Dr. Phil’s plea to Congress

Greg Nash

The popular television host and author Phil McGraw on Thursday pleaded with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to fix what he said is a “broken” foster care system.

Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, McGraw said children in foster care are being overprescribed psychotropic drugs when the government should be paying for treatment from psychotherapists.

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“The system is broken and it is flawed,” McGraw said. “We want to change this model, we want to help these kids. They’ve been through enough.”

McGraw was on Capitol Hill to promote a new partnership with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to help states and tribal governments improve care for foster children, but also pressed lawmakers to provide for more federal funding for foster care.

He said lawmakers could either pay for better care now or pay up later when former foster care children suffer from drug addiction and struggle to become productive members of society.

McGraw said caseworkers in the foster care system are overworked and end up asking for troubled children to be put on psychotropic drugs until they can figure out how to deal with their behavioral problems. He said healthcare providers who prescribe the medications often don’t know how they work or what the long-term health effects are.

Still, McGraw said more funding won’t turn things around unless major changes are made to the system.

“The worst thing we can do is throw money at the thing we have now,” said McGraw. “I think that would be disastrous, it would be like throwing gas on a fire.”

McGraw said foster children typically have more emotional problems but need caring adults and professionals who know how to treat them without immediately turning to drugs.

“They can’t do that without someone unraveling this emotional ball of yarn for them,” he said. “That’s where the money should be spent. ... It takes manpower.”

McGraw said he agreed with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) that part of the problem has been the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family as foster children lack adult figures in their life to help them emotionally.