State of Florida
Department of Children and Families
George H. Sheldon
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2009
Media Contact: Judi Spann
Department of Children and Families Secretary Convenes Workgroup to Evaluate
Circumstances Surrounding Death of 7-year-old in Foster Care
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary
George H. Sheldon today announced that the Department is establishing a workgroup
to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the tragic death of 7-year-old
Gabriel Myers. Gabriel died on April 16 when police indicated he apparently hanged
himself in the shower of his foster parents' Margate home.
Following Gabriel's death, the Department of Children and Families petitioned the
court to release case files and notes relating to the child while in state care.
Normally, case files are only made public following a death that is verified as
a result of abuse or neglect, per Florida Statutes. However, DCF believed it was
in the public interest to open the records to public scrutiny. A judge agreed and
the petition was granted on April 22, 2009.
"It is difficult for any of us to comprehend how a child so young could have
deliberately and consciously made the decision to end his life," said Secretary
Sheldon. "But in order to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening
again, it is critical we review all available information to determine the factors
that led to Gabriel's death."
"The workgroup will conduct a full inquiry into the facts of the case, in light
of case management and judicial decisions, as well as determine the contributing
effects that psychotropic drugs and sexual abuse had," Sheldon continued.
The workgroup will be led by former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department
of Law Enforcement Jim Sewell. Other members include DCF Assistant Secretary for
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Bill Janes; Pharmacy Director for the Agency for
Health Care Administration Ann Wells; attorney and child advocate from Florida's
Children First Robin Rosenberg; and Rajiv Tandon, MD, psychiatrist with the University
of Florida. The Secretary has asked that the workgroup consult with professionals
from many different areas during this process, including those in law enforcement,
the courts, the school system, child welfare officials, the Department of Health,
the Agency for Health Care Administration and health care practitioners.
"When a child comes into state care, we become the parent of that child and
must actively participate in all decisions regarding that child. To do otherwise
would be shirking the responsibility of this Department," said Sheldon.
The workgroup will be asked to prepare a report based on their findings. The report
will be submitted to the Secretary and to the Department's Task Force for Fostering
Success, chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. The Secretary will
ask the Task Force to provide recommendations based on the workgroup's report.
Last week Secretary Sheldon directed DCF staff to do a thorough review of every
foster child's file to determine how many children in foster care have been prescribed
psychotropic drugs and to what extent. A 2005 study found that 6% of children under
the age of 18 in Florida were prescribed at least one psychotropic drug. That figure
was nearly four times higher for foster children. "Much progress has been made
since that 2005 study, but we need to continually review protocols to ensure children
are not unnecessarily medicated or inadequately monitored if medicated," said
"We need to develop a refined protocol for the use of these types of drugs
in our children," said Secretary Sheldon. "I want to ensure that prescription
drugs of this nature are used appropriately, always under medical and judicial supervision
and with consultation with DCF staff."
"By reviewing the facts of this case carefully, we can work to continue to
improve the child welfare system in Florida. While much progress has been made,
Gabriel's death starkly reminds us that when it comes to a child's life, we cannot
relax. Every decision we make profoundly affects the life of that child," said