Pharmacological Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Mental Health Disorders
Pharmacological treatments for mental health disorders have been heavily researched and can be an important aspect of treatment. However, there are several concerns when it comes to using these medications with children and adolescents. First, many medications have not been studied in children and it is not clear how the medications may affect their growth and development. Second, many drugs have not been approved for use in children by the FDA, but can still be prescribed for “off label” use. Finally, concerns have been raised regarding the number of children and adolescents in the child welfare system who are taking psychotropic drugs, as well as the use of multiple drugs simultaneously. In situations where a decision is made to prescribe psychotropic medications to a child or youth in foster care, then child welfare agencies should be aware of policy and practice guidelines to ensure the child or youth is receiving necessary support.
The following resources provide child welfare agencies with important guidelines and recommendations on the use of psychotropic medications in foster care in order to promote safety and efficacy:
- Recommendations about the Use of Psychotropic Medications for Children and Adolescents Involved in Child-Serving Systems – American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP, 2015)
- California Guidelines for the Use of Psychotropic Medication with Children and Youth in Foster Care – California Department of Social Services (CDSS) and Department of Health Care Services (DHCS): Foster Care Quality Improvement Project
- Supporting Youth in Foster Care in Making Healthy Choices: A Guide for Caregivers and Caseworkers on Trauma, Treatment, and Psychotropic Medications – Children’s Bureau et al. (2015)
- Making Healthy Choices: A Guide on Psychotropic Medications for Youth in Foster Care - Children’s Bureau (2015)
The following publications provide an overview of pharmacological treatments for children and adolescents with mental health disorders:
- Mental Health Medications - National Institute of Mental Health. This document provides an overview of medications, including indications for usage, as well as note about special needs for children/adolescents when taking psych meds.
- Treatment of Children with Mental Illness: Frequently asked questions about the treatment of mental illness in children - National Institute of Mental Health. This document provides a general overview of treatments for children, including psychotropic medications.
- NAMI Policy Research Institute Task Force Report: Children and Psychotropic Medications - National Alliance on Mental Illness. This document provides an overview of psychiatric medications for children, along with a summary of the positive/negative aspects of medications and brief recommendations.
- Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents: Part 1- How Medications Are Used - American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. This 2-page fact sheet describes the types of diagnoses and symptoms that may be helped with medication as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
- Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents: Part II – Types of Medications - American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. This 3-page fact sheet describes the types of medications prescribed to child and adolescents with particular diagnoses and symptoms.
Links last updated on 12/16/2019.