National data shows that on average, children in foster care have more medical, behavioral and emotional disorders than children in the general population. Medically fragile conditions enhance the complexity of care for children and youth in foster care.
As we honor National Foster Care Month, UnitedHealthcare Community & State recognizes the value and importance of holistically serving children in foster care and enabling them with the tools they and their caregivers need to be resilient and thrive throughout their lifespan.
As the understanding of children in foster care has evolved, so has the mandate to provide care in a comprehensive approach, and considerate of past trauma approach. We support culturally competent, trauma-informed care. This reduces the impact of difficult or frightening medical and procedural events and helps children cope with emotional reactions to illness and injury.
We have also developed an iterative and integrated approach that aims to provide children and youth with the appropriate level of intervention at the right time. Our care coordination and case management services are multi-faceted so that we are communicating and meeting regularly with a wide range of individuals including the child’s caregiver, designated state guardian and community support system. This means we have a holistic understanding of the child’s physical, social, developmental and mental health needs, past trauma and how it is being managed.
One other important empowerment focus is helping children and youth learn the skills necessary to transition into adulthood. The skills that a person needs to thrive as an adult are both challenged and strengthened for children who experience out-of-home placement and foster care. The skills fundamental to resilience: positive self-regard, perseverance through setbacks and restoring wholeness after trauma are necessary to future success. Enabling and supporting children to develop these strengths helps them as they grow into adulthood.
Considering the medical and behavioral needs of children in foster care
About half of children in foster care have a chronic physical problems such as asthma, anemia, hearing or visual loss and neurologic disorders. About 10 percent are medically fragile or complex. Many also may have a history of prenatal substance exposure and/or premature birth.1
Children in foster care are more likely to require repeated medical visits and may be at higher risk for medical trauma for that reason alone.
In addition, children may have behavior or emotional disorders, as well as neurodevelopmental conditions such as learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD and ADHD), speech-language impairment, intellectual disability, hearing impairment, vision impairment and autism. Developmental and behavioral health issues such as these can make it more difficult for children to understand and cope with medical treatment.2
Children in foster care will benefit from a framework of care that considers the child holistically and includes the following:3
- Developmental health
- Educational health
- Mental and behavioral health
- Oral health
- Physical health
Caring for children in foster care
Providers who care for children in foster care know how complex and medically fragile these youth may be but evolving trauma-informed care signals a commitment to understanding how a child with a traumatic background perceives care and how to support them appropriately.
For example, certain medical procedures may make children in foster care feel powerless, helpless or may remind them of past abuse. Knowing this, providers can help kids better understand and prepare for procedures. Explaining what will happen and creating a shared plan of approach so they feel more in control can reduce significant distress for the child.
Learning how children in foster care perceive things is a chance to help them by providing empathetic care that meets their needs. Doing so can empower them on the road to a healthier future.