A Los Angeles federal judge ruled Monday that the government must obtain either parental consent or a court order to administer psychotropic drugs to migrant children, except in the case of emergency.
NBC News reports that U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee also ordered all children to be removed from the facility in question, except those deemed to be the most at risk by a licensed professional.
Officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) had previously be giving pills and injections to migrant children regularly at the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Texas, where migrant children separated from their parents at the border were being held. To do so without parental consent is a violation of state child welfare laws, The Washington Post reports.
“There can be no question that psychotropic drugs can seriously and permanently injure children, yet ORR routinely administers such drugs to youth in utter disregard of state laws designed to support children’s mental health,” read the court filings. “Even when a child may truly benefit from psychotropics, both the law and common decency demand that parents decide whether their child should be medicated.”
Government officials argued they only administered drugs on an emergency basis, but Gee noted that children’s testimony stated they were forced to take several pills every morning and night, an impossible regularity for emergencies.
Children said they were not told why they were given drugs, nor what the pills were. They reported side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and depression. Some children said they were told they were being given multivitamins, The Guardian reports, and injections were given by force.
“Sometimes they give me forced injections,” said one child in the court filings. “One or two staff hold my arms, and the nurse gives me an injection.”
The anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs were just part of the Shiloh facility’s violation of the 1997 Flores agreement, which requires government officials to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate for their age and needs. In the case brought by the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, the Post wrote, plaintiffs showed Shiloh violated this law due to its 24-hour surveillance at the locked facility, as well as other practices the judge deemed “not necessary for the protection of minors or others.”