Posted on October 27, 2004

Groups Criticize Remark About ‘Bad Gene Pools’

Polly Ross Hughes, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 26

AUSTIN — Black leaders from Harris County on Tuesday joined with a group founded by the Church of Scientology to denounce a psychiatrist’s comment that many foster children come from “bad gene pools.”

They also criticized, at a state Capitol news conference, Child Protective Services’ widespread practice of treating foster care children with mood-altering psychiatric medications.

“Many of these children are on multiple medications. We heard caseworkers testify to the fact that some children were on as many as 17. That is outrageous, and then we have gene pool comments to try to justify that,” said Jerry Boswell, president of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Texas, a group founded by the Church of Scientology.

Boswell, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, members of Houston’s black community and a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union said they were especially disturbed by the implications of Fort Worth psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Burkett’s testimony to a legislative committee earlier this month.

“We have mental illness. I should stretch and give you a little more medical perspective on the mental illness. A lot of these kids come from bad gene pools,” said Burkett, medical director of Tarrant County MHMR, representing the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians. “They don’t have stable parents making good decisions, or else most of them would not be in foster care.”

Burkett, who had been testifying to the House Select Committee on Child Welfare and Foster Care, said Tuesday he regrets offending anyone and that he never intended to.

“I hate for this to be happening. There was nothing racial in my intent,” he said. “I believe there was nothing racial in my comment either. All races have genes, and that’s what I’m really talking about.”

He said some people have a genetic predisposition to mental illnesses, similar to the way some have a genetic predisposition to heart disease.

“We’ve known for a long time that mental illness runs in families,” Burkett said. “There’s a lot of misconception that something is wrong when children are prescribed psychiatric medication. Psychiatric medications are safer than they used to be and have fewer risks.”

“The NAACP is quite disturbed by Burkett’s comments,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP of Texas, adding that the comment “invites racism, invites ethnic bias, invites classism.”

Greg Baines, a faith-based counselor in Houston, said he, too, believes black children are unfairly targeted by CPS.

“We’re appalled by it. Everywhere we go, we’re going to make a lot of noise concerning this issue.”

Steve Bresnen, lobbyist for the state psychiatric association, said Boswell’s group has a radical agenda and has proposed banning all psychiatric drugs to all foster care children and those on Medicaid insurance for the poor.

Such a policy would deny medically appropriate treatment for thousands of Texas children, he said.

“The bottom line is they’re a wholly owned subsidiary of the Church of Scientology. Theirs is an extremist position,” he said. “They are ideologically opposed to all psychiatry.”