The American Academy of Pediatrics is sounding the alarm about lack of access to medical care among the estimated 500,000 kids in foster care in the U.S. According to an AAP policy statement published 9/28/2015, pediatricians need to recognize that a significant number of kids enter foster care with untreated physical, dental or mental health issues – anywhere from 30 to 80 percent, by AAP’s estimates.
The study’s author, Dr. Moira Szilagyi, told NPR News that foster care is “a window of opportunity for healing,” as entering the system is often the first chance the children have of getting medical attention for their conditions.
Addressing this issue is a priority for KidsPeace foster care operations in Pennsylvania, according to Elizabeth Lunney, state manager for Foster Care and Community Programs (FCCP). “The state requires that kids admitted to our foster care programs must have a physical and dental examination within 60 days following admission, unless they had an exam recently prior to admission,” she says. “In those cases we’re required to request copies of the results of that prior exam.”
Once in placement, there is a regular schedule of health and dental care that FCCP is required to follow to ensure children receive appropriate care. “There are occasions when insurance issues or waiting lists become obstacles to meeting these requirements, and in those instances KidsPeace may pay directly for the services to make sure the child’s health care needs are met,” Lunney adds.
Among the major barriers to adequate care identified by the AAP study are confusion over who is authorized to give consent to treat the child, and incomplete or missing medical records (such as immunizations).
“When kids are admitted to our programs, we get consent for medical and dental treatment from either the parent or placing agency, so there is no delay in care as a result of missing permissions,” Lunney says. “We also get permission to request information about the child from any previous service providers, and as part of the admission process we ask about health history – any names of medical or dental providers the child may have seen – and contact them to get any prior health records, including immunizations.”