How Foster Care Impacts Health

The need for foster care is increasing. In Michigan, nearly 13,000 children are in foster care, and in Ohio, the number of children surpassed 15,500 in October 2017.

The growing need for foster care reflects the prevalence of neglect, abuse and instability children may face before being placed with foster families.

Colleen Olson, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians, said she has seen the health impact this has on her young patients.

“Kids that are subjected to this adversity and trauma in their childhood, it leaves them with potentially serious physical and mental health problems,” she explained. “If they don’t have that turned around really early in life when their brain is still developing it can permanently affect their emotional regulation and their functioning.”

The trauma may also increase hyperactivity and impulsivity. Plus, when compared to children who live in caring and structured environments, these children are more likely to deal with substance abuse, engage in criminal activity, and struggle with alcohol, low-income or unemployment, as well as an increased risk of morbidity and mortality as they get older. Unfortunately, these problems can increase if the children are placed in foster homes that aren’t nurturing.

“If children are placed in a stable, nurturing, caring home with a good caregiver, that can actually turn it around,” said Dr. Olson. “Those kids can learn emotional regulation and can learn to adapt.”

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatricians offers pediatrician guidelines and models of care specifically designed for children in foster care.

When treating children in foster care, Dr. Olson pays close attention to the conditions for which they are at a higher risk—asthma, dental issues, and mental health issues.

“Many of the kids who come into foster care have so many healthcare needs,” said Dr. Olson. “It takes a lot of coordination and advocacy to get those kids what they need and, certainly, that’s not always easy.”

“Many of the kids who come into foster care have so many healthcare needs,” said Dr. Olson. “It takes a lot of coordination and advocacy to get those kids what they need and, certainly, that’s not always easy.”

Foster parents may face unique challenges, but that shouldn’t deter those who have the desire and ability to help.

“Make sure your heart’s in the right place. Go into it realizing the time and the energy it will take, but also knowing that time and energy can reap huge rewards for both the child and the foster parent,” advised Dr. Olson. “When you have motivated foster parents who do it for the right reason, those kids flourish and blossom for sure—mentally and physically.”

For adolescents in particular, access to education and a mentor can make a long-term difference. Foster parents should work with children’s services to plan ahead and help these children prepare for adulthood.

But they can’t do it alone.

“Parents need support systems, for themselves and the children; it takes a village for all of us to raise kids,” said Dr. Olson. “If, as a community, we can be mentors, we can help those parents and show love to these foster families, it can really make a difference in our community.”

Learn more about becoming a foster care parent

If you’re interested in adoption, you can learn more and view photos of children awaiting adoption in Lucas County, Ohio: www.adoptlucaskids.net

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