WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), and Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) announced the release of a new Government Accountability Office report they requested to examine the effects of psychotropic drugs on the long-term development and health of children in the foster care system.

“Protecting vulnerable children is our moral imperative. We must ensure that mental health care services for these kids are accessible, appropriate, and effective. I am concerned about the GAO’s finding about the high rate of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs– especially for children in the foster care system, while access to therapy and counseling is still inadequate. I will continue to work to advance children’s mental health research and services, so that our kids can receive safe and appropriate care and treatment,” said Harkin, who is the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“Clearly we must do a better job ensuring that all children have access to comprehensive mental health care.  The needs of kids in Medicaid and foster care are every bit as urgent as their peers and we cannot allow them to fall through the cracks.  And I find it troubling that there is not even the necessary data to evaluate some of the important questions GAO is trying to answer.  Congress must do better and I will continue to work with my colleagues to make sure we are addressing the health concerns of all our children,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

“I commend the GAO for their responsive and insightful report on this important issue of psychotropic drug use among youth in our foster care system. It is critical that we recognize that the mental health needs of children are uniquely different from adults, and that we ensure that our most vulnerable children are not lost in the cracks of an underfunded mental health care system. All children deserve to have access to the full range of appropriate interventions to address their mental health concerns,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard.

The findings of the GAO report include:

  • Eighteen percent of foster children were taking psychotropic medications – including 48 percent of foster children who lived in group homes or residential treatment centers – as compared to 6.2 percent of non-institutionalized children in Medicaid nationwide and 4.8 percent of privately insured children.
  • Thirty percent of foster children who may have needed mental health services did not receive them in the previous 12 months – and outside of foster care most children whose emotions or behavior indicated a potential need for a mental health service did not receive any services within the same year.
  • Many children who took psychotropic medication did not receive other mental health services (such as psychosocial therapy or counseling), despite the fact that experts find that medication alone is rarely adequate treatment for children with complex mental health needs.
  • GAO recommended in 2011 that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) identify options for collecting data from state Medicaid programs about whether children in Medicaid receive the services for which they are referred. Findings in this report underscore the continued importance of CMS's monitoring of children's receipt of mental health services and the need for continued research in this area.

HHS's National Institutes of Health spent an estimated $1.2 billion on over 1,200 children's mental health research projects during fiscal years 2008 through 2011. Most of the funding--$956 million--was awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health, with more research projects studying psychosocial therapies than psychotropic medications. Other HHS agencies spent about $16 million combined on children's mental health research during this period.