LAS VEGAS -- More than two years ago, Clark County's child welfare system developed a policy to reduce the use of psychotropic drugs among foster children .
According to some estimates, kids in the system are four times more likely to be medicated than those who live with their families. The policy, however, was never implemented, until now.
During the two years that the Clark County Department of Family Services failed to implement its own policy, psychotropic drug use among kids in care went up not down, according to state figures. And it took bi-partisan legislation to force the change.
Some of the agency's most vocal critics support the new policy designed to ensure foster children get appropriate psychiatric care.
At a local community center, employees with the Clark County Department of Family Services pack a meeting room for a training session that many consider long overdue. The subject is informed consent and monitoring of psychiatric medications. In other word, they are learning how to prevent the doping of foster kids. Child psychiatrist Norton Roitman -- once a critic -- now a stakeholder outlines the agency's new policy on psychotropic drugs.
The drugs are powerful mood altering medications prescribed to children in public custody at rates up to four times higher than those who live with their families.
"If you give the kid what they need, you do an accurate needs assessment, sometimes what were considered symptoms are just feelings. What were considered symptoms are just behaviors and then you can use parenting and community resources to help them," child psychiatrist Norton Roitman said.
The policy, drafted in response to state legislation, requires consent whether it is a biological parent, a caseworker or some other court designee, to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of psychotropic medications before approving their use.
Previously, the agency acknowledges it rarely questioned a doctor's advice.
"It's not so complicated. They don't need to know psychopharmacology. They just have to be armed with the information that the doctor needs to make a decent decision, like a diagnosis and to know whether the medication route fits in with the rest of the plan," Roitman said.
In addition to informed consent, the University of Nevada School of Medicine and Mojave Mental Health will review the existing treatment plans of all kids in county custody and screen new prescriptions when they involve off-label use, multiple drugs or children under the age of four.
"It's a critical step," said Lisa Ruiz-Lee, the interim director with the Clark County Department of Family Services. "I think that we were able to take legislation that really asked us to implement a monitoring process and an informed consent process and to turn it into something that would ultimately tells us more about the needs of our children."
Full implementation is scheduled for the end of this year with more training sessions.
State Senator Barbara Cegaske and State Assemblywoman April Mastroluca were instrumental in passing the legislation that lead to the new policy. And Clark County commissioners Tuesday approved about $300,000 funding for the first nine months.