Nearly half a million children are in foster care in the United States. Studies have shown that their medical and mental health needs are frequently overlooked. Many foster children also have diagnosed disabilities. This can range from minor developmental delays to significant psychological and physical challenges.
As state wards, foster care children depend on government-funded health services. Almost all foster children are eligible for Medicaid. They may also be able to receive other government benefits. These benefits exist to help aid the well-being of the child. If the child has special needs, they may also be used to fund the special health care needs of the child.
This article provides a brief overview of foster children with medical needs.
Foster Children With Disabilities
Foster children with medical issues or disabilities face unique challenges. Often, these children have been removed from their biological families due to neglect or child abuse. They may have complex medical needs that require ongoing care. Family is unable or unwilling to provide the necessary support. This may leave these children at risk for further health complications.
A 2020 study found that nearly half of children in foster care have special healthcare needs. These children may deteriorate further if their foster parents can't meet their needs.
Foster children with a disability are often less successful in obtaining a permanent placement. They may have several different foster families or foster homes before finding permanency. They're also frequent victims of child abuse or maltreatment.
Disabilities common among foster children include:
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Cerebral palsy
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions
- Intellectual disabilities
- Learning disabilities
- Sickle cell disease
These children need specialized care. They may also need collaborative care and special education. Some conditions may need home care, depending on the child's impairments.
Independent living can pose its own challenges. This is especially challenging for foster children with medical issues or disabilities. They may need more resources and support to transition to adulthood successfully.
Social workers and caseworkers play a role in ensuring these children receive the necessary care and services. This might include medical consultations and family-centered support.
Funding for Health Care
Access to health care is a critical concern for children in foster care. There is a high number of children with medical needs or disabilities in the system. Funding for health care in foster care varies by state.
Most of the money to pay for the medical needs of children in foster care comes from Medicaid. Kids who aren't eligible for Medicaid are usually covered by the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). A complex safety net of government programs ensures that kids in foster care have health insurance coverage to meet the child's needs.
This funding covers medical care costs like pediatrics. It also covers dental, hearing, vision services, and other health condition treatment costs. Some medical conditions are more commonly covered than others.
Foster Care and Trauma
Children are often placed in foster care because they have been neglected, abandoned, or abused. Maltreatment of children hampers their ability to form healthy attachments with caregivers. It can delay emotional development.
Many foster children have experienced parental substance abuse, homelessness, or domestic violence. They often experience further trauma due to family separation. The stress and constant disruption of their home lives cause more trauma.
Trauma affects a child's capacity to problem-solve. It also increases their vulnerability to stress and makes them resistant to change. Foster parents and caregivers should educate themselves about emotional and mental struggles. Some experts tell foster parents to respect a foster child's distrust. They suggest building a relationship through predictability.
Some programs offer mental health services or mental health care for foster children. Some offer education services for both foster parents and adoptive parents.
Foster Children With Disabilities or Medical Issues: More Resources
The following sites provide further information about the health of children in foster care:
- Children's Rights is a national advocacy group working to reform child welfare systems. Through them, you can find studies about the prevalence of child abuse and neglect in foster care.
- The Youth Law Center protects the rights of children in foster care. They advocate for system reforms to improve the quality of care provided in the foster care system.
- AdvoKids advocates for the safety and security of foster care children. It also works on initiatives to provide permanent homes for such children. As a California-based children's rights organization, it offers online legal resources and information about common mental health issues in foster care children.
Social services are available to help foster children with medical issues or disabilities. These children can receive the best possible care and support by working with birth parents, foster families, and other caregivers.
All stakeholders in the foster care system need to recognize the unique needs and risk factors these children face. They should prioritize their well-being and success.
Need Legal Help Caring for Foster Children With Disabilities? Contact an Attorney
Many young people in the foster care system have special needs. Different child welfare agencies exist to help these youth with disabilities. Do you have legal questions about a foster child with medical needs or disabilities?
Consider contacting a family law attorney near you.