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Foster Children: Medical Issues and Children with Disabilities

Children in foster care typically suffer serious physical, psychological, emotional, and developmental problems. As wards of the state, foster care children are dependent on government-funded health services. Foster children are enrolled in federal Medicaid, but may also be eligible for state government benefits. Nearly half of all foster children suffer from chronic medical conditions such as asthma, cognitive abnormalities, visual and auditory problems, dental decay and malnutrition, as well as birth defects and developmental delays.

Foster Care and Trauma

Children are often placed in foster care because they weren’t receiving appropriate care with their parents or guardians. As a result, many children in the child welfare system have been neglected, abused, or abandoned. Neglect and abuse of a child hampers their ability to form healthy attachments with caregivers and can delay emotional development. Many foster children have been exposed to alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, neglect and poor parenting, and insufficient medical care. They often experience further trauma due to family separation, frequent moves, and the stress and disruption brought about by impermanent placements in the foster care system.

Trauma exposure affects a child's capacity to problem solve, increases their vulnerability to stress, and makes them resistant to change. Well over half of all foster children develop moderate to severe mental health problems, and are at risk of being misdiagnosed as behaviorally disordered or mentally ill and prescribed strong psychotropic drugs. Foster parents and caregivers need to educate themselves about the emotional and mental struggles commonly experienced by foster children, and be cautious in prescribing drastic treatments. Experts specifically recommend foster parents to respect a foster child’s distrust and build a relationship through predictability.

Foster Children with Disabilities

Studies suggest that one-third of all foster children have a disability, ranging from minor development delays to significant physical and mental disabilities. Children with disabilities sometimes enter foster care because their parents haven’t received the type or level of support to meet their needs. Unfortunately, once disabled children are placed in foster care, they are more likely than other foster children to experience maltreatment, be inappropriately prescribed psychotropic medications, do poorly in school, be institutionalized, and fail to find a permanent home. Therefore, it’s important that foster parents and caretakers take the time to understand the special needs of a disabled foster child.

Resources for Foster Parents

Besides federal and state resources, foster parents may also find assistance with non-profit organizations and educational institutions. Although many of these resources are state specific, they offer general assistance that’s helpful no matter what your state of residence. Also, some out-of-state resources may be able to refer you to local assistance.

Youth Law Center - Protects the rights of children in foster care and advocates for system reforms to improve the quality of care provided in the foster care system.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network - Provides access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events.

AspiraNet Foster Family Services - Connects foster parents and children, and provides advice for foster parents.

Western Michigan University Children's Trauma Assessment Center - Assesses the impact of trauma on children up to 17 years of age in foster care and supports educational outreach.

AdvoKids - Advocating and educating to promote safety, security, and permanent homes for foster children. California-based AdvoKids provides useful online legal resources and information about common foster child mental health issues.

Children's Rights - National advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems. Provides links to informational studies about the abuse of neglect of children in foster care.

United Cerebral Palsy - National organization that advocates on behalf of children with cerebral palsy and educates the public about disabilities.

National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections - A division of Hunter College which provides research and resources about children with disabilities in foster care.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway - Provides resources for those serving children with disabilities, including state and local sources.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure
your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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