Alarming Rate of Foster Children Given Psychiatric Medication

According to an article in The New York Times, in 2003 researchers analyzed the Medicaid records of 637,924 minors who were either in foster care, receiving disability benefits for a diagnosis of severe autism or bipolar disorder, and some were also in a social services program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The researchers found that 16,969, or about 3 percent of the total, had received at least one prescription for an antipsychotic drug.

The foster children were the ones who most often got more than one such prescription at the same time – 9.2%, versus 6.8% for children on disability and 2.5% for children in the TANF program.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals a concerning new trend for children in foster care and the regular prescription of antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal and Seroquel. These powerful drugs are commonly used in adults to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to a 2009 Times article, the side effects of a medication like Risperdal can be profound and include rapid weight gain, which can lead to other health problems like hypertension and diabetes, also very common in adults taking these same drugs.

There has been an approximate 4,000 percent increase in children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the use of antipsychotics since 1998, and many were being prescribed drugs, that in some cases had only been tested on adults.

Susan dosReis, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the lead author of the report, said “The kids in foster care may come from bad homes, but they do not have the sort of complex medical issues that those in the disabled population do.”

The implication, Dr. dosReis and other experts said: Doctors are treating foster children’s behavioral problems with the same powerful drugs given to people with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. “We simply don’t have evidence to support this kind of use, especially in young children,” Dr. dosReis said.


The Law Office of Lauren K Johnson represents parents in juvenile dependency cases including parents whose children are in foster care. Contact our office today for help with your case.