Don’t let Gabriel Myers’ story be repeated
May 29, 2010|By Brian J. Cabrey
Well, it’s been more than a year since the suicide death of 7-year-old Gabriel Myers, and what have we learned? What do we know now to prevent this sort of tragedy from ever happening again? Lest we forget, on April 16, 2009, little Gabriel hung himself with a shower hose in the bathroom of his foster home in Margate, Florida.
Gabriel had been the victim of sexual abuse and neglect, which resulted in him being placed in Florida’s foster care system. While in foster care, he was regularly “medicated” with multiple psychotropic drugs to deal with his escalating behavioral problems, which were in and of themselves predictable if anyone was paying attention.
In August 2009, the Gabriel Myers Work Group, appointed by DCF Secretary George Sheldon, issued its first report, confirming what most children’s advocates had known and decried for years, that the state routinely used mind altering psychotropic drugs, most not tested or approved by the FDA for pediatric use, to control and manage unruly foster kids rather than treat their underlying problems. While it was good for some light to finally be shed on that abhorrent practice, it only exposed half of the problem.
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That is until last Friday, when the Gabriel Myers Work Group issued its second report, confirming another longtime complaint of children’s advocates. The task force found that the state failed to provide adequate treatment to little Gabriel for the sexual abuse he had suffered and failed to prevent him from acting out sexually against other children, something it is common for child victims of sexual abuse to do.
Sadly, little Gabriel was not alone as all too often the child welfare/foster care system fails to provide child victims of physical and sexual abuse with adequate treatment, if any at all. If they did, not only might the victim children recover as fully as possible to become productive members of society, and other children be spared the same victimization, but in Gabriel’s case, he very likely would still be alive.
The question for us now is what is the state of Florida going to do about it? Now that the task force has confirmed what many of us have long complained about and we know what went wrong, what will DCF do to change its practices so that we don’t have catastrophic failures like this in the future?
Kudos to Secretary Sheldon for appointing the Work Group, and kudos to the Work Group for exposing the real problems that led little Gabriel to take his own life at just 7 years old. Darts to lawmakers for not following and implementing the Work Group’s recommendations, and for not passing the proposed Florida Children’s Legal Representation Act endorsed by the Florida Bar.
Sadly, the Florida Legislature has not yet learned the lessons from Gabriel’s death, which means this tragedy will surely repeat itself. Unacceptable! Florida’s foster children deserve better, and as Floridians we should be demanding better of our elected and public officials. One child lost is one too many.
Brian J. Cabrey is vice president of Florida’s Children First, a statewide child advocacy group.