicate without parental consent. This story appeared in the September 11, 2006 issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. I worked most of my career in mental health in Rochester agencies.
After being taken away from her neglectful mother last year, a 2-year-old Rochester girl described as "adorable" allegedly began a descent into temper tantrums and emotional meltdowns.
In five months, the girl lived in four foster homes, including two in which she was allegedly physically abused.
Responding to a claim by the girl's final foster mother that the girl was unmanageable, Monroe County child caseworkers attempted to modify the girl's behavior by ordering — over her birth mother's objection — that she be given a psychotropic medication shown to sometimes cause permanent brain damage.
But in a stinging rebuke of that order, Family Court Judge Marilyn L. O'Connor has ruled that the county Department of Human Services:
Violated the mother's parental rights under New York's constitution. Ordered the medication without confirming the foster mother's claim about the child's behavior or considering alternative therapy. Treated the child, known in court records as "Desiree L.," without considering potential side effects even though the girl was close to being reunited with her mother. Had no written protocol to overcome a parent's objection to medication and cited nonexistent federal law allowing the medication to be given without parental consent.
"The decision to medicate this child was based on hearsay, limited information and without any complete evaluation of an existing mental health issue by a psychiatrist or psychologist," O'Connor wrote in a decision filed last month.
"Every child is too precious to be treated in such an offhand, impersonal manner, with so little weight given to possible negative consequences, and without any impartial oversight by persons not involved in the decision to medicate," she wrote.
O'Connor's ruling, which evaluates the procedure the Department of Human Services follows when a parent refuses permission for a child in foster care to be given a psychotropic medication, is believed to be the first of its kind in New York.