Psychotropic Medication Use in a National Probability Sample of Children in the Child Welfare System

Published in: Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, v. 15, no. 1, Mar. 1, 2005, p. 97-106

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2004

by Ramesh Raghavan, Bonnie T. Zima, Ronald Andersen, Arleen Leibowitz, Mark A. Schuster, John Landsverk

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OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to estimate the point prevalence of psychotropic medication use, and to describe relationships between child-level characteristics, provider type, and medication use among children in the child welfare system. METHODS: The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being is the first nationally representative study of children coming into contact with the child welfare system. The authors used data from its baseline and 12-month follow-up waves, and conducted weighted bivariate analyses on a sample of 3114 children and adolescents, 87% of whom were residing in-home. RESULTS: Overall, 13.5% of children in child welfare were taking psychotropic medications in 2001 2002. Older age, male gender, Caucasian race/ethnicity, history of physical abuse, public insurance, and borderline scores on the internalizing and externalizing subscales of the Child Behavior Checklist were associated with higher proportions of medication use. African-American and Latino ethnicities, and a history of neglect, were associated with lower proportions of medication use. CONCLUSIONS: These national estimates suggest that children in child welfare settings are receiving psychotropic medications at a rate between 2 and 3 times that of children treated in the community. This suggests a need to further understand the prescribing of psychotropic medications for child welfare children.

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