Children of Incarcerated Parents and Psychotropic Medications

Drugging foster children with mind-altering drugs called psychotropics, is a common practice.  It has gotten so outrageous in the last 10 years that it has garnered national media coverage and the U.S. government’s attention.  Because of this, the government has held congressional hearings, hosted conferences and convenings, and enacted legislation to remedy the issue.  Grassroots advocates, activists, parents, and foster parents saw this widespread increase in the use of psychotropic medication on foster children and pushed for the government to deal with this issue. Working on the ground, with people, directly, is powerful!  It keeps you connected to the people that matter and focused on conquering and eliminating injustices that permeate the lives of marginalized populations.  I bring this issue to your attention because it highlights and underscores the vulnerability that children of incarcerated parents face – trauma and possible, over-medication of psychotropic drugs.

At least 1 out every 3 children in the U.S. has at least one incarcerated parent, impacting 1.7 million children. Grassroots activists as early as the late 90’s raised their voices to amplify the impact that parental incarceration has on children.  Hence, prison nurseries and child-friendly visiting rooms were practical solutions to a devastating problem for children – separation from their parent due to incarceration and placement into the foster care system (When the father is incarcerated, 2% of children are sent to a foster home or agency. When the mother is incarcerated, 11% of children are sent to foster homes or agencies). For those who did not have their child placed into the foster care system, the impact on your child is real, as well, and I want to be sure to mention that.  However, the focus of this blog post is the increased vulnerability that foster children have when they present with behavioral issues, which may partially stem from separation from their parent due to incarceration.

I know that I am making a lot of assumptions that are not supported by statistical data, but I raise the issue because there is no quantitative data concerning the psychotropic issue and the impact on children of incarcerated parents, but there is qualitative data.  Supporting qualitative data with quantitative data is important to understand the impact and seriousness of the issue on our children.  We have the power, through collective advocacy, to make things happen; to change things to make lives better for children of incarcerated parents.  They deserve, as children, to be free from ingesting life-debilitating drugs that hinder their ability to survive and develop.  It is their human right to do so, and our voices, advocacy and efforts can make a real difference in the lives of children.  So below are practical tips I am proposing:

  • If your child is in foster care, find out if s/he is diagnosed with any mental health issues.  And if so, what are the diagnoses and what, if any, therapeutic or treatment services is s/he receiving, and if s/he is prescribed or taking any psychotropic medications. (If you are unable to get this information from the caregiver, you can request this information from the child’s social worker or attorney.  Be sure to get the names and contact information for your child’s social worker and attorney.).
  • If your child is not in foster care, ask the same questions of your child’s caregiver.
  • If your child is diagnosed with a mental health issue, find out more about the diagnosis by asking professionals involved in your child’s case, research the diagnosis, and raise your concerns with the social worker, your attorney, the child’s attorney, and the court.
  • Remember, your incarceration does not exclude you from having a voice in matters relating to your child.  Please push your attorneys in their advocacy to ensure your voice is heard in all matters relating to your child.
  • Consider raising trauma-informed therapies as an alternative to psychotropic medications for your child, as this is a more humane approach to addressing the root of your child’s suffering and a more sustainable long-term treatment plan.
Stephanie Franklin, Esq.

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